Classism Today: Keeping the Good Folks Down

Caveat time: I am aware that classism is a fact all over the world. Today I focus on small towns and use Cameron as a specific example. This doesn’t mean I think less of its citizens. It’s a great place full of many kind, caring friends and with much warmth.

Yesterday I talked about how my father came up from poverty thanks to hard work and talent. Yet, you couldn’t take the Chattanooga out of the boy; he had a rather intense (and sometimes incomprehensible) accent, and his broken nose and funny ear testified to his past as a boxer. He didn’t always look middle class.

The moon was lovely last night. I’m grateful for its calming energy. All pictures in this post are designed to make me remember good things in my life.

But, he was allowed out of the shackles of his past by kind friends, coworkers and others who saw his kind heart, great humor, and intelligence. He was lucky. He also moved away from his hometown where the Kendall boys had quite a reputation for mischief, from that I hear.

What If You Aren’t So Lucky?

While I’m noticing many newcomers to down, Cameron is a place where many of the families have been there long, long time. There are surnames in this town that I see in the newspapers from the early 1900s (by the way, this includes Mexican names whose families were here before this was the United States and long-time black residents). Some families have done well, and are the scions of the community, populating all the right churches, the right organizations, the country club, etc. Others are respected business owners known for their charity and work for the community. Many are successful ranchers and farmers who live outside of town behind gates proclaiming their ranch names and fencing that costs more than many homes.

Ah, trees shining in the winter sun. I love going for walks on brisk meteorological winter days.

The children of these families are beloved by their school teachers, who come from the elite families or are their friends. These children dress well, participate in the important clubs, win dozens of 4-H ribbons, are in the prom court, play on the football team, are cheerleaders, etc. Nice kids. They also enjoy some leniency at school, since everyone knows they are good kids from good families. Sound familiar? Sound like where you came from? Sure! This is the norm in the US, especially in small towns.

What about the others? Some of the surnames in town have different reputations. They are assumed (because of how their parents, grandparents, or distant relatives were troublemakers, lived in the “bad” part of town (literally on the wrong side of the tracks in Cameron), or had other nefarious connections) to be the kind of folks you don’t want to associate with. These kids may not have parents who can afford all the activities. They are the ones who get picked on because they smell funny, live in an ugly house, have parents with drug or alcohol problems (or their relatives do). They go to the churches who dare to accept everyone, no matter what their family history. This, too, is not surprising.

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Thinking about Classism: My Roots

This got long, so it’s going to be a two-parter. Here, I explain why classism offends me so much.

I think I’ve dealt with as much classism in my life as racism. Both of those practices get me all riled up. It has occurred to me (this morning!) that classism in the US, especially in small towns, is incredibly insidious – because it’s harder to see. The signs of who is in what class are often subtle. However, it’s easy to feel.

Child me, with Mom in her characteristic cigarette wielding pose in the background. Sarasota, Florida.

As a wee lass, I lived on a quiet street in a working-class neighborhood in a north-Florida college town. My dad had come up from extreme poverty in north Georgia/Chattanoga and was in his first job that would let him afford to buy a little concrete-block house on two lots (which he turned into a botanical garden, but that’s another story). My mother was from a family with deep roots in the area that had always aspired to be “classy,” I guess. They came from merchants, musicians, journalists, etc. They had maids who raised their kids,just like in The Help. She HATED that her surveyor father had made her live in Dixie County, Florida as a child, around all that “trash.” No wonder her parents didn’t like her marrying my dad; it took her down a notch in class. (Mom had many great qualities; I’m just not focusing on those right now.)

Trash, the People Kind

I heard a lot about “white trash” as a kid in the Deep South, as much as I heard pejorative terms for black people. (I normally don’t use those terms.) Apparently, thanks to Mom’s side of the family, we were not “trash.” Our neighborhood consisted of people who were not all that well off, but of some other, slightly higher, class. Well, except the Purvis family, whose women all had babies at 15, whose men wore overalls and sleeveless t-shirts, and who never took their Christmas tree lights down so that the tree grew around it (it may be noted that I liked them, played with their daughter, and loved their kumquat tree). The classes didn’t have formal names, but apparently everyone knew what they were.

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