A Class Meme

I've seen this around a time or two, most recently at Squadratomagico's, and I've meant to complete it for awhile. Part of what I think is interesting about it is the almost protectionist response (though thankfully not at Squadratomagico's) that it seems to elicit: "Those things may be true about me, but they don't mean I'm a member of a privileged class." Yes, that's true. But they're pretty good indicators of whether you might belong or not.

The idea behind this is not to incite some sort of class warfare, by marking which are true for you (put in bold), but to simply help you think about some things that might be markers of privilege. And in a time where questions of middle class versus wealth are coming to the forefront, not to mention questions of race and ethnicity (and those things are often tied to class, even in "enlightened society, whatever that might be). And part of why I wanted to put it up here is that class is such a sensitive word in American society, and my inclination is always to poke at things that are tender so we can figure out why.

So, here goes.

1. Father went to college.

2. Father finished college - he got an Associate's degree just after I graduated with my B.S.
3. Mother went to college. - this has been a point of shame for her, to the point that she's been known to tell tales about it
4. Mother finished college.
5. Had any relative growing up who was an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children's books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.
16. Went to a private high school.
17. Went to summer camp.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment.
25. You had your own room as a child.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course..
26. You had routine and consistent medical and dental care.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

Part of what is so fascinating here is that class is such a moving target. If you think about moments where someone has provided a fairly nuanced demographic definition of a class - think Bourdieu's Distinction - the idea of class becomes not only culturally bound (in his example, French) but historically bound as well. What was a mark of distinction at the time of his study doesn't seem likely to be today.

That brings me to what I think is most fascinating about this meme: the things that I'd add to it if I were writing it. It's significant, I think, that for some periods of my childhood we were able to get by on a single income. Those periods weren't long - they mostly happened in my high school years - but they were there. I can't imagine almost any American family today surviving on a single income, let alone what my father made as an NCO in the military (which is also the only reason I had consistent health care as a child). Similarly, I'd ask questions specifically about what one's school did, though I would add that in because I took a very strict interpretation of the questions.

Ultimately, I guess I wonder what other markers of class we should be thinking about. Bourdieu, for example, offered familiarity with particular pieces of classical music as an example of one marker. Maybe that's the still the case if you were to ask someone like Bourdieu. But I can't help but think there's a third limit on the notion of class: where you're looking from. I do wonder what his study would have found the markers of "distinction" were who weren't from whatever privileged class he was imagining. I don't think, however, that I'd get the same answerif I were to ask my students or - even more tellingly, perhaps - their parents.

On some level, this parallax error of class perception I think might account for some of the distress about "Joe Sixpacks" and "hockey moms" in this election. It isn't just that classes live diferent lives. It is that they see them differently as well.


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