Live Through This

Class Discussion

An occasionally uncomfortable, undoubtedly polarizing, but ultimately satisfying talk about what it’s like to grow up rich, poor, or in between.

Illustration by Esme.

Illustration by Esme.

According to most of the adults in our lives, openly talking about money is the rudest thing a person can possibly do—there’s a good chance we could only embarrass some of our parents more we you burped, farted, and swore in unison while seated at the president’s dinner table…and then asked how much he paid for his car. But we at Rookie don’t buy this “no money, no problems” attitude about what’s OK to talk about. There’s no better way to expand our perspectives than to try to understand what’s going on with other people, and there’s no better path to understanding than straight-up talking it out. Publicly discussing the actual factuals of class privilege isn’t bad manners—it’s a necessity if we want to support and educate one another, which I’m pretty sure we all do!

If we never discussed our backgrounds and the privileges and hardships they’ve granted us, we’d be willfully choosing to ignore the effects that culture and class have on people’s lives, which leads to some of the worst kinds of prejudice, oppression, and resentment. So we decided to have an open conversation on Rookie as a staff. Sure enough, we all learned a ton about not only the ways other people think about money, but the real-world implications of “class” in all its blatant and sneaky permutations. And guess what? No one said “HOW DARE YOU” or “I NEVER” even one time, even though we were talking about that paper!

We had this conversation over Facebook, where a few of us instigated new threads by asking questions (in bold in this post). We hope you find our not-so-master class on class as valuable and enriching as we did. —Amy Rose


AMY ROSE: Let’s start off with a very basic question: What class did you consider yourself growing up, and why? What class do you consider yourself now, and why? Growing up, I considered myself lower-middle-class, because while my family struggled financially, I was a white person growing up in a wealthy area, and I was able to go to school because of financial aid and scholarships. Now, though, I’m solidly middle class: I can take care of my bills, pay my rent, and have some semblance of a disposable income despite working in a creative field and living in an expensive city.

SUZY: It’s fluctuated so much throughout my life! Until I was in middle school, my family was low-income. Then we were middle-class for a while, then the recession hit and my parents had a hard time finding steady jobs, and we sank back down to where we’d been. Now that I’m on my own, though, because I have a full-time job, a college education, and an apartment in New York, I would consider myself middle-class.

CHANEL: I have had a similar trajectory: lower-middle-class until about middle school, then my mom went through a series of promotions at work and I would say we entered the middle class? Right now, though, if I had no help from my family, I would definitely be on the low end of the spectrum, because I barely make enough money to rent an apartment (I stay with my sister for this reason).

STEPHANIE: Same here! My parents are both college-educated nurses, but when I was younger, they were just beginning their careers and their jobs didn’t pay well. We lived in a working-class neighborhood in St. Louis. Then, when they were making a bit more money, we moved to a middle/upper-class suburb of Chicago. I could really tell the difference: They were able to buy a house, and suddenly I was asking my mother to buy me certain things to measure up to my peers at school. My mom didn’t understand why I needed them, and honestly neither did I, but I wanted them. She never bought me lots of status-y things, but to this day, when I can’t pay my student loans or my dentist bill, she helps me out. I know what a huge privilege that is, and that freedom probably defines my class status more than the amount of money I’m currently making.

ARABELLE: I think I’m probably somewhere in the middle class right now, because I don’t have to worry about too much. But once I graduate and have to live 100 percent on my own, it will likely be a different story!

RACHAEL: I had an inflated idea of my family’s class status when I was growing up (I thought we were upper-middle-class, but we were really lower-middle), because I was surrounded by a lot of people who were poorer than us; and now I think I have a deflated view of my class status (I’m probably technically middle-class, but I feel far below that) because I live in Washington, DC, where there are a lot of rich people, and I’m not one of them. I’m the sole earner in my household right now, and I’m supporting an unemployed sibling, so money is really tight and I feel poorer than I did growing up, even though in reality I have a really good standard of living. I know that everything could come crashing down at any moment, and that’s a fear I’ve never felt before.

ANAHEED: My parents moved to this country as immigrants in 1970, and for a long time my family was probably in the lower half of the middle-class, but they were both doctors, so pretty soon they were making good money and we had all the trappings of an upper-middle-class life. That’s where we were for most of my upbringing, and it gave me a sense of (material) safety and freedom and expectation that I think still defines me as upper-middle-class even though I personally do not make enough money to classify as such in a strictly financial sense.

DYLAN: I will probably always feel like I’m in the upper part of the middle class, for the same reasons as Anaheed: My family and how I grew up gave me the freedom to pursue a creative profession despite the lack of any guarantee of its ever “paying off.” Even when we were almost broke (when I was in college and working two jobs so I could stop stealing from Whole Foods and had my phone turned off), I still felt like we were upper-middle. My extended family was always there if I needed anything, and there was always the understanding that things were definitely going to get better. Whatever struggles any of us went through, they were considered a temporary dip in our normal quality if life. To me that’s the difference between poor and broke.

