Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Class Privilege Meme

From Daisy's, this is originally an in-class exercise that's been adapted to blogging.

For blogs, bold the following facts that apply to you:

Part I, when you were in college:

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor. (Semi-estranged aunts and uncles.)
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18 (still don't have one)
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor
If you have been to Europe
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child (by relatives, not by recognized "artists"--but it WAS original!)
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

Part II, in childhood:

If your body does not bear long-term signs of malnutrition. (Like Daisy, I have major teeth issues)
If you had orthodontia.
If you saw a doctor for anything other than emergencies or school-mandated shots.
If you heated your home with clean-burning fuels or had properly vented heating.
If you grew up in a house without vermin.
If you had running water.
If you had a basement or foundation under your house. (sometimes yes, sometimes no)
If you had an indoor toilet.
If your parents and immediate family were outside the criminal justice system.
If you yourself remained outside the criminal justice system.

If your parents had a new car.
If you never went barefoot so that you could ’save your shoes for school.’ (I don't think my paranoid mother would have allowed going outside barefoot, lest we step on something fatal or something.)
If your parents never argued in front of you about having enough money for food to last out the month.
If you ate hunted and fished meat because it was a recreational activity rather than as the major way to stock a freezer.
If your laundry was done at home in a washer rather than in a lavandaria. (Laundromat)
If your hair was cut by a professional barber or hair stylist instead of your parent.


Counting correctly this time, I get eighteen. I don't know how I feel about this meme. I kind of feel it's too vague to really measure anything. I don't know that having books is a class privilege thing, honestly. I know plenty of upper class people who don't read, and plenty of poor people who obsessively collect used paperbacks (me, my father, my husband). And getting read to as a child also seems to have little to do with class (well, other than maybe working such long hours you don't get to see your children at all). Ditto going to museums and stuff.

While I think that it *is* a privilege to grow up in a family that cares about education and knowledge, I kind if think it tips towards negative stereotyping of the poor to suggest that caring about books and reading is something that only the middle class does. Is that good-parenting privilege, then? As a parent now, I can see the thousand little tiny ways my parents, who were both working and getting their masters when I was born, and who both came from working-class backgrounds (my father grew up in the projects of Spanish Harlem, my mother was the daughter of a plumber and a widow), must have busted their asses to provide the kind of culturally-rich childhood I managed to have.

An important one to unpack from your knapsack, sure. But not the same as class privilege.

**added** It occurs to me that this might be another one of those things that growing up in New Mexico, where we're all pretty much poor and the division between the classes isn't so sharp, and education at state schools is relatively cheap for residents (hell, you can get your pre-recs fulfilled for a couple hundred bucks for a few semesters at CNM, the local community college, like I did), might affect my worldview. I've found it also affects my point of view on race issues sometimes, as in New Mexico everyone is brown and race is not mapped so tightly to class (or education level) as it is elsewhere. Hrm.


SunflowerP said...

I think part of the problem is that it assumes "class" is a simple vertical hierarchy of economic class.

I never quite know what to do with these quizzes. My mother completed college, sure - secretarial course at a community college. I went to camp, sure - the camp connected to my family's church and geared pricewise to allow maximum participation, for the one week out of the summer set up for my age group, and my parents had to budget carefully for that. I grew up with books not because my family could afford the "luxury" of books but because they deeply believed that books were not a luxury, and budgeted accordingly (meaning there were other things we couldn't afford because of that). For several years, our "washing machine at home" was a couple of old tub-style wringer-washers bought secondhand. And so on - a hell of a lot of the privilege of my childhood wasn't because we had raw economic privilege, it's because my parents put a hell of a lot into what, by their values, I and my siblings would be "deprived" if we lacked 'em, and what could be put into "make do, or do without" without constituting deprivation.

It's certainly a privilege to have parents who do that, but it's only economic privilege to the extent that they had the economic elbow room to make those choices. Quite a bit of it is non-economic class privilege, based on the values of the hard-to-define non-vertical social class we're part of.

That, IMO, is a major factor in why people fall into the temptation of considering class only through the "vertical economic hierarchy" lens: it's definable and quantifiable. Okay, that makes it easier to observe, but it means the observation is full of ambiguities, anomalies, inaccuracies, and outright BS.

