I've been debating about how to make this post for a while, and it's a hard thing for me to do, but I feel that the people who read Quench are pretty awesome and I'd like to bring up these issues here. Also, it's a long post, but hang in there.
Soo. I was having a conversation with my tutorial professor this week, and we were talking about: talking about money. We'd both noticed a strange phenomenon: here at Harvard, a place built on money, people rarely seem to discuss their own class status, class privilege (or lack thereof) or classism in this country. Why?
In Where We Stand: Class Matters, bell hooks writes:
Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about race or gender; the uncool subject is class. It's the subject that makes us all tense, nervous, uncertain about where we stand. In less than twenty years our nation has become a place where the rich truly rule. (vii)
The closest most folks can come to talking about class in this nation is to talk about money. For so long everyone has wanted to hold on to the belief that the United States is a class-free society – that anyone who works hard enough can make it to the top. Few people stop to think that in a class-free society there would be no top. (5)
The censoring of public discussions of money was not simply a matter of polite social decorum, it deflected attention from underlying competition about money. It allows those who have more to conceal their fortunes from others. It sets up the condition where individuals can feel no economic accountability to others. Most importantly, it enables those who have class privilege and know how to use money in a manner that is beneficial to hoard this knowledge. (61)
What do y'all think about this?
I really want us (Quench, Harvard, random people who read this blog, our leaders and families) to take these ideas seriously.
Why don't we talk about class? In my everyday life, I hear constant discussions about everything - gender, sexuality, politics, gossip, religion, race, homework, orgies in Widener Library, etc, etc, etc, e t c. But I almost never hear anyone talk about class. People [might] say "Oh, that is expensive," or "So-and-So is rich," but they never say "I'm rich" - even if their parents are millionaires, or they have access to an incredible amount of class privilege (10 percent of students at the most selective colleges come from the bottom half of the socio-economic scale, while 75 percent come from the top quarter, according to a recent Crimson article).
And conversely, a lot of low-income students don't know how to articulate or navigate the differences and divisions of class privilege, and thus don't articulate their class background or experience.
I'm just wondering, in a place where we're encouraged to share our experiences and identities, why is it that class seems to be brushed under the rug?
To be clear, I'm not advocating guilt, or shame, or self-pity.
I'm advocating an open dialogue about classism, class privilege and poverty in this country.
I'm advocating that people who have class privilege and access to cultural capital (which includes every student at Harvard) recognize, analyze and honestly discuss it.
I say this not because I think this dialogue would be an interesting discussion or community- building experience.
I'm saying this because it's a way to fight classism, by breaking a silence around issues that lie at the heart of inequality in this country.
It's a way to show solidarity (not sympathy, or necessarily empathy, but solidarity, both political and personal) with those who are living and working in poverty every day.
In Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (a book that I find problematic in a lot of ways but interesting nonetheless), Barbara Ehrenreich points to the "money taboo" in our society as a major factor preventing minimum-wage workers from organizing for higher wages:
We confess everything in our society - sex, crime, illness. But no one wants to reveal what they earn or how they got it. The money taboo is the one thing that employers can count on...in a society that endlessly celebrates its dot-com billionaires and centimillionaire athletes. (206)
So, here are some Fun Questions About Class (like a Cosmo quiz, but hotter!) to throw out there:
Please post comments (anonymously, if you like) or just think about them, or talk about them with other people.
- How would you describe your class status?
- How would you describe the class status of most of your friends/classmates/colleagues?
- Do you know how much money your parents/guardians make per year? Per hour?
- What was a time when you felt the most anxiety about your class status?
- Has your family ever received government aid in the form of food stamps, TAFDC or similar programs?
- Have you or your family ever been in danger of imminent homelessness?
- Have you or your family ever suffered from hunger or malnutrition as a result of being unable to afford food?
- What kind of career do you expect to pursue in the near future?
- When was your last medical checkup? Was it covered by health insurance?
- How much money do you consider to be "a lot"?
- Do you know the names of the custodial staff who work in your building?
- Do you think that your class status has affected your current employment or educational situation? How?
Women of all races and black men are rapidly becoming the poorest of the poor. Breaking the silence – talking about class and coming to terms with where we stand – is a necessary step if we are to live in a world where prosperity and plenty can be shared, where justice can be realized in our public and private lives. The time to talk about class, to know where we stand, is now - before it is too late, before we are all trapped in place and unable to change our class or our nation’s fate. (viii)
Thoughts? Comments? Feelings?