RACHAEL: I think that’s what I’ve been struggling with in my answer to this question. I’m frequently but temporarily broke—as in, having zero dollars—but only because I have a not-cheap apartment in an expensive city. But even when I’m penniless I don’t feel poor, because I go home to a fairly nice place and I eat pretty well, and, more important, I have a safety net.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, living paycheck to paycheck is way different from being poor.

SUZY: Yes, I think we need to reach some common understanding of what’s poor versus what’s broke.

DYLAN: I don’t remember where, but I’ve heard a definition of poverty that goes something like: Poverty is being so consumed with daily survival that one can’t begin to focus on the future. Poor is the place you go when all the safety nets have fallen through, or you don’t have the resources in place to stay afloat—like family who can help or schools with scholarships. Broke is when I had to live without my smartphone for a couple months. Poor is never having a damn smartphone! The difference is less about dollars and numbers and more about resources and access.


PIXIE: Right, I think it’s important to remember that class isn’t always synonymous with financial status; there are signifiers that allow people to maintain class privilege even when they’re struggling financially. Can you think of any such signs you’ve noticed? I’d agree with Dylan that access is a big one—particularly in the digital sense. Being able to have internet at home is a huge deal that a lot of people take for granted.

CAITLIN D.: Obvious ones: education and membership in any of the networks of rich white people who enjoy perpetuating themselves. (There is some overlap between these two things.)

ARABELLE: Access to libraries and public programs helped me prepare for college and stuff. I got farther along academically because I had amazing public school teachers and librarians. That accounts for a HUGE part of my privilege.

CHANEL: At my high school, if you were in AP classes and excelling, you were assumed to be higher-class. When I got into the University of Virginia, a lot of my classmates said they couldn’t possibly understand how I got in (while they were rejected), because I was black—which I think to them meant I was inherently lower-class and therefore could not be as smart or successful as them.

DYLAN: CREDIT.

PIXIE: BRACES.

ANAHEED: Health insurance! I have had checkups, vaccinations, dental care, a gyno, birth control, an eye doctor, THERAPY, meds, etc., for my whole life, and I would be a completely different person, physically and psychologically, if I hadn’t.

PIXIE: Yeah, access to mental health care/medication is a big one.

ANAHEED: The way people speak is a huge indicator. Also cultural references. Also personal style.

JAMIA: No joke about speech! My cousins used to tease me for sounding “talking white” and I’d say, “Call me when you need someone to talk to the debt collectors.” They’d always laugh and be like, “Ooh, good idea!”

ESME: In England, there’s very much this idea of CULTURAL, rather than financial, capital determining your class status, and the lines between the classes are blurring a bit because people are increasingly categorized by the culture they’ve been exposed to rather than the money they have or grew up with. A lot of my friends who grew up in working-class homes point to me as a person of privilege because of the emphasis my parents put on “the arts.” They look at my life and are like, “Not everyone can just decide to be an illustrator and fuck off to New York,” as though such things came easily for me, when it was just as hard for my parents and me to make it work as it would be for them. But my buds still roll their eyes at anything I achieve and put it down to my “bougie” upbringing! And maybe I’m being obtuse, but I just find that so limiting! As if imagination and ambition are things that belong to “higher-class” people? Or, en plus, as if there’s something wrong or shameful about being the kind of person who just ISN’T very “cultured” in the hoity-toity sense and DOES just wanna stay in their hometown for the rest of forever? Idk!!!

SUZY: I also hate the idea that art is only a bourgeois endeavor; plenty of poor people (and people of color) are extremely artistic and are responsible for some highly influential work, like the blues, street art, etc. It’s wealthier people who have created barriers to that kind of expression and work—gatekeeping by means of language and access to space and resources. Now, pursuing the arts as a career is a totally different story—but being artistic or intellectual in general is not something only afforded to the upper classes.

