How I Think It Gets Marketed to Me

I have Bitch PhD in my blogroll and yet somehow I missed out on this nonsense, but Shannon brings us up to speed. I don’t want to dwell too much on the controversy itself–the idea that Bitch has more discretionary funds available to her a month than the Butcher makes and yet that she still feels like she doesn’t have enough money to get by is so ludicrous that I really don’t know how to process it. One of the commenters over at WOC PhD, Profacero says

A friend and I noticed years ago that claiming poverty was a trope among upper middle class women without jobs of their own. At the time we decided it was a screen for a different statement, “I am feeling constrained by the way I am positioned in patriarchy, but I am not willing to give up the benefits I gain from remaining in this position.”

And I think that’s the wise truth of it.

I get suckered into the whole “If we’re all women and we’re all feminists, we must all be in it together” thing as much as the next person. What bothers me is that I’m so white when it comes to this shit. And what I mean by that is that I’ve internalized this idea that the concerns of moneyed white people should be my concerns and that, sure, I’m struggling now, but if I just continue to behave, I will eventually be rewarded, maybe not handsomely, but rewarded nevertheless by having my concerns finally line up with the concerns of moneyed white people.

I feel the implicit promise that, if only I work hard enough, I will make it, even if I, myself, don’t want what “it” is.

I think. maybe, this comes from growing up with modest means. In order to differentiate ourselves from other people of modest means, I think I felt like I should act “classy.” In other words, I should act like a member of the middle class, even though I wasn’t–not that there were any middle class people by most measures out there in rural Illinois for us to use as a guide, but no matter.

This is just a long way of restating that I think Profacero is onto something at another level as well–that many white people, including me, can sense our own discomfort, but are so socialized in certain ways that actually being able to name our discomfort correctly is very difficult for us.

The other thing I appreciate about WoC PhD’s post is that it reminds me that I see all around me institutions that are clearly racist and sexist and inaccessible to all kinds of people and that trade on making folks like me trapped by it and complicit in it and afraid to tell the truth about it.

Here’s a truth I know: Where I work, you can tell what job someone has by their gender and race. Hispanic men have jobs that rarely let them come in contact with white people, especially white women–such as groundskeepers. Black people by and large have service jobs where they will come in contact with white people–such as delivering the mail or serving food. Almost all administrative support is provided by white women. If there’s a black administrative assistant, you can bet good money she’s got a black boss. White women who are not providing administrative support tend to wear less makeup and less office appropriate clothing (either by wearing jeans or really expensive clothing); they also tend to keep different office hours than the support staff.  Black people who are not in service jobs signal that by wearing expensive clothing.

There are people here–usually men–who are not required to usually show up to work.  They are paid huge salaries.  Once every year or so, they might be required to be here about three hours a week for four months.  They may also choose to spend more time here if needed.  There are people here–either people just starting out in their careers or women–who are required to be here three hours a week for four month increments.  They are not paid enough to live on.

We have a living wage campaign that I sincerely believe will never be allowed to succeed not just because of the inherent problems of paying groundskeepers and cleaning crews what it costs to live in Nashville, but also because, if they paid people at the bottom a living wage, they’d have to pay the administrative assistants a living wage, and they might have to pay everyone who works here a living wage, which would mean that either they’d have to come up with some money or they’d have to ask some folks to take less money and there’s no one willing to take less money, even if it means fairer wages for everyone else.

God, this post is meandering, but my point is that a person can be of three minds–like a tree in which there are three blackbirds–you can be fucked up, you can want to promote justice, and you can want to preserve yourself.  Sometimes those things work together.  Sometimes they work at cross-purposes.   You can feel uneasy; you can ask the wrong questions about your unease; and you can not know that you’re asking the wrong questions.

Even the brightest and smartest of us.

This is not right.  This is not getting at exactly what I want to say.  I want to say that I have these puzzle pieces that appear to all go to the same puzzle, but I’m not sure.  Even if they do, I’m not sure how to make them fit together.

So, I want to bring in what Blackamazon says, too, that there’s something weird about the lack of thankfulness.  I don’t know.  It’s as if we aren’t getting the message we’re sending.

Ha, yes, I think that’s exactly what folks who critique feminists and leftists in general are trying to say–we’re not getting the message we’re sending.

If we know the deck is stacked against us, why are those of us who get a little farther along so determined to forget it?  We live in a system and we know we live in a system in which we can never be sure that we’ve earned, free and clear, anything…

Okay, wait, (god, this is going to give Shannon fits), but it seems to me that another name to call “resiliant thankfulness” is joy, which I might want to consider in terms of ethical pleasure.

