Article Today – It’s About Class
January 31, 2012
This is a rather personal problem for me, and one that I’m interested in being an activist about (along with my feminism activism, since they’re intrinsically tied to each other). I’m willing to discuss the issue with anyone that’s interested but I won’t have either propoganda or baiting in the comments, so be forwarned. This is my space, not yours, and you don’t have the freedom to say anything you want. That being said, there’s a lot of discussion that does need to happen still, especially when it comes to answers. All we know for sure right now is that inequality is bad for everyone.
Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes!
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord –
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Oh, they only answer, “More, more, more!” Oh!
I have a lot of privilege. I’ve grown up with more than I can could really enumerate – from being white and male to going camping and being able to go to Disneyland regularly. Some of these are big privileges, some are small. I’ve never starved when I didn’t have to – or didn’t want to out of pride – I can afford to be proud, I’ve usually had a roof over my head. I went to an arts focused high school, I had a car for a while, I grew up with computers at my disposal. I was encouraged to follow my talents and my passions. I studied computers, I practiced my writing, I read a lot. I grew up safe, I grew up in California, and I grew up with an understanding family that had its problems but was definitely not the worst group of abusers to walk the planet. I was loved, and am still loved, by many people. I’ve had the freedom to learn some obscure facts, follow some obscure hobbies, develop a taste in fashion, and dabble in off-brand religions and even become an atheist without much difficulty. I got to see the beginnings of the internet and I’ve made friends in other countries through it, including one wonderful woman who I’ve developed a long distance relationship with. I’ve studied martial arts, I’ve owned swords, I’ve had my own bedroom even when I couldn’t rent my own apartment. Right now I’m saying this and someone is reading this, someone is listening, and someone understands me. My autism and my schizophrenia do not prevent you from parsing my sentences and my joint pain isn’t prohibiting me from typing this.
All of that, every single part of it, is privilege. Every. Single. Thing.
And you know what? I’m pretty thankful for it. However, in the grand scheme of things, I aint no fortunate son.
There are 3 big privileges in American culture. Male privilege, which I’ve got – I’ve never been catcalled, I don’t have to deal with rape culture, and my opinions are generally respected. White privilege, which I’ve got – I don’t get treated like a child, I don’t get capitulated to out of guilt or fear, and I’m not avoided purely because I’m an Other. Class privilege, which I’ve lacked for most of my life – the ability to go to good colleges, the ability to focus on something other than survival from day to day, the presence of at least your family as a safety net.
I live a life as a second class citizen in this country because I’m poor. Employment is engineered to keep the middle classes employed as the middle classes, the upper classes to be employed as the upper classes, and the lower classes doing whatever they can to survive. The only people that break out of these molds are entrepreneurs that create their own markets and artists who create their own following. Or, on a very rare occasion, that lucky star student that gets a scholarship out of their class bracket. Well, outside of those people who drop into a lower bracket because of bad luck or bad choices. That’s the spot my family occupies.
Look at the middle class, where my parents were and where I come from. Middle class jobs, management or IT or office work, usually require a 2 or 4 year college degree, a good interview, and a general presentation of “not being homeless”. That means, for someone like me, I will fail at every interview I go to right now. I can’t pull off the ‘not homeless’ look since I’m unshowered, unshaven, and most of my clothes are worn at the very least. Even if I spent a little money on new clothes from a thrift store (or, heaven forbid, bought an entire suit with one of my unemployment checks), rented a room at a motel, got spruced up and went into the interview, I lack the ability to do all of this again for a second interview. Or for my first day of work. Even if I were able to continue this ruse, to convince them that I wasn’t homeless, it would likely be at least 3 weeks until I got my first check. Until then I’d have to secure transportation, nourishment, and hygiene maintenance without the benefit of the money I was earning. I’m in no situation to do that on my own and there are thousands of people in the same situation as me – trained, educated, capable but locked out because they can’t look the part. This is without getting into my own limitations on holding a job, from the autism I mentioned before to my chronic pain. Just the economic limitations.