JENNY: Something I noticed when I started at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was that in the three years I was there, there were ZERO black people in the poetry program, and it always bugged me. When I was in high school, my mom and I got into it so hard about me wanting to pursue writing. She said I was selfish and harming my future children and that she and my father didn’t even think about pursuing their passions, because that was something only the truly selfish who don’t care about providing for their nonexistent children would do. I realized later that it was a money thing. My dad came to the U.S. to get his PhD in linguistics, because back then in China you couldn’t choose your college major, it was given to you. He went through hell to get that degree, which he had to stop short of because he couldn’t pay for college and support his young family at the same time. By then we were living in a mostly white suburb in Long Island where following your dreams and passions was very much expected, and never questioned by the seemingly carefree kids whom I envied and wanted to emulate, so I didn’t really understand why my parents kept telling me that they would never support my writing ambitions. (My mom said she would call up Stanford, the college I went to, and tell them I was a convicted felon to get them to revoke my admission. She also threatened to go on a hunger strike until I agreed in writing that I would never try to be a writer!) But I get it now. I mean, what person who came up through a poor/working class background would choose, as a career goal, poetry—which literally is impossible to make a cent from? You’d need to already have a lot of financial stability, so that if you make zero dollars a year for the next 20 years off your poetry, you won’t end up in the gutter, because you already have something you can fall back on (e.g., family money).

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54 Comments

  • MayaLove March 31st, 2014 5:35 PM

    I’ve been lower-middle class my whole life, but I’ve grown up in an area with a lot of old-wealth families. not only that, but many families are 100% white and have 5+ years of college, while I’m native, german, jewish, and Slovakian, and my parents are recovering addicts who have a collective total of 2 1/2 years of college. I’ve always been hyper aware of other people and how my money measures to their’s.

    http://maya-michelle-youngphoto.tumblr.com/

  • izzybee March 31st, 2014 6:02 PM

    this is such a great discussion! I’ve always considered my family somewhere in the middle class because we owned the house, had 2 cars etc but I think if we lived in the USA it would be different because we wouldn’t have the free healthcare, eduction and university that we do in Scotland

    ps shameless is one of my favourite tv shows. it’s so family orientated and touches on lots of important topics and stuff from a family with practically nothing as the centre point
    x

    • mangointhesky March 31st, 2014 6:17 PM

      This is such an amazing discussion, and so relatable! I love Rookie because it’s pretty much the only place on the internet where things like this actually happen to be written!

      http://theneonpapaya.blogspot.com

      • Cruicked April 1st, 2014 12:21 PM

        I live in Scotland, too. If my family and I didn’t have access to free healthcare and education my life would probably be unrecognisable. My parents grew up working class and they still feel working class, though we very much live a middle class lifestyle in comparison with the rest of the world. However, in my particular town, we’re lower middle class. All my friends are going to uni for free and are going to live in student accommodation while their parents subsidise them. Some of them are only considering part-time jobs. People here are very entitled, and I’m always checking my privilege even tho I don’t have as much as everyone in my yeargroup. I recognise that I can act very entitled but because my family used to be less well off I feel like it’s not that bad because I’ve been broke. And I really judge my friends who’ve never had to struggle and be hungry and be embarrassed about their cheap clothes. Even though I’m lucky that my problems were only temporary, they really left an impact on me. It was really upsetting being younger and not having dinner because there was nothing to eat and then go to school and have a friend complain about how much they couldn’t wait for their holiday to the US. I constantly try to not take what I have for granted. This article is amazing, truly amazing. I really think class needs to be talked about more, and this has been really helpful. Keep it up!

  • giov March 31st, 2014 6:20 PM

    mmm this is greaaat. i spend half my life thinking about this, because i basically still live off my parents’ money (i’m 24!) but where i’m from it’s kind of normal? even for not incredibly well off people? which we are but in a strange way that is actually not that strange? i think my brother and i are still not over how privileged we are, in the sense that we can’t seem to make it work for us (again, not unusual where we’re from, it’s just not a great place for the youth, not even the privileged one).

    for reasons that are hard to articulate right now, i was kind of curious to see tavi in this conversation.

  • umi March 31st, 2014 6:23 PM

    what an amazing discussion! my family’s probably middle class,although we did fluctuate.when i was younger i lived in what basically was the ghetto.there is a literal line where our “”"bad”"” neighborhood meets the fancy bulidings and the highway to the beach.all the tourists stratigically avoid our area,mostly inhabited by black folk.
    we moved a couple times and we’re in some bad times during.i remember pretty vividly being really upset tha i was 11/12 and i couldnt help my parents our at all.
    we moved again and lived in a place for two years.we got foreclosed.probably one of the most difficult things ever.all of our things got thrown out,without any sympathy.we lived in a hotel for two weeks.thank GOD we had family and friends who love us,SERIOUSLY.my grandma drove down from georgia,our friends gave us the funds we needed.we’re blessed and i will not ever forget it.

