“At seventeen I fled the suburbs for a hippie liberal arts college in the woods and immersed myself in the counterculture along with all the other liberal white middle-class misfits and freaks. We played at being poor while ignoring the safety net of privilege that invisibly floated under our insular self-absorption. We were knowledge class, and our social status derived from our cultural capital, not our income.”
“The ways that my class background helped me get hired were more subtle than blatant educational bias… By the time I applied for my first [nonprofit] staff job, I already had a resume full of involvements related to the organization’s program work, all done as a volunteer. The financial security of my family of origin had conditioned me to be cavalier about money, and I worked only part time in my twenties, sharing rent and wearing secondhand clothes, so that I could spend most of my time as an unpaid volunteer. I entered my thirties with only $500 in savings, but that low-budget lifestyle, which hadn’t seemed self-interested to me at the time, turned out to be a good investment, because my volunteer work helped me get desirable jobs with salary and benefits later.”
“Maybe all I’ve learned is that kids are much more adept than adults at bridging divides. I knew as a child that we were less similar than we might have been, in so many ways that the world around us deemed important, ways that meant our mothers would have probably avoided interaction as much as possible were it not for us.”
“I began to fret over my status. You could almost have called it a slowly encroaching panic, really, when I started to see kids were wearing jewelry-gold jewelry. And these same kids wore lovely clothes, sporting different and impressive outfits for every day of the week. They carried backpacks with designer labels, while I had no such finery. I had yard-sale clothes and hand-me-downs. I also had to rethink-right from scratch-what my class structure actually was. But at least I didn’t have to do it alone.”
“My parents got along. They loved us. They loved their lives…Sure, in my young adulthood I realized that my parents hadn’t a clue how to deal constructively with conflict, so growing up there was a worldess family pact never to express anger. This had its cost–but minor compared to the profound benefit of being deeply loved and secure, the bedrock that supports me now, every day. How much of that is class, and how much of that is my family?”
“One of the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) values I learned was not to be “an angry black person.” In fact, economic security and social acceptance hung in the balance. The “angry black” didn’t get the job or the promotion and was deemed ungrateful. If you wanted to move up the class/economic ladder, you couldn’t be angry.”
“For years I resented my parents for throwing me into private schools, cesspools of wealth. Because of my folks’ liberal leanings and commitment to public education, their decision seemed grotesquely hypocritical. In response to the privilege they bestowed upon me, I rebelled and listened to Confederate rock and country music, dipped tobacco, drank whisky, and wore more flannel than Paul Bunyon… I performed white trash antiracist anarchist to the best of my ability, attempting to cleanse my class privilege in a baptismal stew of anticapitalist activism, defeated southern sympathy, and love-hate relationship with the big box stores that my private-school peers disdained for all the wrong reasons.”
During the time of my illness and homelessness, I felt like "those people" I'd been warned about, as if being mentally ill and homeless were a contagious disease and that those afflicted must have done something wrong to put themselves in that position.
- Jacques Fleury
Dad seldom trusted anyone with a college degree. He took great pleasure in using colorful words to describe political and cultural elites who manipulate the nation. Those words lurk beneath the surface of my middle-class ways.
- Dwight Lang