What Defines a “Class”?

I just read a great post over at Recovering Straight Girl about “class” distinctions. She makes a number of interesting points, but her pain point, from my reading, was that people are frequently judged on the amount of money they make, “poor” people being judged more harshly than others.

That may be true, but it got me thinking about the exact definition of “poor” and what “poor” and “class” actually mean.

My mother was fond of telling me that her mother, the grandmother I am supposed to be most like but never met, was a snob.  A “class” snob.  Apparently one of her sayings was something like “It’s not how much money you have, it’s the blood that runs in your veins.”  I do know that in the small town in North Carolina that my mother was rasied in, her mother sent her from school to school as a child, because she knew all the teachers, and she knew which teacher she wanted my mother to have for each grade, regardless of which shool they were teaching in.  I suppose you could call that “snobbish”.

Regardless, there they were in the middle of the Depression (my mother was born in 1932), my grandmother earning $8.00 a week for secretarial work, my grandfather doing who knows what and also drinking, but they lived on the remnants of a tobacco plantation, had a huge garden, butchered their own pigs and never knew they were “poor” (from my mother’s childhood standpoint).  Her family even had a maid growing up, and I imagine they paid her SOMEthing!

So, given that information, what “class” would you put them in?  From a strictly monetary standpoint, they were EXTREMELY poor, but is that enough to assign someone to a “class”?

My grandmother stressed education from the “git-go”.  After being “teacher shopped” during her early school years, my mother went to 2 years of college before she married my father, and then TAUGHT typing and shorthand in a business college after they were married and my father was finishing his engineering and math double major.

After I was born, and my siblings came along, my mother no longer worked outside the house, like so many of that generation.  My father had good jobs in the aviation industry (engineer, not pilot), which is why we moved a lot.  He made good money, but there were 4 kids, and he was the single wage earner, so while we never lacked and we didn’t worry about where anything was coming from, there was never a sense of great “wealth”.  In his life, my father owned ONE new car–a Volvo he bought in 1969 and finally gave up after it had over 250,000 miles on it.  All our other vehicles were bought used.  He grudgingly did his own car repairs.  We didn’t take fancy trips; we camped or visited friends or relatives back in North Carolina for our vacations.  I had about the same kind of clothes, etc. that my friends did in high school, and many of my friends were also (oddly) the oldest of 4 children, so there was always a sense amongst us that we had to excel because there were others “back there” to keep on supporting.

I started working outside the home when I was 15.  My first job was as a book shelver for the Atlanta Public Library branch near our house.  Heaven!  I think I made $1.15 per hour, and thought that was good money.  The following year, I got hooked up with a friend who worked for Six Flags Over Georgia, and for the following 6 summers, I worked there and frequent on the weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day before and after the park was open full season.  I pretty much paid my way through college doing that.

All proceeds from my summer jobs went towards college.  There was never ANY question that I would NOT go to college…it was my destiny and my path.  Oddly, I am the only one of my siblings to graduate from a 4-year college.  Perhaps you could say I was in the “college class”.

And I went to a “good” college.  Like her mother, my mother was somewhat of an “education snob”.  From the time I can remember her talking about her own collge days, it was Agnes Scott for me.  Through the 4 years there and from then on, the college tells us and has told us, how “special” we are, a “class” of our own, if you will.

But here’s this…with all this erudite education, and all this stroking and being told how great I was, in the ensuing 30 years since I graduated, with the exception of 1997 through 2000, I have made under $30,000 a year, and many of those years were closer to $20,000 and several (right after graduation) were under $15,000.00.  In fact, the year that my daughter was born, 1983, I supported 3 people on just at $10,000.00 that year.  I did not receive a dime from public assistance, and aside from birthday gifts and things like that, did not receive money from my family, either.

So, where do I fit in this “class” discussion? Despite my low income status, I am not a crack addict or a gang banger, and I only have 1 child, so I wasn’t popping them out for the welfare money!

If you compare solely by income, then I have been much less than “middle class” for my entire adult life.  Yet, I have traveled, I have had wonderful experiences with friends, I have gone to plays, I was able to expose my daughter to many different experiences as she was growing  up, ballet lessions, even private school from 1st through 4th grades.

Yes, I ended up with some credit card debt, approximately $20,000 worth last year, and that’s why I cashed out my IRAs to pay it off.  To me, having a little bit of money for “someday” while carrying a crushing weight of debt NOW just makes no sense.  I feel fortunate to have had the wherewithal to actually pay that debt and the sense and kind of life now where I really don’t need anything more than what I already have.

I freely admit I would not have nearly as easy a life now if I were not with G.  But when it comes to household expenses, we are strictly 50/50.  We even have a separate joint account that we each put the same amount of money into each month and this account is used for mortgage, utilities, and all things for the house/yard.  Anything else is our own money and we are free to use it at our discretion.  Her disability is much more than I earn from working, but even put together, our incomes are at the LOW end of “middle class”–whatever that means.

RSG uses the term “working poor” and in her post includes “poor undocumented immigrants, crack addicts, welfare mothers, white trash, gang bangers, ghetto breeders and the like—they are being discriminatory not as much about race, but more about class.”

But you see, income wise–*I* fit into that class.  I have considered trying to get on food stamps.  Currently, I have health care though the county because I can’t afford the premium for my company’s insurance, and the deductible is so high that I’d be paying for everything “regular” out of my pocket anyway.  Since G and I aren’t really considered as any kind of “relationship” in the eyes of the government, I am a “household” of one.  And right now, I’m just a TEENY bit above the poverty level.

As for the rest of the list above, for me, it’s all about choices.  Someone may not be able to help their level of income, but ANYONE can elevate thenselves out of a level of ignorance.  “White trash” is not a genetic condition; it can be remidied by taking oneself to a library and reading a few books or getting to know someone of another race.  The same can be said for gangbanging.  I know it’s difficult.  As a paralegal, I dealt with the fallout (abused and neglected kids) for 6 years, I’ve heard all the excuses.

“Addict” is not a “class”.  “Addict” is someone who makes bad choices.  The same goes for “ghetto breeders”.  Regardless of state or federal funding for contraception education, condoms, etc., people, whether they are in the ghetto or the mansion, KNOW what causes babies, and they don’t have to do THAT, even to get their “jollies.  There are ways of having sex that don’t cause pregnancy if you can’t abstain.

Please believe that I am not passing judgment on the above-listed “classes” of people.  I’m just saying that when you confuse “class” with “choice” things can get really dangerous.

I have made conscious choices in my life not to pursue “soul-sucking” careers” and financially I am worse off than many folks.  But I would not trade my rich, diverse, love-filled life for all the golden parachutes or buy-outs in the world.

And perhaps, that puts ME in a class of my own.


One thought on “What Defines a “Class”?

  1. I to took a job that while does not pay alot it does allow me the freedom to work when I want and where I want to. I can take time off when I need to, and I would not change that for a job that pays more.

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