Friday, February 18, 2011

Socioeconomic Class and Identity

When I was about to head off to college at the largest university in my state, my mother gave me very specific advice regarding my new cronies. She said, "If anyone asks you what your class background is say upper-middle class."At that point in my life I didn't even realize that she was lying. After all, weren't there a lot of "rich kids" that I attended high school with?

At the university I followed her instructions to the letter. But the only thing I altered was the way I labeled my family. I didn't change my actual experiences which involved thrift-store shopping, having credit card confiscated by store workers, my parents perpetual arguments about money, or even the fact that, part of the reason I was in college at all had a bit to do with a more than gentle suggestion by a judge and a probation officer.

I was active in many aspects of political organizing but especially grateful for a women's consciousness raising group where I could analyze and debrief about every issue and incident. One day after a meeting, I was walking across the oval with my new friend Ronna. She said, " I know you describe yourself as upper-middle class but when you talk about your life, it doesn't sound that way. I think you might be interested in this book." And she handed me a very early draft of Lillian Rubin's "Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family." I opened it and read a few pages. Then came that click we used to talk about, the one that happens when everything finally falls into place. Needless to say, things have never been the same!

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