  • simooone March 31st, 2014 6:26 PM

    I definitely thought this was a great piece and a really important thing to put out. As someone that did grow up with a lot of privilege and didn’t have to worry about money, talking about it has always made me a little uncomfortable- I can’t chime in when people talk about how much it sucks that they can’t do something because they can’t afford it and I feel like my complaints are always a little less valid because I don’t have to worry about finances. I’m basically alway worried about coming off as a rich bitch. It’s not like I parade around my resources or that my parents had it easy as kids. My dad immigrated from China as a little kid and my mom was evicted as a teenager. In the past fifteen or so years, they’ve risen a lot professionally to a point where I can have some of the things they didn’t. I’ve gone to a private school all my life, and when the other “lifers” that come from families that are actually significantly more affluent than mine say really uninformed, privileged things like “I’m so poor,” because OHMIGOSH they didn’t get the latest whatever the day it came out, I have a hard time keeping it together. I think one of the most important things to do when you think about class is that you think about your privilege and the things that you do have, especially in contrast to what other people don’t. Be self aware and acknowledge your privilege- that’s really my main goal.

    • Hoid March 31st, 2014 6:44 PM

      The “I’m so poor” thing gets me too! Its so nice to know someone else feels this way.

  • Christie March 31st, 2014 6:35 PM

    This was so eye-opening (because as dimwitted as I’m about to sound, I hadn’t thought of most of these points in relation to my, or anyone elses, lives.) Maybe it’s because I live in England and everything is pretty different here, but you all put your points across really coherently and I really enjoyed reading this
    x

  • Hoid March 31st, 2014 6:42 PM

    Thanks so much for having this discussion! My family moved to one of the most financially unequal places in the country a year and a half ago. The area where I live isn’t seeing about seeing how the other half lives, but how the bottom 10% survive cheek and jowl against the top .01% and its not pretty. We have the town system, where most of our local taxes go directly to our town’s (not the county’s) infrastructure. One of the richer towns is building a 65 million dollar high school to replace the perfectly good high school, while in the town next door, only half of the bathrooms in the high school even function. I understand the rhetoric thats thrown around about people who pay should get the new facilities, but schools are for children, not their parents. Its not just inequality, its ghettoizing the poorer children because their facilities and teachers aren’t equipped to teach them. Some of the kids I know have families who have been here for three generations and have been rich for all three, while one of the janitors I’ve talked to families’s has been here for that long and has remained poor for that entire time as well. And because of housing prices in each of the towns, the poor kids stay in the poor schools, with like 50% graduation rates, and the rich kids stay in the school with 8 soccer fields. I believe it would be wrong to begrudge the rich their lifestyle, but when they could help stop what is effectively socioeconomic segregation, its hard not to be irritated. (sorry for the long post)

  • lydiabot March 31st, 2014 6:58 PM

    It’s weird. When I was younger, my family was pretty rich, but then we lost much of that wealth when we moved to America and during the recession. We had to live in motels and stuff, so I considered myself some sort of lower class. But then when we moved back to my home country, we still owned our old house which is in a fancy area, so I have the confusing aspect of identity, where I am surrounded by very rich people, yet am very poor, living off free school meals and funding from my school.
    It’s also really weird because I love hearing about all this brilliant stuff we can do in 2014, but I can never take part in it because I’m too poor. I read this article called “Too poor for Pop Culture” (NYT, I think) and that pretty much sums up some of my feelings

  • amescs March 31st, 2014 7:01 PM

    This is SO GOOD I can’t stress it enough. It was super interesting to hear what y’all had to say and it also taught me loads about really useful and important stuff. Thank you guys for a great discussion! These round-table things should happen more, they’re great!

    • simooone March 31st, 2014 7:32 PM

      yaaaaaaasssssss give us more like this!

  • marineo March 31st, 2014 7:03 PM

    this is really interesting to me bc all these women are in the “creative” field and thus have made the choice to live with less income than a technical job or whatever which as i was raised is like the ULTIMATE SIN and the ultimate sign of class. I.e. “you must be privileged if you can ~afford~ to be a writer/artist/whatever”. which is totally biased and weird on my part but that’s where i am at. Obviously artists come from all backgrounds but I can’t shake the notion that *Artists* have to come from privilege to even consider pursuing it. This idea has only been reinforced in college because I have suddenly met so many obviously wealthy people who are pursuing all these artsy things and literally do not worry about life after college. Like for real: my best friend is an english major and she openly talks about how she won’t ever get a job but lol it doesn’t matter she’ll just be poor. like wtf???

    but maybe this is just me getting mad that my parents were like “be an engineer or you get no help forever”. w/e
    maybe i’ve been brainwashed but i can’t help thinking that people who go to college for arts majors are fucking privileged as hellll.

