In my last essay, I spoke of my experiences of the disdain I receive as a working-class woman walking among the denizens of the middle-class world. Just yesterday I received another cool reception – in my old neighborhood, of all places.
I still cling to my working-class ways, including shopping at thrift stores, and I continue to patronize the thrift store in my old neighborhood. As I was checking out, the cashier nastily snapped at me, and all because I committed the “wrongdoing” of standing on the wrong side of the cash register. (It wasn’t my fault, either. She had rung up a previous customer on that side.) When she asked to see my driver’s license, I meekly handed it over. I know the drill about asking to see ID for a credit-card purchase, having worked in retail, so this wasn’t an issue for me. The issue was the way she slammed my driver’s license back onto the counter and continued to give me a hostile reception.
As I left the thrift store, inwardly seething, I understood what had happened, although it may not have been obvious to the other customers. Clearly the cashier was resentful of this educated “rich” woman shopping in the thrift store, who obviously could afford to buy expensive new things. “Get back to your side of the tracks,” were the words I had read between her lines.
Wouldn’t she have been surprised to learn that I was on my original side of the tracks! Now it is clear to me: I don’t fit in my new white-collar world, but, it would seem, I no longer fit in my old blue-collar world, either. My blood isn’t blue enough for my new world, yet it’s too blue for my old one. The word for me is Straddler, a term I learned from Al Lubrano’s seminal treatise Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams. A Straddler is a person from a working-class (blue-collar) background who has moved up the ladder into the middle-class (white-collar) world, yet keenly feels an attachment to both worlds and “straddles” both. It would seem that’s precisely what I do. Wrong side of the register but both sides of the tracks, I thought ruefully after this incident had passed.
So here I am, too white collar to be blue and too blue collar to be white. The educated refinement I put forth in the white-collar world smacks of blue-collar bluntness, and the down-to-earth candor I present in the blue-collar world screams haughtiness and disdain. I’m in an odd, frustrating position, and it makes me ask, “Who am I?”
To that I must respond: Either don’t categorize me or invent a new category for me. I am me. That’s the only person I can be. You don’t have to like me, but I refuse to change because you don’t like me.