July 14, 2017
Class Lives, by Chuck Collins, et al., really gets to the down and dirty of classism in the U.S. If you can read it without feeling ashamed of yourself, I can’t imagine it. The book is powerful. It is gripping. It is real. And, it will challenge you.
The book is comprised of the personal essays of people from across all the class spectrums – from poverty to working class, middle class, the owning class, and of course from some who have been in multiple classes in their lifetimes. The stories are compelling and will lead any reader to some pretty serious self-examination.
For me, the stories led me to recall (with serious cringing) several incidents from my youth where I unnecessarily judged someone from the working or poverty classes. It wasn’t even conscious – I was only a kid – but it was definitely there. I remember several times when I was not “allowed” to play with kids who lived in apartments, or with those who had single mothers or those who “lived with” their boyfriends, and there was definitely a stigma associated with the “reduced lunch” crowd. Nobody would ever come out and say it, but it was always hinted that those kids should come to our house and not the other way around. And, it was subtle too sometimes – adults leaning me towards “better” friends. I do not see any malice in it, particularly after reading this book, because people simply don’t know they are being “classist” until they really think about it. Some other things I learned from these fabulous essays:
- People across all the classes have embarrassment over their position in life. It runs the gamut from being embarrassed over being viewed as “poor” to being embarrassed over “inheriting wealth” that has clearly not been earned.
- Not everyone in a lower class wants to go up the ladder to the next one. Assuming that someone who is “poverty” or “working class” really desires to be “middle class” is simply not true.
- The wealth discrepancies in this country are getting wider and wider – particularly since the tax changes of the 1980s and 1990s.
- Class is simply not discussed or worked on in this country. We talk often about affirmative action, civil rights, sexism, and racism. But nobody ever talks about class and we are all in one or more classes in our lifetimes.
- Don’t assume that sex and race indicate class stature. Yes, sex and race do intertwine with class, but class sees no boundaries based on simply our ethnicity, backgrounds, etc.
- People often see themselves in one class when the outside sees them in another. We may view somebody as “rich” when they are only in the middle in their neighborhoods.
In the end, the message is clear. The gap between the “lesser” and the “haves” is getting bigger and bigger and the unfairness of our system is getting worse and worse. We should all have the opportunity for advancement, but it simply isn’t so. A lot is riding on our opportunity for the best schools, living in neighborhoods with fear, access to healthcare and education, and access to good paying jobs. If you are raised in poverty you have different access to things that may advance you than if you are raised in the owning class. And, that includes not only access to money – but it includes access to things like the best medical care, people in the “right places” with “influence” – even things like how people perceive you based on how you talk and dress.
Working towards better equality is clearly a goal. Unfortunately, the book was long on criticisms and short on solutions. It is my prayer that a book like this will lead to better awareness, thus leading to solutions and community building.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (NRSV): Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
Serve all with love.
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