Can You Pass?

I was listening to the latest Cracked podcast, which is about social class. We're not talking socioeconomic class, mind you, though money certainly informs the class system. But here it's more about your values system—the things you consider important, the ways you behave, etc.

What interested me is a discussion of transitioning from one class to another. In order to do so, you have to "pass" as the class you want to join. And their customs are different, their behaviors are different. This is where we get the whole, "Dress for the job you want" thing. Or "fake it 'til you make it."

Now, I come from a place where "to pass" means something else. It's about the color of your skin. But I guess this is not so different, really. It's taking into account more than your skin color, or maybe that doesn't matter at all. (The Cracked podcast goes into that pretty extensively as well, so go listen if you want to delve.)

It's the stuff of stories—movies—some kid from the bad part of town making good for himself. Horatio Alger. But what is interesting, per Cracked, is that not everyone is looking to change their social class. They look down on those of a lower class than them, but they're equally distrusting and dismissive of anyone above them. To them, they are in the perfect spot. Not everyone is an ambitious climber of the social ladder.

And then, of course, come the discussions of how difficult it can be to change class even if you want to. You need certain opportunities, which usually comes through networking or money, etc.

All this caused me to reflect on my own life journey. I grew up middle class, at least for where we lived (and that makes a difference, too). We had enough but not a lot of extras. My parents had both served in the military and gone on to community college but nothing more than that. They were bizarrely surprised when I announced I expected to go to university. As if it hadn't occurred to them I would, yet to me it had always seemed like a given.

Maybe I should ask them what they thought I was going to do. They never actually said. Though we were a tight clan (it was just the three of us), my parents were pretty hands off. They weren't into guiding or influencing me (outside of religion, which is another topic entirely). My parents were kind of like: ::shrug:: "Whatever."

Which isn't to say they didn't care! They just weren't energetic about it. They had faith in my ability to figure stuff out.

And then I went to grad school, and that put me on another tier entirely. I mean, it was different enough that I had a 4-year degree, but then a Master's too?

So I'm wondering: Did I change classes? If so, when? How? Why?

Are my values different from those I grew up with? Yes, in many ways. Moving away from home was probably the big game changer. Dealing with the day-to-day realities of being a grown-up, navigating and negotiating the world . . . And my world became very different from the one I'd lived in before. For one thing, I moved away from the conservative, Republican roots and grew more liberal. That alone is a completely different perspective and set of values. And yes, I also grew away from the religious aspect of my upbringing, which I know makes my parents very sad. But I couldn't reconcile some of my newly acquired values with those being preached by the religious right. I had to make a decision there, though I don't know if it was a conscious one. I do clearly recall my knee-jerk reaction when Massachusetts granted marriage equality. I was living in MA at the time, and at first that deep-seated belief from my childhood rose up and I thought, "Oh no! That can't be right! Marriage is a man and a woman." But then I literally stopped myself—I was walking through Boston Common on the way home from work, and I stopped in my tracks—and I made myself look at that thought. I parsed it. And realized I was conflating a religious view with a social justice view. So I separated church and state in my mind and after reflecting on it decided it was right that there be marriage equality. Churches aside, from a social values point of view, equality made complete sense to me.

But there was a time and place in my life where I wouldn't have stopped to ask myself those questions. So yes, my values have changed. And whether that moves me into a different class, I don't know. It's funny because we talk about "upper" and "lower" class (and again, the Cracked podcast talks about the use of these terms too), but is it possible to make a lateral move? And is there something adaptive about some people that allows them to change versus people who stubbornly cling to their class and values and beliefs? Is there a gene for open-mindedness?

Socially, "passing" means wearing the right labels or whatever. Or pointedly not buying in if you think people who wear designer clothes are schmucks. In media, you can tell what class a film is aimed at based on who they make fun of. So maybe what you find funny says something about your class and values.

I don't know if there's a point to this post. I'm not drawing any conclusions. I just find it an interesting topic, one I was able to directly identify with.

No comments: