Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No Class, No Taste

and to continue quoting my favorite Boy Toy, “No shirt & $hitf@ced,” though that last one isn't me at the moment (before 7 am and all), the other three pretty much always are.

Yesterday's blog got me thinking... a lot of what I have to learn about Virginia specifically, and the south more generally, is related to class. And I got none. I'm missing it on several fronts, but oddly this is new information to me... sort of... Let me e'splain...

Health Disparities

Professionally, my interest is in the disparate access of people to HEALTH. That's right—if you are born poor, minority, or female you don't get to be as healthy. (I know, I know, women live longer—but they suffer more morbidity while alive and are treated more poorly by their health professionals). I've always thought this was the least fair manifestation of poverty—that you have to be in pain and then DIE far earlier than rich counterparts. It was brought home a little bit with the Oscars the other night—I was glad to see the recognition Precious got—a story of just how dang hard it can be to be poor.

My point is that I KNOW CLASS. But I know it academically.

Geography Lesson

Part of my oblivion, as I mentioned, was growing up someplace that didn't really HAVE an aristocracy. Oh, sure, there were the Kenworthys that owned the movie theaters, and the Bennets with their lumber money. There were possibly a half dozen other 'royal' families in my town of 15,000, but those were the two that had a child born in the same decade as I was (*waves at Brett*). There were a many moderately well off families, and I knew there were people who got to go on better vacations, or ride horses (the kinds of money symbols I noticed). But the primary aristocracy in a little college town are the academics, and THAT isn't aristocracy, that is meritocracy—those people have more education--something anybody can achieve.

Now their kids DID have better opportunities... they had parents who knew how to work systems, find lessons; they had the world experiences to TEACH their kids something and political savvy to help their kids navagate—don't get me wrong, those kids had advantages. But they weren't permanent, because that environment gives a lesson that ANY of us can get the education to get up there, and the 'gatekeepers' believe fundamentally that it is a fluid boundary... anyone who works hard enough can... not 'who you were born' but what you do.

Blissful Oblivion

It probably also helped that I was completely unaware of what I wasn't getting. I didn't realize until I was in my 30s that if my mom had known how to WORK THE SYSTEM, I probably would have been in honor society, too—you see, you needed a teacher recommendation (or several) and it was the connected kids and the kiss butt kids who got in. I wasn't connected, and I prefer my butt kissing to remain between me and the kissee, if you know what I mean.

Honor Chords

I also have a stubborn streak (bet you didn't know *snort *). You see, I DON'T CARE what other people think. When I graduated from high school I had earned gold honor chords (for a 3.67 or higher). I had a friend (headed for Mt. Holyoke) who had only earned silver, and for the ceremony, I traded her one. She suggested, never thinking I'd take her up on it, but I did. Because I LIKED the nice two color effect, and who CARED if I had gold. I knew, and nobody else really mattered. I had several people sort of shocked at me there—but you earned them! Well, yeah, so? I don't suddenly get stupid for trading for an evening. If I earned them, I could earn them again.

Pacific Northwest Chic

You see, another of my class issues is my DEEP indoctrinization of ANTI-class. The Pacific Northwest is unlike any other part of the country. Privilege is rather frowned on. Flaunting wealth? So classless. If you earn a high degree and make a lot of money, you are supposed to fix up a very old house in a sort of trendy neighborhood, drive a Volvo and go on cool vacations to further enlighten yourself with your money. You ARE NOT supposed to drive a hummer, own three boats and wear designer clothes. TACKY.

Chic is VOLUNTEERING. Chic is going to Joshua tree to rock climb, or Colorado to Kayak, or the San Juans to camp. Chic is a completely different animal than in most of the consumer driven country.

So I had some awareness there also, that some people had grown up with money (or even 'breeding'--though that I only really could guess when people were from ELSEWHERE) but more people hid it than flaunting it. The richest people I knew tended to be people who slung beer with me at McMenamins. There was a going joke that when a person graduated from Lewis & Clark (a private college in Portland) they handed you a McApplication when you walked across the stage.

Downside of Rich

I'm going to strain a metaphor now, because I haven't for a while... Let's say we're all on a big ship. A storm (life) is coming at us. The RICH get tied to the masts... they don't need to work at all... they will stay on just fine, through no effort of their own.

The very poor are stuck top side, swabbing decks, and in large numbers, all but the strongest, smartest and most resourceful, just get washed out to sea. There is a solid middle bunch, working hard below, and completely oblivious to this dichotomy going on over their heads. They get tossed around, but if they even get WET it will be shocking. Then again, they won't see the sunshine, either.

