It is easy for most of us, as privileged and well-educated members of the strange and mysterious city called Los Angeles, to lose perspective on the harsh realities of the standard of living held by much of the city’s population. The disparity of classes and the wide, uneven dispersion of wealth in Los Angeles is incredible, yet while many of its financially stable inhabitants are at least subconsciously aware of the intermingling cultures in our city, we rarely devote any considerable amount of time to thinking about the implications of this great divide.
We are so encompassed in our own lives that we are hesitant — or unable — to extend much concern to anyone else. Los Angeles is, after all, the city of “me,” and our self-absorption ensnares us in a limited trap of selfishness. We worry and whine about the small hardships we face on a daily basis without pausing to realize that our troubles are rarely severe enough to warrant such stress. Let’s face it: even as college students, we are significantly better off than a large portion of Los Angeles’ population.
I had a bit of a revelatory cultural wake-up call at the beginning of the summer, when in a single day I happened to experience both extremes of the Los Angeles economic spectrum for extended periods of time. I had to attend traffic school in the morning, and I went to a school located in a small, run-down cement building located in South L.A., where my fellow classmates shared horror stories about being attacked on the public bus system and of juggling multiple jobs to care for their families.
After our requisite eight hours of watching bad instructional driving videos from the 1990s, I had to drive north to my job at an upscale restaurant located in the sparkling new L.A. Live complex next to the Staples Center. There, I encountered an entirely different culture: The restaurant was teeming with groups of successful businessmen, clusters of diamond-clad women and throngs of individuals who had just attended the Lakers game or the American Idol taping.
It was a sobering day for me. The realities of the extent of the pain endured by the individuals I had met that morning struck me deeply, forcing me to re-examine how I view our own so-called hardships. It is easy to think that the world of the wealthy Angelinos, the one that permeates the city’s projected image and skews our perception of what it means to live a good life, is normal when it is all we ever see. But many of the problems we fret over are really quite trivial compared to the obstacles that our neighbors have to overcome every day.
It should be a requirement at USC for students to actually spend time with the people who live in the dreaded area of Los Angeles just south of us commonly called “the ghetto.” Racial stereotypes and class generalizations often permeate our conversation of the neighborhood that surrounds us. Yes, this area is poor and sometimes crime-ridden. However, people cannot control the circumstances they are born into. Almost two out of five Los Angeles County residents do not have enough income to meet their basic needs, and an estimated 15.4 percent of Los Angeles County residents live below the federal poverty threshold.
There is a great disparity in the quality of life among Los Angeles residents, but there is also a great opportunity for the revision of the student mind set of our surroundings. Let’s prove wrong our oft-used “spoiled” acronym and extend our vision of the city we inhabit beyond the bubbles of our own selves.
Amy Baack is a senior majoring in cinema-television production.