I had thought, that nearly 24 hours after this class, that I would be less angry, but I'm not. I am taking a class called, "Race, Class and Gender" which I usually enjoy. It's team taught by a same-sex couple in a relationship, which makes for fun sidebars and snappy dialogue. We have covered a number of different theoretical readings about the namesake topic. And usually, I enjoy the discussions very much and am an active participant. But last night I ran into something that I'm sure a number of other people have felt during their academic experience, but might not have wanted to bring to the attention of the class. Well, since I am still not sure if I should point it out to my professors, I am getting it out here. The topic was class. We approached it from a number of different angles - we read studies that followed working class parents and their children to watch for mobilization. We looked at examples of how attitude before tests can impact certain students, and how education is the link to upward mobility.
The article that infuriated me the most was "Aint no makin it" by Jay MacLeod." I'm linking so that if you are so inclined, you too can read this. We only read an excerpt, not the entire book, and my reaction was based on the excerpt. The author looks at the "aspirations" of two sets of teenagers, and right of the bat, thinks that the reader will find it shocking that these students don't think they can go to college!
After a few questions from the class, I couldn't understand why no one else saw that he was clearly able to say things like this from his point of privilege (for the non-indoctrinated - I feel it's important to recognize your point of view and how you come to it when writing something. For example, I approach all things as a white female, who now happens to be middle class. My privilege is my race, my class, and in some situations, my gender). Now, to head off what I felt was so obvious, I explain what the organization I'm connected to does. We train ex-felons and the homeless to be culinary workers. So while they don't want to be president, for these folks, who may have been incarcerated, a minimum-wage job was something to aspire to...it is a start of a new life.
What completely shocked me was the following discussion on how that isn't an aspiration, and how can those people (one would have heard the term lower class repeated in a negative manner a number of times) be happy with a job like that. So I asked what we thought about people who just have jobs to pay bills - because they had other priorities, and don't want to be like us DC rats who work 70 hours a week. Were these people to disapprove of too? And since this is race,class and gender, what about women who don't earn a wage - ie stay at home moms. Do we consider them lower class because they have no individual source of income that includes benefits?
To me, this notion of an American Dream is completely classist. It encourages people to have to try to be upwardly mobile, or look like they are, often to their own detriment. What if college isn't for you? What if you don't want to buy a home you can't afford? What if a minimum wage job is actually better than where you were before? There is no way you can't tell me this idea that everyone must think big at all costs isn't a classist construct.
Oh, and then the other line of conversation moved to racial barriers being broken down because black children now have a role model in the White House. They can see that he is a black man. SO me, being me, asked "so what do those who identify with other parts of themselves do with what they can't see?" You cannot see class (which one of my professors - the one that was born in the Caribbean to wealthy parents, and was educated at all-girls schools in London - said "you can see class." Yeah.) The part that surprised me most was that she then discounted her and her partner - can you see sexual preference? Can you see class mobility? Not unless it is being performed in a way that allows you to see it. For the most part, you can always see race or gender.
I left this class feeling terrible, and I still do. I am angry at the girl who kept saying lower class like this is something to be ashamed of. (Prior to this week, she also said she didn't' have to think about race because she is white). I am angry that my professors ignored my point of view, from both a personal and academic perspective. I am angry that no one else in the class knew what the hell I was talking to (Did I mention I attend GW, the school with the highest undergraduate tuition rate in the nation?) I watch the students at DC Central Kitchen graduate from our program and start new lives - and it brings tears to my eyes when I am allowed to witness their graduation. I have relatives who are all over the place as far as income. But what really upset me was how okay it is to attack people who are poor. Poor isn't bad, it is a lack of material means. While it is not "PC" to be racist or sexist, we sure do love being classist - in fact, we call it the American Dream.