    • marineo March 31st, 2014 7:14 PM

      I was never really sure of my class growing up because, like many people, i lived around so many people who were so obviously richer than my family. although i don’t really know my mom’s history, I think she must have grown up relatively poor because the attitudes she had towards brand name anything was that it was something we couldn’t afford (even though I now know we probably could have). I was taught early on that cheaper was always better. I bought most of my toys/clothes from thrift stores growing up and continue to do so now. Basically we lived like money was tight, even though it probably wasn’t.
      In middle school, I got angry because I started noticing all the conscious displays of wealth that others had, ie paid gardeners, nannies, house cleaners. It didn’t help that my best friend at the time was very wealthy and her parents bought brand name everything ie food, toilet paper, EVERYTHING. it made me mad bc these were things i was not allowed to have at home, and her mom bought all these things so nonchalantly (i went grocery shopping with them a lot bc i spent every day after school with them) they also ate out 3 or 4 times a week which was crazy to me.
      But as I got into high school, and now college, it has become apparent to me that we are certainly upper middle class because my parents think nothing of giving me $40 for the weekend if i’m going out. which is crazy because I never dreamed that that could happen when I was younger.
      Money is definitely a taboo subject in my family so idk how much i will learn about my real childhood financial situation…

    • Arabelle April 1st, 2014 11:07 AM

      we actually talked about this in the unedited discussion, the privilege of the art world. i get what you’re saying. lots of art students (including fashion kids as thats the world im most aware of) come from monied background.

      it’s important to note though most of us have to do noncareer work like minimum wage jobs in retail or food services or nannying to support our “artistic side”

      stem fields are upheld as more necessary to the world — not arguing with that tbh — but i wouldn’t say artists or creatives are any better off, i’d just say they’re considered less serious fields. the pay for the most part is total crap. so we have to think about what class means in terms of finances and class appearance. on one hand i come off myself better off than i am financially because i get products sent to me because of my job, but i also do not have healthcare benefits or other aspects that would come with middle class aspirations.

      and when it comes to art schools – we should think about the amount of debt you’re drowning in sometimes. like, there comes a point where you’re in so much debt (like 50k a semester??? omg) where you don’t feel like you’ll ever get out of it especially as an artist, so you say screw it and throw your money to the wind. i see this a lot. this doesn’t mean they’re richer for buying lots of things, they’re drowning in debt even if they seem swaggy. the idea of upwards mobility and debt makes class & privilege a lot more complicated than your career i think.

    • Erin. April 1st, 2014 1:31 PM

      Just to offer another perspective, my family is pretty well off, and my parents paid for my university education (English and Creative Writing major). However, I can’t say that they’ve been entirely emotionally supportive. I can’t say that my dad even knew what I studied at all. Despite our money, there was no “reach for your dreams” thing going on. Maybe a bit from my mom, because she majorly regrets no trying to do what she wanted to do in life. But to my dad, it was all worthless, and I’m worthless for being a writer.

      Two years after graduating, I’m still technically unemployed (or “lack traditional employment,” as I call it). And I make jokes about it all the time, just like your best friend. But, a lot of that comes from insecurities about feeling worthless, and huge fears that I will be unemployed forever. I try to convince myself that I don’t work because I choose not to work (and my family is wealthy enough that I don’t have to work), when at the same time I know that, frankly, I just would not be hired by anybody. I don’t have skills that our society considers “useful,” and my social skills are quite poor, so I make jokes about it (or Tyler Durden-ize the situation) in order to try to deal with it.

  • yuki March 31st, 2014 7:15 PM

    This is something I’ve struggled with for many years. My family is pretty “well off” and I have access to healthcare which is so so SO amazing, however, I mostly hung out with rich private school girls who bought 100 dollar bikinis and owned Mercedes Benz, I always felt poor. They went on vacations to Hawaii with their friends, and I just couldn’t live up to them.

  • jayne12 March 31st, 2014 7:20 PM

    I agree about the points made on ‘cultural capital’ in the UK. But I think that it is important to note that while yes, there are a lot of artistically talented ‘lower class’ people, or people who haven’t had that museum/ cultural upbringing, there is definitely more of a push toward studying something ‘useful’ at university for these people. I got so much stick at my sixth form from people who just didn’t understand why I would want to study art while my parents, while accepting, thought it was slightly odd too. At uni I can’t help but notice how the majority of students on my course (Fine Art) come from very high-income, culturally orientated families (I’m not saying these two things are not mutually exclusive), while there seems to be a higher proportion of people from a working class background studying sciences. Sometimes I feel down about it and I doubt myself- ‘fine’ art seeming to come much more naturally to those immersed in it from an early age. The art world IS their world already- and they have a confidence, that although I might be just as ‘able’, I just don’t have yet. But obviously they must face other pressures and expectations that I haven’t experienced. But to Esme, I guess this is how the other people who tell you that not everyone can just go and become an illustrator in New York must feel sometimes!

