Recently, my partner, who was raised working class, called me out about an emotional block I have around money. He said, “As long as you hold onto the idea that money is dirty and evil, you will never hope to make any of it.” He encouraged me to repeat after him “I love money”. The best I could manage was a passionate “I hate money! Money is evil!” Where did this attitude come from?
Oh, yeah, it was probably that fancy liberal arts college. They taught me to fight for social justice. In the process, all inequities and injustices became objects of hate. So, being rich and white, I might’ve missed a lesson or two on self love.
It is so frustrating to see injustices very clearly, because of having both privileged and targeted identities. For example, I was raised with money, and I’m white, so I know what its like to have lots of benefits thrown my way, even when I didn’t ask for them. At the same time, I am bisexual, a woman, and I’m young-looking, so I often feel like my ideas and experiences are not taken seriously. However, I’m aware that my class background seeps out of me, in my manners, in my posture, in my tone of voice, even the words I use. I have access to this culture where I know all of the rules, and I can dial it up or down to suit my needs in any given situation. I was taught to always command respect.
The downside is that I am often clueless about my arrogance, the ways that I inadvertently hurt people or discount their voices. Where is the line between having confidence in yourself and thinking you are better than someone else? I sat through so many speeches in high school (boarding school, prep school) about how we were the ‘cream of the crop’. I don’t want to think that I’m better than anyone else, but those messages are difficult to unlearn. Sigh. I guess I need more humility.
My partner also told me that inequities will always exist. I asked him if that meant that I shouldn’t keep fighting for change, working for justice. We agreed that both of us could make positive changes within our circles of influence. We both believe in making change to unjust systems wherever possible, especially when we encounter resistance to change. He believes in creating opportunities and providing resources for people to move up-removing the barriers to success. I am not sure what my role in that process could be, but I suspect that I am probably a gatekeeper.
As a result of our conversations, I’ve been thinking more about my attitudes toward money. I realize that since graduating college 10 years ago, I have tried really hard to NOT be rich. I just didn’t want to feel that I was getting something that so many other people weren’t. But just ‘getting by’ wasn’t really serving me, and it wasn’t really doing anything to undo classism.
I am now realizing that its useless to hate myself and other rich people for having money. And it’s useless to hate money. I am realizing that for a long time, even with all of my book learning, I misunderstood the difference between hating classism and the class system and hating the individuals who benefit from the class system. So, how do we change the system while also embracing us ridiculously screwed up rich people?
It is one thing to ask individuals to think on a deeper level, to behave more nicely, to understand their own attitudes and behaviors that ‘keep people down’. It is another thing entirely to ask them to give up their wealth or to step outside of their comfort zones. To be completely honest about it, beyond the individual level, I don’t know how to begin dismantling classism. I wonder who will step forward to lead the revolution?
Catherine Orland brings 16 years of facilitation and training experience to cultural competency and organizational development work. She is passionate about training groups who seek to become more inclusive or increase their awareness around differences according to culture, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability and religion. Catherine has trained teachers, students, Study Circles facilitators, collegiate residential life advisers and orientation leaders, and has coached and mentored Intergroup Dialogue facilitators. Catherine holds a Masters of Arts in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations from the School for International Training, (SIT), in Brattleboro Vermont.