Wednesday, April 05, 2006

class effect

in hugo schwyzer's blog, he writes about white privilege:

"It wasn't arrogance, but rather a kind of confidence that came from always being seen as someone who "belonged". My friends of color could not report the same set of experiences! In countless ways, my white skin (as well as my sex and my class background) have opened doors for me."

which inspired me in thinking about how i grew up feeling as tho i didn't belong, despite being white, and how class has impacted that feeling. i feel like one of the connotations of "white" is "middle class". because i wasn't middle class i didnt feel as tho i always belonged, or was always safe.

I grew up poor. welfare poor for many years of my young life. Because we were poor, we lived in a poor neighborhood, with many other poor white people and people of color. so my experience of the world is a bit different, i guess. our sins were on the outside. police constantly harassed folks, and it was a tossup between whether taking another one from your abusive husband was better than calling the cops. In that neighborhood, in that setting, my white skin did not mean much. and later on, this made me keenly aware of the fact that my white skin let me "pass". pass under their radar as long as i was in the right neighborhood, or was wearing the right clothes, or was not in the company of folks of color.

but at least i felt i belonged among the people in that neighborhood, at that school. we were all in it together, we had to be for each other, because the rest of the world was not looking out for us.

when our apartment building was condemned as too dangerous to live in, we moved to a middle class neighboorhood, albeit in the more rundown area and in the lone apartment building in the area (something we struggled to afford even now that my mom was off of welfare and working a full time job). whereas before, i was one poor kid among many, i was now one poor kid among many wealthy ones. and i was made to feel it. feel as though i didn't belong. feel as though i were dirty. maybe (?) particularly because there were almost no people of color at this new school, my white skin did not automatically include me in the party.

so, in high school and especially college, i always felt i was on the outside. i couldn't afford high end clothes; my speech defects were constantly pointed out to me; i had no financial safety net to fall back on. i couldn't party every night because i needed to keep my grades up for my scholarship; i always had to keep a job in addition to class work just to pay for the essentials like a meal plan and books; and i couldn't fly away to an exotic locale for spring break every year. not all of these things bother me (and neither does growing up poor, as i appreciate the life view it has given me). but all of them were reminders that i was "different"--and in a capitalistic culture, different financially is definitely "less than."


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