  • blueolivia March 31st, 2014 7:58 PM

    such an amazing thread! i’ve always been kind of put-off by the fact that people think it’s rude to talk about money- isn’t it worse to spend money you don’t have because you can’t find a way to tell your friends you can’t afford it? one thing that i’m really sick of is people giving me a look of pity when i can’t go on vacation or afford to see a movie or something. i don’t WANT people’s pity, its humiliating. it’s an amazing privilege that my family has enough money to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. not being able to fly to punta cana or whatever isn’t a big deal to me.

    i think i was always made to feel bad or lesser because i’d have to borrow money when i went on school trips or out with my friends, even though i always paid it back. i hate the idea that people are made to feel that way.

    i just want to say that everyone should remember to not be ASHAMED of your income status, ever. i don’t care if you’re dumpster diving or eating off fine china, you shouldn’t ever feel shame for the way you’re living ♥

    • Berries April 1st, 2014 9:11 AM

      I know how you feel when people pity you when you can’t afford something. I am not bothered that much when I can’t afford something, because I don’t think it helps to whine about it and I don’t think others should pity me either.

      I don’t think that people should be ashamed of their income either. Maybe it’s a student-thing – many students here are relatively poor (though many have wealthy parents) and many of them talk about it openly.

  • Roz G. March 31st, 2014 8:33 PM

    This was such an amazing conversation! I read it all… I must confess I was torn between feeling guilty at never having worked and never seen any of the hardships described above (and was very happy when the discussion turned to this topic). Also it was very interesting to see how what Amy Rose (and others) described as “poor”. It is certainly the U.S poor… that “poor” I think, is what the poorest families here in Mexico dream about when they go to the U.S searching for job opportunities.

  • mimsydeux March 31st, 2014 8:51 PM

    Everyone should watch the documentary ‘Born Rich’, made by Johnson & Johnson heir, Jamie Johnson in the 90s. It’s a fascinating look at how the intergenerational fear of discussing one’s wealth leads to greater inequality and conscious ignorance. My favourite part is when Ivanka Trump describes seeing a homeless person outside Trump Tower as a little girl, at which point her father Donald tells her “that guy is $8 billion dollars richer than me”. A frightening look at privilege and the ideas we still have about meritocracy in America.

  • mojo918 March 31st, 2014 9:21 PM

    This discussion is beautiful. I’ve always considered myself upper-middle class, because I had a lot less money than many of the kids I knew growing up, but I live in this ultra-privileged liberal college town where “fast food” is a bad word, average income is 150K+, etc. In the fall I am going to an amazing women’s college in New England where I will pay less than 25% of the sticker price and hang out with a fair number of women who went to boarding school/took vacations to St. Moritz every year/are DEFINITELY paying that sticker price. I am a little nervous about hanging with these people–what if I suddenly feel totally inadequate because I’m less privileged?

    • irismonster March 31st, 2014 11:17 PM

      I totally sympathize with the being-rich-but-feeling-poor-because-everyone-else-is-richer thing. I hate it so much that I’m actually transferring to a public school next year, which is going to be a huge transition. I think that my parents intentions were entirely valid in putting me in this community and that my education until now has been amazing, but still, I’ve only seen a small part of the picture. Just the other day, a close friend of mine asked me if having a million dollars was normal. I can’t stand this.

  • violaviolet March 31st, 2014 10:46 PM

    I absolutely love this article! As someone who has grown up in a upper class area being middle class felt ”poor”. Just because I wasn’t handed 75$ to go to the mall ( I had multiple friends that were like this.) But recently I started going through financial hardship( both my parents lost their jobs). I’ve had to deal with a lot of hard stuff the last couple of months (foreclosure, food pantries and all that stuff). Even though it’s been extremely hard I have learned so much and I really become thankful for everything I’ve had.

  • Maryse89 March 31st, 2014 11:51 PM

    I feel like there are so many ways that privilege can manifest itself and…I have them all. It’s something I’ve always felt guilty about: not only did I grow up upper-middle class (at least for South Carolina, if I had lived in NYC it’d probably be a different story ha), but I’m white, born to really educated, cultured parents who always encouraged me to just ‘learn’ and ‘discover’ and not necessarily do something practical…I even went to college free because my mother is faculty, so I’ve got no student loans to deal with…not to mention I’m healthy, able bodied, conventionally attractive, etc…

    you guys talked about this kind of ‘pride’ that comes with the narrative of having worked hard and overcome class barriers…I guess the flip-side to that is this sort of shame and self-loathing I sometimes feel when I think about how all of my achievements probably have 99% to do with my privilege and maybe 1% from my own contributions

    it leads me to treat myself sort of flippantly and i guess really down play and devalue all my accomplishments as just things that are tied to my luck and my massive privilege. anyone else feel this way?

