working class


I was really pleased to discover this article on Live Journal because it describes the difference between social class and economic class, and how society tends to conflate the two.

"Economic class refers to money. It refers to the wealth or poverty of a person, and to the privileges they do or do not have because of their economic might or lack thereof.

Social class is what is being referred to by such terms as "middle class", "working class", "white collar", "professional", "blue collar", and the pejoratives "white trash" and "townie".

It is a common confusion – or intellectual dodge – to conflate social class with economic class. But what what differentiates, say, the middle class from the working class is not mere wealth or earning power; as we all know, a plumber (presumed working class) may make much more money than a professor (presumed professional)."


I think the distinction is important to understand because the focus by many is on economic class without realizing the attendant challenges and benefits of social class. What I want young strivers, and in particular, first generation college students, to understand is this:

"It is a common misconception that the primary obstacle to being in a much higher class is money to afford the things by which one performs that class. The limiting factor is not money, it is this: it is impossible to join a culture the ways of which you know nothing. You may come by money, but the ignorance of how to use it to perform that higher class will keep you out as adamantly as if there were a wall built around it. And to the extent it is taboo to discuss social class – and social classes – explicitly, the wall is invisible. If nobody will tell you what the shibboleths are, then you can only learn them by direct, personal reconnaissance: getting close enough to observe it for yourself.

We humans can learn culture by immersion; in fact, that's generally how we do. It is by living and working and socializing with a people that we begin to adopt their ways. But that is precisely what most people do not have opportunities to do with people outside of their own class and the two adjacent classes. And when opportunities do present, they often find the cultural gap so uncomfortable, the experience so alienating, that they retreat from it."



Cry Me a River

The only people who were surprised by white people voting for white supremacy is other white people. Muslims, black folks and other people of color have been petrified of this outcome for a long time now, because we know how white power will do anything to preserve itself. We have seen it, worked beside it, watched it on the news, lived next door to it, witnessed it call itself our friend and then question our experiences with racism when we recount them. ... The only surprise to come out of this election is how many, and how quickly, white people want us to empathize with the people who voted against our humanity, our right to exist in this place. Even before the election, the Washington Post actually had the audacity to berate us for not crying for the white working class. In the days since Trump won, the numberof articles urging everybody to be cool to Trump’s America, to understand what they are facing, to hear their grievances, has added insult to injury. ...

Let me pass along some advice black folks have been given for a long time: stop being so angry and seeing yourself as a victim, and try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s really all I have for you right now, this re-gifting of wisdom.

~ Kalli Halloway in Raw Story

Young and Isolated

A great recent piece in the New York Times, Young and Isolated, by Jennifer M. Silva spoke to me. I'm not the young and isolated, per se, but I can definitely see myself in their group.

"These are people bouncing from one temporary job to the next; dropping out of college because they can’t figure out financial aid forms or fulfill their major requirements; relying on credit cards for medical emergencies; and avoiding romantic commitments because they can take care of only themselves. Increasingly disconnected from institutions of work, family and community, they grow up by learning that counting on others will only hurt them in the end. Adulthood is not simply being delayed but dramatically reimagined along lines of trust, dignity and connection and obligation to others."

I was once a confused, isolated, debt-saddled 20 year-old from working class roots.  I bought into the idea then that there was a formula for success: go to a good college and get a good job.  Turns out that formula worked for only so long.  Times have changed. There is no formula.

As a member of Gen X, I'm starting to see my group hit their 40s and come away feeling just as duped and uncertain as the younger people quoted in the article.  Even with experience and college degrees there are no guarantees.

What's different about now and then for me is I'm learning not to numb out and turn inward, but to feel and connect.  Self-reliance is a good starting point, but it turns out that your community matters more than ever.  When things get tough, people, I've found, turn tribal.  Who's in your tribe?