This plea to see “The Other Side” as “not dumb” comes to me at a time when I am writing about how “The Other Side” has affected the course of my family’s life. Picture it. Your grandfather, your uncles, your aunts, your cousins. They are all on “The Other Side.” This side consists of conservatives who judge people in poverty. On “Your Side,” your parents with serious mental illnesses who struggle to keep jobs and their dependent children. They are considered parasites on society, the 47%, takers, or however else conservatives want to label poor people.
For example, my parents were unemployed for a long stretch in 1979–81. We went a Christmas without presents in 1980, and it was almost Christmas 1981. The State of Iowa came into our farmhouse and found it was 38 degrees inside with no food, so they removed myself and my little brothers/sister from the home and placed us in foster care. But, there was one night in between when they discovered our situation, and when they took custody, where they allowed my parents to have us as long as we had shelter elsewhere.
We went to my uncle’s house. He had a large Christmas tree stocked with lots of Christmas presents. My little brother, about age 7, ran for the tree and said, “Is there a present for me?” He hadn’t had a present in two years. My uncle snapped, “Get away from there. Those are not for you.” He apparently held onto this story for years. During an argument with him about why we still deserved to live, despite being on welfare, that occurred during my teens, he brought up the Christmas incident as an example of how selfish my family was. “Your brother was so selfish he just assumed those presents were for him.” I was stunned. This is what he had been carrying around with him. We were selfish, because a little boy asked if he could have a Christmas present a day before he was put into foster care.
I have many stories of this nature about my own family. I have either cut off huge chunks of extended family in anger or from neglect. If we were left to survive on only the largesse of our own family, and not government intervention, we would have perished. My extended family are all very conservative. My grandfather told me, “If a man does not work, he should not eat.” Pointing out that his daughter and grandchildren were eating on someone else’s dime didn’t change his stance one bit.
“The Other Side” wanted me to just die. I should respect them for that? I have run into hundreds of these conservatives who hold the same views about the poor since I became a tax-paying adult. I know they wanted me dead as well. How is that not evil?