    • emlyb April 14th, 2014 3:27 PM

      oh my gosh, YES. i relate SO MUCH. i never know how to talk about this so thank you.

  • abc April 1st, 2014 5:31 AM

    This thread was really interesting and eye-opening to me. I have lived in Australia all my life, and although there is some class structure, there is definitely not as much as in the US. I guess I’m middle class, but everything is quite different because Australia has free health insurance and the govt set up an interest free loan system for university students, which is completely different to in the US. I was in the US, if I wanted to go college I would have to have a scholarship. Without those systems in place, my Mum and her sisters wouldn’t have been able to get an education, and would’ve been stuck in the lower class (my grandparents were migrants and had barely anything when they came here). This thread opened my eyes to how fortunate I truly am, and how systems like the college system in America just perpetuates this class divide.

  • kahv1123 April 1st, 2014 8:19 AM

    I live in a third world country wherein about a quarter of the population is well below the poverty line. I’m lucky to be considered upper class here. It’s crazy because the neighborhood I live in has houses worth millions yet it’s located only a couple of kilometers away from acres and acres of slums. We often have foreigners from Australia, America, and Europe doing exchang/volunteer programs hosted by my school (a relatively posh private one). Even they’re shocked at how large the gap is between social classes.

    Another interesting note is that here, when we apply to Universities, we actually get categorized according to how much our households earn, how many cars we own, etc. and this system actually affects our entrance to the school. Practically everyone I know is in the A bracket, which is the highest and the least likely to get into the college. Government universities prefer the lower brackets to give opportunities.

  • Lillypod April 1st, 2014 8:23 AM

    This was really enlightening and detailed some of the nuances of wealth/privilege really well. Especially where it was talked about that “class” is often less about your bank statement and more about your heritage, cultural background and access to resources. My family’s income and circumstances has fluctuated over the years , like many people, and yet I’ve always thought we lived outside the boundaries of class distinctions. The fact is that my life resembles no one else that I know.

  • Aoife April 1st, 2014 8:29 AM

    Fascinating discussion, particularly when all involved are creatives. It was also really interesting to consider this in relation to Australia (where I live) – class lines and incomes seem much more stratified in the U.S. Or maybe that’s just from an outside perspective.

  • Berries April 1st, 2014 8:57 AM

    I was brougt up lower-middle class. We were with 5 people and some pets. We got our stuff from relatively cheap stores. I knew my parents couldn’t afford everything, but we could afford basic things plus some fun stuff. Me and my siblings were allowed and stimulated to be part of a sportsclub, cooking or creativity club – not the expensive ones, but a normal or cheap one. One club, except when it was very cheap, maybe two. Our vacations were often to camping places in our own country, or a country nearby. I think the people around me were more middle class (sometimes even upper class) – the clothes they wore were different, their houses were bigger, they actually owned a lot of books instead of getting them from the library like I did. I was a happy kid – my hobbies weren’t expensive so I could do what I wanted. Even if I didn’t got what I wanted because of money, I was just how it was and I was okay with that.
    My priority was the library, and supplies to paint/draw/write/etc, and those aren’t that expensive. :)

  • Berries April 1st, 2014 9:04 AM

    My aim is to become a researcher. Depending on where I am going to work, I will probably end up middle class (university, especially when I’m just getting started) or upper class (companies). I am looking forward to have more money, though I must say that my associations with rich people are pretty bad… But it would be nice to not worry about money and have a nice house, and to share my wealth with other people, and be able to donate money when I want to.

  • Violet April 1st, 2014 10:40 AM

    That was a great conversation, and I felt uncomfortable many times (esp. dealing with the ‘following your passion’ and feeling guilty of never having had to do a ‘service’ job). I feel extra-priviledged right now, and I enjoy the TIME that this priviledge is giving me soooo much. On the other hand I spend all this energy trying to find ways to reduce my guilt: owning less objects, looking at the minimal way of living, and seeing how I could become self-dependent again.

    Recently I read David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell (feeling a bit perplexed by it), and there was this interesting chapter about wealth, where he says that basically there is this ‘ideal’ family income (i think it was $75,000/year total) up to which your wellbeing and happiness will grow along with the money – but BEYOND which having more money will make the children feel miserable because they can never have a sense of working towards earning their own lives meaningfully.

  • Erin. April 1st, 2014 12:49 PM

    This was interesting to read. Thank you, Rookie writers!

