Gloria Steinem once confessed that, while never having been overweight, she has always been concerned about her weight because the genes she inherited from her parents predisposed her in that direction. So, she says, I think of myself as a fat woman who is slim at the moment. Her comment helped me to understand something I misunderstood years before in a classroom.

Early on in my seminary studies, taking a course on the sociology of poverty, I was struggling to accept our professor’s explanation as to why poverty isn’t always the consequence of personal failure, but is often the product of unchosen circumstances, accidents, and misfortune. Many of us in the class weren’t buying it, and this was our logic: most of us had come from very humble economic backgrounds and believed that we had pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Why couldn’t everyone else do the same?

So we protested: we grew up poor. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t get free school lunches. We had to work to pay for our clothes and books. Our parents never took any handouts. Nobody helped them — they took care of themselves. So have we, their kids. We resent those who are getting things for nothing. Nothing came to us free! We’ve earned what we have.

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