They say there’s three things a lady should never bring up in conversation: politics, money, or religion. I say, why not? I’ve taken on politics–heck, that’s my major.
First and foremost I will say this: I have middle class privilege. My family has never had to live paycheck to paycheck. Anything I needed (not wanted, but needed) I have gotten. My parents are paying for my college education from money they have been able to save up since my birth for exactly that. I have never needed to work to pay for anything–I chose to work to further myself and my real-life education.
However, this is not something I am very proud of, whatsoever. Would I prefer to have a life where I cannot afford to go to college and my paychecks went toward the family income? No. I do feel a sense of guilt for being born into the family I was and having the luxuries I’ve had when I meet so many wonderful people who have not had any such luxuries and have had to work for every thing they needed.
I have a few case studies to illustrate this–incidents recently where I catch myself with my privilege showing.
The first one, the incident that really inspired this post in the first place, took place at Wal-Mart a couple weeks back. I was in the area, so I decided to pop my head in, take a look around. Within five minutes I felt uncomfortable–uncomfortable with supporting a big business that oppresses its workers, not allowing them to unionize or even provide a decent wage. Then I realized how silly I was being. Yes, those things are still true, but there are people who cannot afford to shop elsewhere, whatever their personal beliefs on the business politics of Wal-Mart. There are also people who work there to feed their families, maybe put a little extra something in their kids’ backpacks as they go off to school–whether or not they agree with what Wal-Mart Inc. has to say about the state of the world. I can, quite literally, afford to care about the politics and policies of this corporation and to vote with my dollar.
The second incident came about a week later when I was in Portland with my mother and sister. The fact that we can afford to travel, even just by train with the economy the way it is–privilege right there. That we can afford to pay for a hotel–not just any hotel, but a fairly nice one in the middle of the city–obscenely privileged. I felt out of place there–this is not a place where the kind of people I prefer to associate myself with would hang out. Even when we were waiting for the bus we were the ones that were asked for spare change–our clothes gave us away as possibly having some to spare. The shopping bags were even more conspicuous. The fact that my traveling companions seemed grossly unaware of just how much our class was buying us–disappointing. The fact that we could prefer to save money by taking public transportation rather than require it–well, we could have done worse.
The third incident took place about three years ago–my family took a river cruise in Europe over the Christmas season–mostly to visit the Christmas markets in the cities we stopped in. I do not often mention the specifics of this trip to people–it makes me look like a little rich girl. In fact, it was the first cruise I’d ever taken, but how is anyone else supposed to know that without hearing an explanation that sounds like an excuse. We were probably the poorest people on the cruise–our clothes and our talk of experiences gave us away as middle class. It was a bit of a humbling experience to be the poor ones, but it was only a very small experience–there are times I do wish that feeling to be mine again.
I may depend on my parents to pay for my college education, but everything else, that’s mine to pay for. I feel like I can commiserate better with my friends if it is my own money on the line for my buying experiences and mistakes. It makes me feel like a better person I guess–puts me temporarily in a place where I am more comfortable being–more solidly middle class, rather than verging on upper-middle class. I think as long as I can realize what my privilege brings me in this society–little worry about debts and where the next meal will be coming from, this is an okay thing to do.
I worry though, about my sister, who has little to no knowledge of her class privilege. Mommy and daddy have been paying for everything for her and she has not held a job until this summer and that only because my folks told her she should. She depends on them and their money to be able to dress and associate with people who are fairly firmly upper-middle to upper class. I don’t think she quite realizes that she won’t always be able to live like that and that there’s a certain amount of pride being able to, even if just in some small way, live on your own money, earned by your own merits, not hanging off the coattails of one’s parents. I think it’s also part of growing up–learning how to be financially independent.
Class is a touchy subject because it is attached to the idea of money–but not just because of that. It shapes our growing up years, our education, our politics. It is hard to detach one’s experiences in life from one’s class, unless you know/realize that the best experiences in life have little to do with money and much more to do with intellectual, emotional, spiritual, mental, and sexual happiness.