But those topsiders—the rich... should a mast break off because the storm was just THAT BAD—are screwed... they are tied to a massive piece of wood with no way to steer. There are also a fair few who end up with destructive steaks and free THEMSELVES only to leap into the sea.

The poor who had the wherewithal to stay on board... THOSE are the people who really are the ones we should follow—the people with the grit to make it in spite of having their eyes wide open, seeing what was at stake, and plowing ahead anyway. That's my vision: A Gritocracy.


Marjorie said...

I have definately experienced class. After my mom got divorced I got to know poor really well. My mom had a lot of grit. She is the hardest working woman I have ever met, but sometimes it just wasn't possible to sheild us from that fact that we were dirt poor. Kinda hard when there were holes in my shoes and nothing to eat but ramen noodles. I hate ramen noodles to this day. Too much of a reminder that I sometimes had to live on them. But I guess it's better than when we didn't even have the noodles. Yeah poor is a hard life. But there are some things that poor teaches that you can not learn any other way.

Amy said...

Ooh, Chad Kroger and Jack Sparrow in one post. Nice. ;)

Love the analogy at the end. I'm one of those people hidden below-decks. I want to see the sun so badly.

Watery Tart said...

*hugs Marjorie*

We were pretty poor when I was little--when my dad was alive it cost more for him to drink and smoke than he earned, but my mom was REALLY resourceful. She did things like having milk delivered so the money was gone UP FRONT so it couldn't just vanish (though I remember powdered milk sometimes anyway). It was easier to live on less money without my dad after he died--though part of that was already owning a house, so the payment was set low.

It is funny though--I was never TREATED poor--made fun of for wearing highwaters? Sure, but I attributed that to TALL, even though had we not been poor it could have been fixed. We also had a lot of family near, so I'm sure there was a layer of fear that wasn't there.

Watery Tart said...

Aha! Amy, you snuck in there! Come one out! I am mostly middle class, and have been since I was maybe 12, but there is no need to be oblivious--make your own way, see what's really out there, have compassion for how hard some people have it, and know you need to work your ass off to REALLY make it, and you are on deck.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE your theory.. Gritocracy! And I love the people of the Pacific Northwest. One day when I was 12 or so, we were sitting in church waiting for the service to start. The subject of wealth came up between Dad and I and he asked me, "You know who the wealthiest person in Moscow is?" I replied, "Well, the Kenworthys, Myklebusts, Bennets, etc. (Moscow elite)." Dad said, "Nope, you'll never guess." After a few minutes of back and forth guessing and a lot of "Nopes", he pointed the gentleman out to me, sitting in our very own congregation! My jaw hit the floor, for this man was not driving an expensive vehicle or wearing a beautiful three piece suit. He was a local farmer, about 50ish, wearing overalls and had the trademark white forehead of a man who wears a hat in the sun. This gentleman was the richest farmer in the Palouse... and you'd NEVER know it! :)

Watery Tart said...

Yeah, there were several of those unassuming farm families, though there were also the ones that displayed their money, or at least offered their kids an awful lot of privilege. I bet those modest quiet ones though, are the ones that survive the ups and downs because they don't count on it, so the bad years don't break them.

It's fun having someone who KNOWS these people reading!

Liz said...

you have seen nothing until you've really seen Old Southern Aristocracy. This is neither in support of nor condoning this fact.
Bless Your Heart (it's what we say)
Love the man flesh and its relative un-relation to your topic!

B. Miller said...

Living in the South sounds similar to the Pacific Northwest, although there is a big distinction between "old" money and "new" money. I grew up right smack in the center of the middle class (elementary school mom, computer analyst dad) so I saw both ends of the spectrum. Great analogy at the end of this - love the idea!

Watery Tart said...

ET! Are you accusing me of gratuitous scantily clad me?! I'm crushed! I fit them in!

B. Does the south have that anti-class thing? I sorta thought the south would be second only to New England for CARING about that stuff (rather than being embarrassed about it)--but I suppose it probably IS a matter of how you grow up. (and thanks!)

Jan Morrison said...

class - an endlessly interesting subject. I'm reading the Irish these days and man oh man - it's enough to make me spit nails thinking about it. I love books that don't shy away from the pains of class and money. I hate books where everyone has enough money so that never comes up. Jeesh -what planet???

Watery Tart said...

Jan, totally with you! I by FAR prefer books where people have some real life troubles or there is conflict related to money over books that only include wealthy, beautiful people.