But where is the notion that, when you’re on the side of right, even when the struggle is long and hard, we do it because we’re thankful?  And we’re thankful because being thankful reminds us that we’re resiliant.

So much to think about.

It’s hart stuff to talk about, though, or even to get at.  We are going to have to work together, if we want to get anything that resembles real justice done, and yet, we white women still do run around the feminist blogosphere, and the world, with big clumsy boots and people get hurt, sometimes on purpose, sometimes inadvertently.

I don’t know any way around that.  And I’m not looking for absolution or forgiveness about it.  To stand in front of someone and say, “Oh, I suck so much in comparison to you” is just as disrespectful as standing in front of her and saying “Oh, I’m so much greater than you.”

I want to stand before you in all my flaws and be seen and recognized as a human being.  I want to see you, flaws and all, and recognize a human being.

I want to laugh and bring down giants.

And I want to have the graciousness, when being laughed at myself, to see the stupid thing I’m doing and step back and laugh along, too.

7 thoughts on “How I Think It Gets Marketed to Me

  1. Random thoughts –
    That whole thread just rubbed me the wrong way. $1475 left over for whatever-you-want after all the bills are paid and groceries and gas are bought? And you don’t even have to work? Oh, poor thing. That’s only ~half again as much as somebody making minimum wage earns in a whole month. It sure is hard, isn’t it? Please.

    “they might have to pay everyone who works here a living wage” – Also? They’d have to pay everybody else more to quell the bitching about not getting paid much more than a groundskeeper (gasp!) and make all the “proper” people feel like there’s still a difference between them and the little guy, as measured by money.

  2. I’ve internalized this idea that the concerns of moneyed white people should be my concerns and that, sure, I’m struggling now, but if I just continue to behave, I will eventually be rewarded, maybe not handsomely, but rewarded nevertheless by having my concerns finally line up with the concerns of moneyed white people.

    Bing! Thank you. I’ve been trying for a long time to get why white folks of poor and modest means (including some of my relatives) keep voting for conservative white guys who are out to screw them economically, as a class. I’d been calling the phenomenon “The Lost Tribe of Whitey,” as in, someday the rich whites will call us home from the wilderness.

    Yours is an excellent description of the mindset I see so often.

  3. I think it’s something in the water in California.

    The rest of your post — yeah. Except … in theory, almost everyone in this country belongs to the middle class. I mean, we have defined “middle class” as “the big majority of people who live between this and that and earn between this and that” as a way to say that for the most part we have no classes. And yet, the majority of people I know will say that they are not in the middle class, or didn’t grow up that way, or used to be in it but aren’t any more. And I know that some of that is the result of recognizing economic stagnation. But even more, I think, it’s that such a broadly defined group is too bland, too generic: we are all individuals, and all also part of smaller groups, and so we say “well, my experience wasn’t/isn’t middle class because it has this flavor that isn’t middle class” (I do this myself; by any measure of wealth I grew up middle class, but we had too many of the wrong kind of books in the house for me to think that it was really true). So we think we ought to identify with middle-class issues and causes because of the great myth, but we also miss out on some things all the small groups actually do have in common, because we don’t want to think of ourselves as part of the great myth.

  4. That’s certainly true. I think there’s also a lot of stuff in there about relative cost of living and, hmm…. interconnectivity? community situation? family obligations? And, of course, priorities. I mean, I never really felt poor until I met Breviloquence. (Sorry, hon!)

    The Ex had a family so rich it made my parents uncomfortable … they had a boat, took long sailing trips, bought their kids the finest instruments when they learned how to play them (so their living room had a baby grand, a full drum kit, and a standing electrical guitar set on a ministage with a space for a mic just because when the kids were young, the mom decided she wanted to ‘have some music around the house’), and his mom used to buy me al sorts of things when we came to visit because she thought that should be a tradition. (Also probably because she thought I was going to marry her son at some point… whoops.) But they were Canadian, and even though they had those things he still had to work for spending money (it never occurred to me that it was weird that he didn’t have loans for school at the time… even though tuition there is now up to $45k/year), and despite all of the neat things I just described, their lifestyle looked a lot like the one I grew up with (sans weeklong boating trips for the hell of it, anyway)

    … but it’s really different thinking about the way Breviloquence grew up. I know that when both of my parents had full-time traditional jobs (my mom now splits time between her private practice and part time administration of a Mental Health Agency, which means she’s as busy as ever but the money kind of sucks), they made more than his parents did. I’ve always had to clean the house and watch my siblings and wear hand-me-downs (or ups, or donations that people from church would occasionally deliver), and the only major trips I’ve made out of the country were to Canada with The Ex (rather frequently), and to Britain/France for the World Methodist Council one time. I got to go to expensive private schools until high school, at which point I was told that my parents could try to pay for private high school or private college, but not both, and that I had to choose. We didn’t go out often, (not the way my friends did, anyway) and fast food was a treat.