Dear Mr. Obama,
Congratulations on making it into office! I voted for you.
Now, here’s my concern. It’s nice that you believe that it’s important to reach across the party line and try to unite people, but honestly, your own party has interests that should be as important or even more important than the other party’s. The Democratic party hasn’t had a president for almost ten years, and those were long years. It was time.
People voted for you for a reason. They like your policies, they like what you stand for. They like that you’re generally more progressive than other Democrats. And a lot of them were pissed off when you catered to the religious right with your choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at your inauguration. Even you have to admit, his speech was pretty lame compared to the rhyming benediction given by Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery. I know you’re a Christian, but I’m not and I even I thought Lowery’s speech was so much more beautiful and spiritual than Warren’s claptrap. You don’t get much better than this as spiritual things go:
Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — when yellow will be mellow — when the red man can get ahead, man — and when white will embrace what is right.
You have so many things you can do for those of us who are true blue liberals and have been waiting years for someone like you to come along and do or reverse the doing of. It is our turn and you cannot deny us those things we have long been waiting for, especially in:
- Reproductive health (thanks for the repeal of the gag rule, by the way)
- Environmental protections
- Governmental responsibility/accountability (this is the “government of the people and by the people” after all)
- Corporate responsibility
- LGBT rights (we’re waiting…)
It is time for you to live up to your promises, not to pander to the right, who didn’t vote for you, and would never vote for you. Pander to us, your constituents, the people who put you in office. We know what we wanted and we told you. You promised us liberals (and moderates) that if we voted for you, you would give us the world. Now I’m not stupid, so I know that the number of campaign promises that presidents usually fulfill is negligible. You’ve been doing wonderfully so far. Please don’t flake out on us. But there is so much left to be done and you know it.
P.S. I will be later posting what I personally want from this presidency. I just didn’t think it had any place in this letter.
Goodbye George Walker Bush! Hello Barack Hussein Obama!
I was so overjoyed to watch the inauguration of the first president I ever had the opportunity to vote for.
I turned my back on Warren, cheered on Lowery, and teared up when Aretha Franklin sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee in that gorgeous hat.
What more is there to say?
Let us celebrate tonight. Let us scream our heads off in pure unadulterated joy. For today we have this moment, this feeling of ultimate satisfaction that we have elected someone to break the Bush reigh of terror and lead this country in a new direction.
But what about tomorrow? What about the days that Bush still has in office? What will he do to make life difficult for our president-elect?
My roommate told me she was afraid that someone was going to try to shoot him while he was on stage giving his beautiful speech; “Now that he’s off stage he’s safer”, she says. But what about tomorrow? Will he have to be constantly protected from the masses of people, racist, bigoted masses who want nothing more than to see him gone and someone safe (to them), old, and white in office again? What about his daughters, his two little girls and his wife? Will they be safe?
Will Obama be good to his campaign promises and speeches he’s made across the country about supporting the poor, equal protections for GLBT people (although not marriage, unfortunately), and his commitment to the education of children? Or will he bow to pressures from the other side in the name of bi-partisan politics and being more centrist?
My hopes for his presidency:
- He appoints Supreme Court justices (some are due to retire in the next four years) that uphold a woman’s right to choose and maintain that GLBT people are due those rights and privileges straight people have had for years, should cases of that nature come to the court.
- He does not bow to pressures from conservatives to become more centrist, while still recognizing that he needs to keep as many people as he can happy. No, I don’t think these are mutually exclusive.
- He makes sure that his daughters get a good education, because there is nothing more precious in this world than knowledge and with knowledge comes power.
- He looks back and learns from history, and is not doomed to repeat it. In other words, that he isn’t swayed to believe that continued or new war is the answer to any question other than what w-a-r spells.
- He entertains bi-partisan efforts to rebuild and restrengthen our economy, and realizes that we can help the world’s countries strengthen theirs as well.
I know we all have hopes and dreams about this. My hope is to see a world where I feel safe and secure as both a LGBT person and a young woman.