This reality, a system we’re taught all through school, reinforces our fear of competing for jobs outside of our presumed income brackets. The lower classes are told they can do anything but they’re not told how. The middle classes are told what to aspire to – doctors, teachers, firefighters, police officers – but they’re never given the dreams, the encouragement, to shoot higher or to try something that isn’t “safe”. The upper classes, some of the kids I knew when I was young, were groomed to run businesses or run for public office. They’re told that they’re not only capable but that they need to know how, but they’re never told they can do anything else. They become lawyers, doctors, or politicians before they’re old enough to understand what those things are.
This is the crux of Class. Class isn’t wealth, it isn’t even mostly wealth. Class is, mostly, a state of mind. There’s lies woven into the existence of the classes, lies that support the basic nature of the places we live in. The lower classes are taught to dream and try to get discovered but, until then, work the jobs you can get to pay the bills. Government assistance requires that you be employed doing something, even if that something is a dead end job that prevents you from focusing on anything better. The middle classes are lulled into social mobility and upward growth even while their salaries stagnate, their day to day costs go up, and they get sucked into a credit-fueled debt spiral. Those of us from the middle class, who grew up in the middle class, remember when our parents had enough to support us and, on occasion, treat us but watched as that dollar became worth less and less. We watched as one bad event – a court case, a divorce, a medical condition, a lay off – destroyed the family and dropped us into the lower classes. Meanwhile, the upper classes are taught not dreams but ideology – it is the worthy who are wealthy, it is the hard workers that succeed, there is no luck in the economy – only guile and hard work. The upper classes are taught to view the poor not as unfortunate sufferers but rather unfortunate detritus. They’re taught that the poor, the people in my situation, don’t deserve help.
Luckily we’re starting to see a shift in this ideology. With Occupy Wall Street we’re seeing the first movement toward greater equality. Even while Occupy is plagued by misogyny, racism, and some ableism it still is pushing for class equality. They’re not blindly fighting against the ideology of the people around them but pointing at real social problems. They’re not offering hackneyed solutions or asking for just one more capitulation to the poor, they’re telling America and the world, “Inequality is a problem. We need to come together and fix it, all of it.” . We’re seeing economic reports coming out on a regular basis that show that inequality creates social ills and that more equal economies are better for everyone involved. We’re hearing economists tell us that equality is an important aspect of an economy’s future. We’re starting to see news outlets talking about how important equality is to everyone. We’re starting to see more people aware of the problem and talking about the problem of class in the modern world.
At the same time, though, on the other end of the economic scale we’re seeing the tactics of the unscrupulous wealthy changing. It’s not the rich that want to keep the wealthy wealthy anymore. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are doing all they can with their money to help those who need it most. No, the unscrupulous of the upper classes are teaching the poor to keep them wealthy. Small government, non-interventionist policy, company-focused regulation – they teach that these things will save the economy and make everyone rich. They ignore the data we’ve gathered and what the economists are saying and they believe this new ideology because part of the instruction is an unspoken promise of their own wealth and status. They’re told that if we let the rich grow richer, that which they don’t use will shower down to the lower classes and raise us all. But, to go back to the boat analogy, when the rich start bailing from their larger boats, is it money they’re throwing overboard? Or is it only those things they don’t want to deal with? Do we deserve what the rich cast off or do we deserve the freedom, the liberty, to make those choices for ourselves?
Personally, I’d rather be a comfortable free man in a modest house than a wage-slave in the largest mansion for miles. It’s a sense of entitlement and privilege I’ll own up to – I expect to be my own person. I think, though, that this is a view shared by all cultural crusaders – the feminists, the egalitarians, the progressives – and it’s intrinsic to human rights. It’s not enough to simply take away prejudice, it’s not enough to simply ensure that minorities have the same rights as the majority, we need to ensure that everyone has enough of a say in the economic system to prosper and thrive. I don’t want to get rid of the upper classes, or the middle classes. I do want to get rid of the lower classes, though, and raise everyone up. Part of that is realizing the problems they’re in, that we’re all in. That’s why we should all be aware of class privilege and we should all be able to look at ourselves and know both where we were gifted and where we were no fortunate sons.
It aint me, it aint me,
I aint no fortunate son, no no no
It aint me, it aint me!
I aint no fortunate son!