Like parents everywhere, we wanted to give our teenage daughter advantages we never had. High on our list was to provide her a much clearer class-consciousness than what we got as kids.
A part of my unaware privilege growing up middle class is actually all children’s birthright: my feeling entitled to be generally supported. And in most ways I was. But I didn’t expect to be personally cultivated, and in most ways I wasn’t. Maybe young music prodigies got developed and mentored, but not ‘regular’ kids. For the most part, my public school education conditioned me to fit in and respond more than to stand out and challenge. I was taught to be grateful for my advantages. Most people around me assumed I was bright and capable, itself an incalculable advantage.
But at the same time, my class-conditioned gratitude blinded me to the strengths of people from other class backgrounds whether wealthier or more working-class than me, and did little to encourage me to develop close relationships with them. In this way, I was impoverished. To this day, most of our friends are middle or upper-middle class. I expect this will shift over time, since we increasingly see this as limiting us rather than “normal.” We have sought out more contexts where we’re more likely to get closer to poor people, working class people and very wealthy people. We don’t want to settle for ourselves or our daughter intersecting with other people without having a clue about either their class strengths – specific intelligences and skills they’ve developed – or the huge class-related injuries and traps they face.
Two. We live in an overly-privatized, nuclear-family-obsessed society. If our society goads us to constantly focus on “me and mine,” how do I think bigger not just for my daughter, but for other people’s kids? This is my next chapter. At least I know I don’t have to figure this out by myself.
Three. There’s a journey to be made through our own personal mix of resentments, fears, outrage and hopelessness about the effects of classism on our and everyone’s lives. Regardless of where we find ourselves class-wise, or what it is we want more of, something about the process is going to feel baffling, exhausting or impossible. The reason to wade in, and wade through, is to extract as much back-up and cultivation for ourselves and other people as we possibly can. Personally, my scale of expectations has been blown wide open. Being “well fed” has nourished our family. It’s also nourished an angry, focused heartbreak in me.
Dropping Liora off at the new school on the first day, I identified with the sober adult salmon. You swim your head off, you make it upstream, lay your eggs and conk out. Parental love, plus select, intoxicating dominant-culture messages about “making it,” compel many of us to go an exhausting distance to procure the goods for our family. And a certain, suspiciously middle-class brand of confusion would maintain that our conking out is the end of the story.
Debbie Zucker is a psychotherapist and film student. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org