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Henry Hall

Professor Olivas

TR 11:30

3 April, 2017

The Economic Lesson

After reading The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara, the current economic gap between

the wealthiest and poorest people in the United States evidently shows the lack of progress and

current state of worsened economic inequality when compared to the 1960s. Through the many

years of work and social reformation, much undeniable success has come in the name of

equality. Yet, there has persisted an underlying detriment to our society, preventing genuine

equal opportunity in regards to education, healthcare, dietary options, and just about anything

dependent on finances, so most things. This detrimental factor being the same theme conveyed

by Bambara, the unjust and unfair distribution of wealth in the U.S..

It was in 1968 that the Civil Rights Act passed, one of many significant victories won for

equality of race, not to mention the numerous successful reforms after, for not only race but

gender, sexual orientation, and other minorities alike. From progress in equality and steps toward

an authentic democracy, one would assume, and many believe that, there is an accompanying

attribute to equality, equal opportunity. As put by the protagonists cousin Sugar, Equal chance

to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don't it? (Toni Cade Bombara, The

Lesson). However, just because there has been ground breaking triumphs for equality, that does

not mean there has been any progress in regard to the national income gap, something many

people overlook when talking about the social headway made. Surprisingly, there are some who
say that the economic inequality in this country is a good thing that serves a purpose. That there

are positive effects it has on society; one such effect stated in an article by the Federalist, a

division of FDRLST media is, Data from sociologist Lane Kenworthy indicate that the tendency

is for countries with larger increases in income concentration within the top 1 percent to have

stronger income gains not only within the middle class but among the poor (Scott Winship,

Federalist). Pertaining to the fact that while yes, there is a massive wealth distribution gap; the

more increases to the amount of income for the top one percent of the population, the larger the

income gains to the middle and lower class. Only really meaning that the more money available

to everyone, the more money each economic class can receive, which really says nothing about

any benefits but more so blindly attributes causation to something that really is only correlation.

Which dawns a resemblance to the way economic inequality is masked by the many impressive

hurdles cleared by social equal rights advocates as both arguments rely on misinterpretation.

With all that has been accomplished, the efforts of heroes and public figures that have

fought and achieved much for equal rights, it is easy to look over the unchanged and widening

economic divide that separates social classes, and for many separates race. For some, the

progress made thus far for equality in society shines a light like a beacon of hope for the end of

the long and arduous journey that is true equality, and that beacon seems to take the attention

needed away from the still ongoing issues. As said in the the Washington Post, Our society is

not as segregated, but it is still substantially segregated through economic measures(Christopher

Ingraham, Washington Post). Through the story the protagonist, Sylvia, ends up going from her

slum in Harlem to 5th avenue New York outside a rather expensive toy store. Bambaras

description of this experience highlights just how real and what the economic gap is like through
the childrens reactions to various things. Like when outside of the store, Sylvia tells that the way

the teacher presents the store for her is similar to the way one would a museum. Then when

faced with the prices that wealthy adults pay for their kids toys, Sylvia reacts with frustration

saying, For some reason, this pisses me off(Bambara, The Lesson). Continuing through the

store only to find higher prices and with them questions like, Who are these people that spend

that much...What kind of work they do and how they live and how come we aint in on

it(Bambara, The Lesson). Much like the way people today walking down the streets of L.A.

may feel frustration and confusion where they can see people living in squalor, starving, without

a cent to their name; only to witness a wealthy individual drive by those same people in their

Rolls Royce. Not only is economic inequality experienced it is measured, as conveyed by

Pewresearch.org, ...starting in the mid- to late 1970s, the uppermost tiers income share began

rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall(Drew Desilver,

Pewresearch.org). Economics professor at UC Berkeley, Emmanuel Saez cited by the Pew

Research Center, discusses how about five years ago the bottom 90% of the socio-economic

scale had less than half (49.6%) of the total wealth, which is even less than what the bottom 90%

of people had in 1928(Desilver, Pewresearch.org). Some people find comfort in seeing income

inequality as a motivational factor, or as a result of capitalism and nothing more. However there

are undeniable facts about where our money comes from, who makes it, who regulates it, and

who has the most of it; all of which indicate the direct and intentional systematic poverty that has

stricken this country for decades.

In conclusion, the thematic social issue of The Lesson, economic inequality, is a

matter of continued concern, for its elongated and unwavering existence acts as an anchor for
many, holding them back from obtaining their full potential .Through the systematic racism and

corruption of a country which prides itself on the idealistic values of equality and freedom; has

grown the opportunity and momentum for genuine equality. As time has shown there has been

much done for those who suffer the indignations of discrimination and the injustices systematic

favoritism and imbalance of wealth, but as we all know there is more to accomplish. As there are

those who believe that there is a logical and evident reason for the drastic income gap, there

stands no sound argument for how closing the gap would do anything but benefit society. For as

in The Lesson, when the kids are amazed at how much money people spend on toys; there are

people who are dying from starvation on the streets of our cities, people who likely share the

same amazement Sylvia had at the toys when they see a $500,000 car drive by that the owner

probably only bought because it looks cool. The impacts that a lack finances has extends well

beyond the dinner table to the education, medical treatment, and career opportunities this

nations youth, adults, and elderly are able to receive.


Works Cited

Bambara, Toni Cade. The Lesson. N.p.: n.p., 1972. Print.

DeSilver, Drew. "U.S. Income Inequality, on Rise for Decades, Is Now Highest since 1928."

Pew Research Center. N.p., 05 Dec. 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

Ingraham, Christopher. "How the Unrest of the 1960s Compares to Today, According to the

People Who Lived through It." The Washington Post. WP Company, 12 July 2016. Web.

03 Apr. 2017.

Winship, Scott. "Income Inequality Is Good For The Poor." The Federalist. FDRLST Media, 10

Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2017