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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Why I Had a Happy Childhood

Baby me and my father, Edwin Prince Kendall.

Things just hit you sometimes. Yesterday I was walking toward Rowdy the Rental Audi in the work parking garage, and I got a flashback of being a kid. I’d talked about missing my parents earlier in the day, which probably prompted the experience.

I suddenly felt the heavy weight of the humidity at my house in Gainesville, Florida, smelled the dark black earth, and heard the thump-thump of my dad, doing his favorite activity, known as “digging a hole.” If Dad was upset, frustrated, or just needed to get away from Mom’s antics for a while, he’d go out in the yard and dig. He used to joke that some of the camellias had been moved five or six times, for no good reason.

Here’s dad around my current age, telling me something I’m dubious about.
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