    Breviloquence, suffice to say, had a very different experience growing up. His mother insisted on getting him into The Best Schools, and sending him off to other countries to Get Culture, and so on and so forth. Which is kind of overwhelmingly different for me.

    Hmmm. I think it’s like the clothing thing. I knew a lot of really poor kids in high school who spent what little money they had on expensive clothes (or lots of cheap clothes that looked expensive), so they wouldn’t look poor. Where I also knew a lot of really rich kids in college who wore ratty clothes because they didn’t care, and they wanted you to know they didn’t care. And I never really noticed the difference until I got a little distance. Many of the other kids in private school (the cool ones that I talked to anyway, not the more popular ones who wouldn’t give me the time of day except to tease me) looked and lived like me because their situation let them not care. They could do what they liked, and that meant getting muddy or wearing absurd outfits or takiing art classes instead of playing sports. And I wore what I had and what I liked because those things were the same and I didn’t really think about it.

    I’ve always been aware that a lot of my seeming middle-class-ness comes from my grandparents, rather than my parents directly. Between student loans for the both of them and the cost of living here, in an old house (which they were stuck with because of the aftermath of restrictive covenants, as it was the only place they could live, and so on and so forth), with three kids …. well, they’ve had other financial responsibilities. My grandparents bought us the clothes, the TV, the Christmas presents and so on… and all together, we managed to come out looking good.

    Which I think is where some of the dissonance comes from for me on the whole ‘absolute money’ thing. I know that if you hold up the dollar amount of what my parents get, it’s pretty respectable. But it also bleeds through our fingers like nobody’s business, and not through extravagance or laziness… just time, and the stupid entrapments that circumstance provides (say, a house with ancient faulty wiring and tons of leaks, which we can manage with, but which drain resources that we could be using for other things… and we’re stuck with those problems more by racism than anything else).

    I don’t know. For me this conversation always feels weird, because I definitely identify as having grown up middle class. And for my own life, I can see how I could have quite a bit more money and still feel like I’m at best treading water (which might have something to do with the fact that at the moment, we’re not quite managing even that… despite having what I’m pretty sure is a decent combined income). Between my student loans (I’ve got about $20k to go, which isn’t bad at all, comparatively… but that’s still $200/month that I can’t use), my car insurance and phone bills (another $200), and rent ($1700), I have nothing at all. Breviloquence (who makes less than half what I make) has to buy food and gas and pay the utilities and all the rest of the bills. And that’s it. If we’re lucky, we’ve got enough to eat out two or three times a month. Which on the one hand I know is much more than many people have… and on the other hand still feels awful. And we can’t rent somewhere cheaper because they won’t let us. We’ve had doors closed in our faces, calls not returned, people who were enthusiastic until they saw us… and so it goes. And even if we did have the money to let things move smoothly, there’s still my family (one sister in college and another on the way, and all the aforementioned problems… and my grandparents aren’t getting any younger…), Breviloquence’s schooling (thankfully, my program at Long Shot U is fully funded… if I get in..), and so on and so forth.

    So it’s tangled. Really tangled.

  5. Err… the point being that I want to disentangle absolute funds from discretionary funds, and to note that just because there are discretionary funds technically avilable doesn’t mean that they’re not earmarked for something important… and to point out that absolute income doesn’t have much (directly) to do with lived ‘middle class’ experience. Which is not to say that absolute income isn’t important at all… obviously, it’s one of the main determinants… but to say that it isn’t the only determinant, and that taken out of context, it can be misleading.

    (And I suppose I should point out that the situation I describe and the one described initially by Bitch Ph.d are pretty different – I think she would have included variables like this in her analysis if they were a factor. This is more about my own aversion to the numbers game.)

  6. Amen regarding the point kcb highlights: In addition, kcb’s “The Lost Tribe of Whitey” concept (and name) is kicking my ass with its awesomeness.

  7. KCB–exactly! And the thing is, I think it’s insidious. Even if you know about the concept and recognize it, it can be very, very hard to not buy into it.

    Like with the whole Bitch thing, my very first reaction was to ignore the cognative dissonance in hearing her talk about how tough she has it and seeing that her mad money is more than my brother makes in a month. Why? Why do I do that?

    I think, in part, because when I’m pulling in $100,000 or more a year, I don’t want to be reminded that I’m not keeping it real.

    As if I will ever make that money…

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