Monday, February 05, 2007

A Question of Class

My apologies for the lack of energy here lately - having your partner come back after 5 months away and a new semester starting at the same time will kind of suck up your time and energy for a while. :) I think things are calming down into a "normal" routine again, so I promise I'll try to be more consistent here.

That said, there's been a running theme for me lately - questions around class. I'm not talking about whether you have any or not (if you're reading this blog, that probably says enough). I'm talking about economic/educational/social/political status. I don't even know how to define what class is! Oprah did a show on it a few weeks ago - a show that disappointed me, I have to say, although it did open up the door for some conversation. How do you determine what class someone is? Is it how they dress? how much money they make? what kind of car they drive? how they talk? race? hairstyle? I think for me, it's kind of a combination of things but I really struggle with this.

I know that I was raised fairly well off - (not that we didn't have those years where we lived in a tiny, moldy apartment and ate as cheaply as possible) - but it's become more and more of a realization for me as I get older just how well off I was - and continue to be. And yet, I know that I will not make anywhere near as much money as my engineer parents did. I don't want that kind of money - that's not my priority, but isn't it something that I can make that decision for myself - that I've been priveleged enough to get to this point! Just as I continually struggle with my own internal racism, I struggle with my internal classism. I know that I judge people based on their education level and personal appearance, but there are other things that come off to me as "low class" - smoking, for example. Not that I can't think of rich, "upper class" people who smoke, but in general it's something I associate with the blue collar, working class, less educated folks. I remember when I got my tattoo (which isn't bery big, and in my opinion, very tasteful) the very first thing my mother said to me was, "That's just such a low class thing to do!" I was clearly supposed to be ashamed of my actions, but the joy of rebellion wiped that out. :) So what is it? Can all Americans really be "middle class"? Who gets to decide who is which class? Which class do you think you are? Which class do you think the people you interact with on a daily basis are? the bank teller, teacher, postal employee, car salesman, grocery cashier, etc.

Now that you've thought a little bit about how you think of class, where do you put pastors? They tend to be an educated bunch (at least the ones who go to seminary), but they rarely make much money and can't send their kids to private school or choose to live in the best school districts since they have to live where the church calls them to be. They have to be able to deal with people from all walks of life - homeless to wealthy, all races, all sexual orientations (although that one can be debated). I'm curious to see what you think - and if you're clergy, where do you see yourself in the class system?


Trouble said...

i don't know much about class. i only notice my perceptions in rare occasions. i have always had jobs were we were all expected to wear uniforms, so attire hasn't really been part of it. i am not as educated as most of my close circle of friends, i don't know what that says. probably the biggest thing that influences how i think of a person, call it first impression, is if that person is articulate. i will totally disregard age, gender, race, economic status, etc. if a person is well spoken. alternately, if a person is well dressed and 'important' but can't carry on a meaninful conversation and can't communicate a thougt, i will be much less willing to engage in interaction with that person.

is that a class issue?

lazy hipchick said...

most of my family is white trash, trailor park. lived in several throughout my life.

class is about money to an extent. i think it goes beyond that. i know some "trashy" well educated folks (myself included--always wanted to rise above it, but that's not really in my nature either) and trashy folks with money.

there is a certain look that people with class have. it's the way they carry themselves. i'm not meaning the typical snobby thing. they are the folks who can wear sweats and not look like a bum or a slob. generally they are pretty clean folks--may or may not be snobby. they are almost always "appropriate" they know how to fill whatever role they have taken on in life. they can schmooze with the best of them. they understand how the game works and how to play it.

rich folks can be total trash and i know some down right poor folks with tons of class.

however, i don't think that's what you're looking for.

Mary said...

I've thought about your post for a few days and I don't know that I have much to add. I have no idea what class people are- I don't usually have to balance the checkbook before going to the grocery store, but I can't quit my job tomorrow and continue my lifestyle for the next 40-50 years. So- I'm stuck in the middle somewhere- sorry for the generic answer :(

What keep popping up in my tiny brain though was the clergy and where they were. For thousands of years, clergy- priests, prophets, etc, sat in the courts of Kings as advisors. Some Kings were clergy. I don't think most clergy fits into most cultures traditional class system- which is socio-economic. Because I think history has defined clergy as a class in and of itself? Personally, I think how we define ourselves should be based on how fulfilled are you? I think that is why class may not often pertain to those who serve- because they are often very fulfilled- meaning their focus isn't how to change status. They play in a different sandbox so to speak.

There was a discussion in a class I had that your question reminded of. In Samuel, when Israel angered God by asking for a King- the question was why did they think they needed a King? Why weren't the judges, prophets,priests and God enough? What did a King offer them that the afore mentioned didn't? Is it because they just wanted to fit in- everyone else had a king. Is it that a King was necessary in their viewpoint to protect them? Could they not let go of their stratified class?

So even though clergy, regardless of their possessions (which in that time I don't think were restricted, although there were limited resources for everyone),were part of the ruling class, the people weren't happy with them being the sole figure head of their community. Even in a time of a secular state.

Being clergy seems to give you great audience, sometimes some power depending on the time in history, etc, but has clergy member ever had absolute power or total political authority? Have they ever held the top class seat? Anywhere in history? I don't know.

Sad as it is for those living under under it, I find the Caste system in India fascinating unlike much discrimination, it is devoid of racism, although that is another issue. I guess even in Christianity in India today, lower caste do not move as high in their churches as the members of the upper caste.

So there you have it, the summation of the bulk my weeks worth of thought on the subject.

Rick said...


I wandered in from Angela's site and couldn't resist taking a crack at this topic.

Sadly I think that most of us do automatically assign higher value to people based on their education level or income. I know that as a parent, one of my driving forces is to try to provide more opportunities for my children than I recieved (and I had it pretty good as a kid), and to that end I save like a madman so that my boys will view a college education as an expectation.

At the same time I can't help thinking of someone I work with who, although highly educated and financially secure, made a number of choices on a recent deployment that I found morally unacceptable. This is a person that seen through the filter of "class" should rise fairly high but has proven a number of times to be unable to step outside of her own self interest and accept the basic responsibilities expected of someone of her rank.

I older that I get, the more I have come to the realization that character plays a much more important role to me than class. I have known alot of people from all ranges of the socio-economic scale and the ones that I have come to respect and feel closest too are the ones who place "what is right" above their own self interests.

Just my two bits,