Oops, I didn't mean to make a whole blog post of my own in your comments. (I really need to find the time to post about this myself, but my "things I need to blog about" list is long and ever-growing.)

(My apologies if this posts twice - it doesn't seem to have "taken" the first time but I could be wrong.)


DaisyDeadhead said...

Age influences this test, too... for instance, back in the days before every book became a movie, I was told "learn to read it yourself" if I wanted to know a story... that was one of the reasons I learned to read, to "find out the story"--these days, kids can get locate the movie of nearly any major book. We didn't have videos either. If you wanted to know what happened to Frodo, you had to read it yourself.

And besides that, I was told "read it yourself"--the way you tell a child "clean it up yourself", "make your own sandwich"--etc. In my family, reading to someone meant they were illiterate. Everyone learned to read ASAP as a matter of pride. I would never have expected adults to read to me.

Lots of cultural biases in the test besides that, I would imagine... but that is one I can name.

La Lubu said...

In my family, reading to someone meant they were illiterate.Exactly that. I learned to read when I was two, so neither of my parents read to me. Three of my grandparents never completed high school, and I had great-grandparents that were completely illiterate. Making the kids read themselves was a sign of respect. (or at least that's how my parents phrased it. I have a hard time phrasing it that way because I still read to my daughter as she struggles---but I sure don't disrespect her for it!)

Not having any questions about the extended family really takes away from this quiz. This quiz doesn't really recognize the way race and ethnicity are "classed" in the U.S.

And like Daisy said, lots of cultural biases. There was only one time in my childhood where my (nuclear) family could have been said to be actually poor---when both my parents were unemployed and we moved in with my grandparents. But even when both were employed and doing well (what you might call "upper working class/lower middle class"), I never saw a doctor for anything except illness or school shots (and most of the time school shots were done at school, in a kinda cattle-call in the gym. Looked like induction day!).

Midwesterners don't tend to go to camp. And I think some folks reading this might think "lessons? yeah, I had swim lessons at the Y and karate lesssons at the Boys & Girls Club!" which is an entirely different thing than private piano lessons in a teacher's home. (I begged for swim, karate, and guitar lessons from my folks growing up; didn't get any of 'em. The cultural attitude was, "if you're going to be any good at it, you'll just do it. If you can't just do it, it means you'll never be able to so lessons are a waste of time and money.")

And I don't know how the talks during classes go after this quiz is done, but there's a standard assumption in the U.S. that college is the great leveller---that once folks get to college, the people from less-privileged backgrounds will quickly "catch up" to cultural and economic par, and that is so profoundly untrue I don't even know where to begin. Especially for women, who have more---and more detailed---class markers as far as physical appearance and behavior. I wonder if the discussions on this quiz ever do anything to address that---that the diploma itself magically confers middle- or upper-middle-classness?

Vanessa said...

Interesting about the reading. Maybe its a generational thing, too? In my house reading a book together and reading to yourself were kind of two separate activities, where you got read to even after you learned to read, like a bedtime story type thing.

In any case, this test just seems to me like it was written by someone who was upper middle class and that was the only type of person they knew (or thought they knew). Maybe its just the ethnographer in me speaking, but culture and class privilege is way more complicated than that.

And it also reminds me of the talk that happened around Obama's 'elitism' during the election. As in, the child of a teen mother who sometimes lived off food stamps is 'elitist' because he busted his ass to get into Harvard, but the Officer's son who graduated at the bottom of his class is somehow more 'in touch' because he wasn't all fancy-talking? Although that was definitely really a coded race discussion, too, there's a kind of anti-intellectualism that seems to seep into these discussions.

CrackerLilo said...

I understand exactly what you're saying about the assumptions regarding poverty and culture. I mean, I know that when I lived in the Jayco camper on a campground when I was a girl, there were people in this world who would have regarded me as a little princess. I know that. But by American standards, we were really rather poor, and my mom struggled all through my high school years later.

We got books at the grocery store, library cut-out sales, etc. Library cards, zoos, and museums meant free or cheap fun for us. My mother believed in proving herself and doing far more than anyone expected of her, and she did. My proudly redneck father had a boundless intellectual curiosity, and I always wish I could watch the History Channel or something with him just once, 'cause he'd have loved it so much. My parents wanted me and my brother to be successful, and they raised us with an expectation of success. That doesn't cost a thing.

I also agree completely with your Obama comments.