Friday, May 20, 2005

Perceiving Class Affectively

I don't believe that class and economic mobility are the same, and I don't think class is the function of economic mobility. Social classes are hard-line distinctions that are expressed culturally. The elites are wealthy, the middle classes struggle, and the working classes and destitute struggle harder. The elites make it through life comfortably, the middle classes struggle, and the working and destitute are on the roulette wheel.
Class is what I feel when I walk into a room with a hardwood floor and find myself looking at a table with a white tablecloth on it and over that, row after row of wine glasses full of champagne. That is not class as in elegance, it's class as in certain people are here, they pick up these glasses and feel perfectly all right about it, and the world outside doesn't share the atmosphere or objects.
Class is what I feel when I walk into the local convenience store and some of the people standing in line are wearing jeans that look like they're a decade old and faded sweatshirts and others are wearing semi-formal, well-ironed, dresses whose colors haven't faded because their owners could afford to have them dry cleaned.
Class is what I feel when a person is trying to communicate with me in English, and yet has never encountered the English of the educated middle-class and silently resents my facility with it.
Class is what I feel when I encounter the homeless.
Class is what I feel when I note that students at the university I attended for five years do not greet or interact with the custodial staff and other workers.
Class is what I feel when I hear that some students on work-study feel humiliated when their mates come in and see them working in bookstores or eating facilities on campus.
Class is what I feel when people talk about others having or not having teeth.
The existence of classes in America does not exalt our country. It is our humiliation, it is the inability of the society to accommodate all the citizens.
Class is the refuge of pride, poverty, disease, anxiety, untimely death.
Class excuses social neglect because it can bury the individual, warp perceptions, and nourish ignorance.
Conservatives wage class war without any thought. The people who pass laws that ensure the financial security of health insurers, hospital corporations and credit card companies are waging class warfare.

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