The Rich Usually Prefer the Way Things Are

“Elie, I think it’s time you put that law education of yours to use here and told the concise yet detailed story of the end of blacks as ‘the special favorites of the law’ with all its gruesome irony,” said the skeleton.  “People don’t know the devilish legal details, and I think the way you can present it would give a helpful historical and legal frame to the ugly story.”

I’m glad to do that, even as I’m in the process of renegotiating repayment of that law school loan, for an eventual repayment of over $100,000, by stretching the payments out until I am 85 years old.   A new income-based option Sekhnet gives Mr. Obama’s administration credit for.  The original loan was about $40,000, mind you, but under the new terms, and agreeing to pay back much more, my monthly payment would go down by about 90%.

“I never taught you shit about money,” said the skeleton, “then again, I never knew the first thing about it myself, outside of needing to make it, working two jobs and saving as much of it as I could.  Dave eventually told me to give the money I had in the bank, at 4%interest, to an investment weasel and for many years I made 10% or more on the same money.”

“Today, I hear, banks are actually charging customers to keep money in their banks, if it’s under a threshold of many thousands of dollars.  To avoid that monthly fee you have to keep thousands on deposit at interest rates under 1%.  Capitalism eventually figures out how to squeeze the last drops of blood from the people it has already sucked almost dry.”

Luckily, I was able to lock in the historical low student loan repayment interest rate of 3.75% a few years back.  I’m told I was incredibly lucky to get such a low rate, though billionaires would be outraged to pay that interest rate for anything in today’s business climate.  One rich fuck recently whined that returning to the tax rate before Dubya’s tax cut for the rich was comparable to being sent to Auschwitz.

“Bloodsucking insects,” said the skeleton.

“OK, keep in mind that you need to tell that story of blacks kicked off the government tit in 1875, ten years of freedom from slavery deemed enough to get them on their feet, but first, this chat reminds me of something I need to discuss.  Otherwise, it’s impossible to understand how I changed from a young man with fire in his heart to radically change our society, with its famously lofty rhetoric and violent actual practices, a man long committed to racial equality and social justice, into an old man bitterly clinging to his modicum of acquired wealth and seeing blacks as an obstacle to keeping that wealth.”

Lead the way.  

“Well, I know you don’t recall the exact number, and your quick search did not reveal it exactly, but you recall correctly that when I started teaching public school in 1952, my starting salary was around $4,000.  For a year.  There had been student protests in favor of teachers in April 1950 when teachers asked for a cost of living increase of $600 a year, as you learned just now.  Do the math, it’s a more than ten percent increase over the top tier salary at the time.  The salary range for public school teachers in 1950 was in the low thousands, as that article you found showed. It ranged from $2,000 and change to $5,000.”

“Yet, in that unprecedented era of American prosperity and social mobility, I was able to buy a house, with a long mortgage and help from the G.I. Bill on the interest rate, for around $14,000.  Forty years later that house was worth about a quarter of a million dollars.  That piece of private property on that shady street in Queens was the bulk of my wealth.  And I am ashamed to tell the story of how I liquidated that investment and why.”

Look, it’s human nature to cling to what you have.  When you were a poor boy you had nothing but dreams of a better world for yourself and everyone else.  When you had some wealth your fitful dreams became more about protecting it.  It’s a natural progression.  

“No less shameful,” said the skeleton.  

“You were already in law school, if you’ll recall, so this happened almost twenty years ago, nine years or so before I took my last breath.  One spring day I saw a couple of black kids walking down the street in front of the house.  You remember when you were little the only blacks on the streets were maids, like Lilly and Dot, walking down to the bus stop after a day of work for Honey Siegel or John Towers.  This small group of black teenagers was casually walking down the street, talking and laughing.  I was sitting on the porch reading the paper and the kids and I watched each other as they went by.  I may have nodded, I don’t recall.”  

“Then I started seeing them in Fresh Meadows.  Suddenly, it seemed to me, the area was becoming integrated, something I would have welcomed twenty, thirty years earlier.  And the terrible truth hit at the same time.  Like the liberal middle class Jews in the neighborhood around James Madison High School where black kids walked from the buses and trains to the school in the years before the riot in 1973, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It made me doubly sick, to think that I was reacting like a fucking racist and, also, that the value of my property, my hard-earned lifetime of work, would soon plummet as whites fled the area. It was the classic ‘there goes the neighborhood’ twitch that had always disgusted me beyond words.”  

“I panicked.  Your mother and I were already snowbirds, and, already past seventy it was beginning to get hard to pack up everything twice a year and make the long drive back and forth to Florida with the dog.  It was probably time to sell the house anyway, but I also panicked.  I’m ashamed to say it, but I was no different in my panic than any other petit bourgeois white racist motherfucker about to lose a lifetime of hard work.”  

Well, you were a little different, dad.  Most petit bourgeois white racist motherfuckers have not been long-time advocates for civil rights and actively working to integrate the schools and society.

 “Hmph,” said the skeleton, ” are you trying to deny me my righteous shame and guilt?  It’s the only thing most well-to-do liberals have to cling to, the reminder that we once held values that made us better than the worst in our society.  The fact is, and it’s a disgusting fact, having something to lose makes one vulnerable to the pettiest human impulses.  The more you have to lose, it seems, the more vulnerable to this kind of hypocrisy.  That I was once an idealist only makes my reaction more despicable.” 

That’s arguable.  Anyway, I pause to note that you could have made more than $100,000 more on the house if you’d waited a year or two to sell.  Prices kept going up, those Iranian Jews who bought the place got a great deal, as those types often do.  Easy to see these things in retrospect, I suppose.  

“Ironically, the difference in price could have paid back your law school loan, with about $60,000 left over to pay your bills for a couple of years,” the skeleton looked out into the distance with its characteristic grin.  

“Oh well, no sense crying over spilled mulattos, Elie.”


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