January 3, 2015 by David K. Sutton
Flipping A Coin On The Wrong Side Of The Tracks
On my way home, less than a mile before my neighborhood, I drive through a neighborhood at the bottom of the hill that I’ve heard passengers “affectionately” refer to as “the other side of the tracks.” Now, I would be lying if I told you this phrase, or the companion phrase, “the wrong side of the tracks,” never crossed my mind. And it quite literally is on the other side of a railroad track as well as a creek. But of course people aren’t talking about an actual railroad track, so you have to ask yourself, what makes it the wrong side of the tracks?
Racist as it might be, I think for some people it’s no more complicated than the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood. In this particular case, this neighborhood truly represents the great melting pot we call America. So, if someone says this neighborhood is on the other side of the tracks, or the wrong side of the tracks, I believe they must be referring to the perceived economic situations of the people who live there. And if that’s the case, it’s hardly a surprising measuring stick to use when judging people, but it’s also incredibly shallow.
Because these people live in inexpensive homes, and because they most likely make lower middle class salaries at best, that means they are the living embodiment of something we strive to stay far away from? Why else call it the other side of the tracks? And remember, we haven’t met these people, we are only talking about money here, and from afar.
Ah, but crime tends to be more of a problem in low-income neighborhoods, so that’s the reason it’s the wrong side, right? Well, in over a decade of living near this neighborhood, I have not known it to be an area you should feel unsafe in, but even if it was a high crime area, that is not the fault of the residents. Crimes are committed by a small percentage of the population. I mean, we obviously all know this to be true, right? Even in the worst neighborhoods, most people go to work every day and never break the law.
But getting back to this specific neighborhood, which is not a high crime area, why should anyone judge it as inferior? After all, if we refer to it as the wrong side of the tracks, we are making a clear judgment on the people who live there. We must be ranking them as lesser than ourselves if we believe they live on the wrong side of tracks, which of course is incredibly self-righteous. What stops you or I from living in this neighborhood? And really, it’s entirely subjective anyway, because I bet the rich people living in that gated neighborhood a few miles away are thinking you and I live on the other side of the tracks.
Oh, but you say you have a good job and you are a hard worker. Is that why you are on the correct side of the tracks? Who said the people living in this neighborhood are not hard workers? And is it possible income and wealth are not entirely within our control? Nah, I guess that would be way too depressing for people if they realized we are not in 100% control of our lives. To acknowledge this is true, would be to acknowledge that there are no wrong sides of the track, only accidents of birth, of situation and of happenstance, where our “hard work” plays a part, but is not the end-all. It means we would have to face the hard truth that it’s not possible to judge people based on their economic situation. It would mean one’s income and wealth is not a means to rate one’s quality of character. And if we can’t demonize based on economic class, it makes it difficult to support ideals that lead to economic policies that reward wealth and punish hardship. Or at the very least, maybe it would allow people to actually recognize when that is the case.