Tuesday, July 14, 2020
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Great American Divide

We revel in the supposed greatness of our nation. Our international dignity rests on the shoulders of cultural icons, technological breakthroughs and military power, but our treatment of the meekest of society taints this illusion of grandeur.

The United States is home to many icons, which have come to symbolize capitalism, leisure and modernity. There are images that have been equated with Americanism, like McDonald’s (unfortunately), Wall Street, Levi Jeans, Mickey Mouse, Hollywood, Michael Jackson, Converse, Superman and Batman.

Our nation is where some of the greatest technological breakthroughs occur with Microsoft, Apple and Google. We have the world’s largest military budget of roughly $500 million, which accounts for 43 percent of global military spending. Our presidential elections make coverage across the globe.

When so much of our culture, financial successes and politics are globally recognized, it’s difficult not to succumb to our own marvel. Yet, like any superficial beauty, there are cracks that break the allurement.
The New England Journal of Medicine released a study that found that people living in the poorest neighborhoods are least likely to receive CPR from a bystander. They followed 14,000 people in 29 cities and found that blacks and Hispanics were 30 percent less likely to receive CPR than whites. The study emphasized that it was less about race and more about income levels, since the rates of CPR assistance for minorities were higher in wealthier neighborhoods.

And so it is a lack of awareness, which seems to be the root cause, but this begs the question, what else do the wealthiest neighborhoods have that the poorest lack?
According to a study from Yale University, people living in poor neighborhoods like LA, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Fresno are exposed to harmful compounds, which can cause health problems. They found high levels of vanadium, nitrates and zinc, all of which can cause cardiovascular disease, lung problems and asthma. Even though these neighborhoods meet federal guidelines, they still produce harmful amounts of toxins. For instance, asthma in the Bronx is four times higher than the national average.

Another recent study discovered that although poor and wealthy neighborhoods had equal amounts of hospitals and treatment centers for cancer, there were still serious inequalities. Poor women diagnosed with breast cancer had a 59 percent higher chance of death within five years than wealthy women, while poor men had a 10 percent risk of death from colon cancer.
In higher education, 55 percent of bachelor’s degrees went to students whose family income was above $98,000, whereas only 9.4 percent went to students with a family income below $33,000. At elite law schools like Yale and Harvard, 60 percent of students come from the top 10 percent of the socioeconomic spectrum, and only five percent of students came from the bottom half; for undergraduate schools, the number was 10 percent.
Researchers blame school criteria as the cause for the discrimination. Often, universities desire students with extracurricular activities like prestigious internships or school activities, though poorer students may not have access to such programs.

We are advancing through the millennium with technological success, but we have unintentionally neglected an entire group of people. Although I wouldn’t shout that society is consciously discriminating against the poor, I would say that neglect is worse than blatant disregard. Strange that we have achieved and created so much, but have failed at the most fundamental tasks of helping our fellow Americans.
Of course, we define our greatness by technological, militaristic and financial means. And in doing so, we willingly blind our eyes to humanitarian ideals. Although guaranteeing that everyone has good health, proper education and an understanding of basic life-saving procedures like CPR is not reasonable, making them equally accessible to all classes seems plausible. But the plausible will only become actualized when we realize the true meaning of greatness.

Nidia Sandoval is a fourth-year history major and can be reached at nidias@uci.edu.