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On bias

September 9, 2007

What would you think about a mother who purchased an air-conditioning
unit for her apartment and a Nintendo for her son?  What if this
mother lived in publicly subsidized housing?

This was a question posed to my classmates and I last Thursday in our
Planning for Multiple Publics course.  My response was that this
woman shouldn’t be judged for wanting the same comforts as everyone
else just because she lives partly on our tax dollars; the reason she
must live on our tax dollars is because our economic system requires a
certain amount of poverty and unemployment in order to function.

Good, solid, progressive answer, right?

Here was the mother’s own reasons for purchasing the air conditioner
and Nintendo:  In the hot summer months, having a cool apartment
with entertainment is the cheapest way for her to keep her son and his
friends off of the streets since summer camp and baby-sitters are too
expensive.

When I read the mother’s rationale for her purchases, I realized that
my own response–as socially just as it may seem–masked my own
underlying assumption that her purchases were irrational.  I had
assumed that purchasing an air conditioner and Nintendo were
frivoulous, but granted this woman the “right” to purchase these luxury
items nevertheless because I believe that everyone should have access
to the same comforts.  I hadn’t left room for her decision to be,
in fact, completely rational and well thought out.

What was your initial reaction and what does it reveal about your own biases?

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