Being in a cross-class couple provides opportunities as well as challenges. Since many of us grow up in a class-segregated way, we have much to learn about the experience of someone from a different class. Since class is composed of resources and culture, differences can occur on a variety of levels. If there are current or future differences in access to money, this can add to the complexity of class relations.
Unlike other types of difference (race, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability, etc.), class is often unacknowledged by society. We often don’t have language to describe our class realities. Breaking the taboo of talking about issues of class and money can be hard, but our experience has shown us that it is also very rewarding. We hope that the following gleaned from our experience facilitating cross-class dialogues and cross-class couples groups will be useful to you as you find ways to bridge the class divide in your intimate relationship. As you are working on figuring out all that makes up your relationship also consider other factors that might be at play: personality, place in your birth order, gender, age, race, ethnicity, and so on.
Check out Class Action’s Questions for Cross-Class Couple for questions and suggestions that may be useful to ask yourselves and each other as you journey down the cross-class road of intimacy.
THE STRADDLER EXPERIENCE
“Straddler” generally refers to the experience of people who were raised in poverty or working class backgrounds, but over their lifetimes move into the middle or owning classes. They have the experience of “straddling” two class identities.
Conley, Dalton. Honky. New York: Vintage Books, 2000. Dalton Conley is a sociologist who grew up in the projects on the Lower East Side of New York, one of the few white kids in his neighborhood.
Dews, CL Barney. This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.
Lubrano, Alfred. Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams . Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. One of the most important books about the “Straddler” experience.
Rose, Mike. Lives on the Boundary: The Struggles and Achievements of America’s Underprepared . Touchstone, 1999. The reflections of a “straddler” who grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Los Angeles and is now a writing teacher at UCLA.
Smedley, Agnes. Daughter of Earth. New York: Feminist Press, 1986. A wonderfully vivid description of the somewhat grueling transition from dirt poor to intellectual, around the turn of the 19th century.
Educating Rita (1983) is a classic movie for straddlers in particular. It is all about an English hairdresser who wants to go to the open university. Her husband and father want her to stay at home and raise a child. The problems she must face are similar to those that straddlers have had to live with and can idenitfy with.
Joe Bageant offers a real rant on the downside of moving up to the middle class. “Now it took me one helluva long time to claw my redneck self into the middle class and it took me even longer to figure all this out about its inauthenticity….”
Straddler: Race and Class
Take the class “straddler” experience, and add a racial dimension, and you get additional insights into the interaction of race and class.
Hooks, bell. Where We Stand: Class Matters. New York: Routledge, 2000. Hooks’ insightful narrative on the interaction of race and class and her own transition to relative privilege and security.
Parker, Gwendolyn M. Trespassing: My Sojourn in the Halls of Privilege . Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Parker tells her story of growing up in Durham, NC, descendant of the founder of the country’s premier black-owned insurance company -and her sojourn to an elite private school and into the higher reaches of corporate America.
Dews, C.L. Barney and Leste, Carolyn, eds. This Fine Place So Far from Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995. These autobiographical and analytical essays by a diverse group of professors and graduate students from working-class families reveal an academic world in which “blue-collar work is invisible.”
Tokarczyk, Michelle M. Tokarczyk and Fay, Elizabeth A. Working-Class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the Knowledge Factory.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1993. In this stimulating and often heartfelt collection of essays, 20 female academics from working-class backgrounds address the personal, pedagogical, and ideological issues raised by their experiences as teachers and students.
Ryan, Jake and Sackrey, Charles. Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class . Boston: South End Press, 1984. In this second edition, twenty-four college professors, with roots in the working class, discuss the experience of significant upward mobility and the problems of adjustment to life in the academy
Welsch, Kathleen, Ed. Those Winter Sundays: Female Academics and Their Working-Class Parents. University Press of America, 2005. This collection of memoirs examines the relationship between daughters with academic degrees and their working-class parents.