    I’m in a sort of odd place in regards to all this. I recently found out that my family is part of the top 10% in Canada (top 10%=people earning $100,000 or more per year), and my entire family was shocked, because while we knew we were well off, we don’t consider ourselves to be rich. Partly, it’s ’cause we’re probably working-class (live in working-class area, and my dad’s job is in construction). And also my dad’s parents were immigrants, so there is still a sort of immigrant-mentality in my house. But also ’cause we know people who are way more wealthy, who have maids, big houses, and who get everything they want (literally EVERYTHING). My parents and I wear our clothes until they’re thread-bare, and a lot of our stuff is old and falling apart. But I recognize that I’ve had a lot of privilege. I’ve never had to really worry about money, and my parents paid for my entire university education. But most of my relatives do not emotionally/mentally support my being a writer. Even though my family is well off, arts and literature holds very little value. They don’t consider writing to be hard work or valuable work. So, yeah, just because people are rich, doesn’t mean they care about the arts.

  • Josieandthepussycats April 1st, 2014 12:52 PM

    I remember my mom and I shopping for food to answer peoples Craigslist postings and then going home to pounds of lentils and kale that we grew ourselves, we were upper middle class because my dad was retired Navy but we always shopped at the $1 store and lived lower middle class . I think it was because the town we lived in was bankrupt and even though we lived half an hour from wine country I never saw a high end store such as trader joes or fresh and easy until I started high school.

  • flocha April 1st, 2014 1:55 PM

    I am so glad you published this article on here, its so important to talk about these things even though people act like they don’t exist. My family is middle class, and we have always been well off. We have enough money to go on holiday and buy nice things, and for me and my sister to go to private school. I found it kind of weird though when I started at my school 5 years ago, having previously been to state school and home educated, how some of my new friends acted. For those with properly upper middle class families, going to private school wasn’t considered unusual or even a particular privilege, it was just something you did, even if it was a struggle to pay the fees. I sometimes feel embarassed when people I know are completely ignorant of their privilege, like when a girl in my class thought that earning £40k a year meant you were poor, and the rest of us had to explain to her that actually that was way above what the normal person earns. I realise that trying to deny or hide your privilege is totally not a constructive thing to do, but still, if anyone asks what school I go to I mumble the town its named after and hope they don’t ask any more, because I’m scared I’ll get labelled as a snobby rich girl.

  • Faith April 1st, 2014 4:11 PM

    I love this. I grew up in an affluent household (upper middle to lower upper, over the years), but my parents were always trying to HIDE any wealth. My mom especially is very uncomfortable with the idea of having money. We always shop at Walmart and such for everything, and we use EVERYTHING literally until it breaks. We still have giant, outdated TV’s, and the car I drive to school is a hand-me-down that is full of large dents in the back. I know these are things of privilege, it’s just interesting to me because I know we have the money to replace these things, but my family (including me) doesn’t want that “wealthy” label. We’ve recently gotten to travel to Europe because my dad had business there, and my mom told us not to post on Facebook so that no one would know and judge us for it. It’s a strange dynamic, because obviously even many of the Rookie staffers said they have problems with someone when they know they’ve grown up with money, so I kind of pretend I didn’t.

  • akacatalina April 1st, 2014 5:11 PM

    This is such an absolutely fantastic discussion. I grew up in a lower middle class immigrant family, but as I got older we managed to move into a nicer house and go to private school. I was always the richest of my friends from outside of school and felt shameful and guilty because of it, while simultaneously feeling inferior to the kids at school who could all afford much more than I could. It’s so interesting to read about so many other situations and realize the effect that money can have on a person’s worldview. Love it.

    http://www.oddsntrends.blogspot.com

  • VB April 1st, 2014 5:29 PM

    This is such a great discussion, and the fact that class is still even a THING in this century is ridiculous.

    To me, the (wonderful) points you guys were making seem related in a wider way to the awfulness of social, economic, educational, and health inequality. I would recommend this website, which is super interesting (and a bit depressing).

    http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk

    It’s based on the UK in terms of political policy and information, but for you international rookies the information it has is about lots of other MEDCs, and the world in general. Also, infographics are like the best thing ever… :)

  • antisocialite April 1st, 2014 5:49 PM

    I know I’m privileged, I consider myself lower middle class, but I get confused when my friends say “UGH if my parents don’t buy me the iPhone 5s NOW I’m going to be PISSED!!!!” When if I want anything materialistic (iPhone/clothing/etc.) I need to buy it myself, my friends don’t understand that the reason that I don’t ever go shopping and buy more than one item of clothing is because I have no money, or how excited I am that after Christmas my volunteer work will turn into a proper job, because they haven’t experienced that. They don’t understand that my mom has “hard days” because being a single mom supporting two kids with a job that has it’s ups and downs and sometimes has absolutely no money, but I believe that because of that I’m going to be money conscious

  • Isobelley April 2nd, 2014 1:09 AM

    This was really interesting. There’s a TV show called Dance academy that I think you guys would like. The characters wear clothes from JayJays, Cotton On and Sportsgirl (I don’t think you have those shops in America, but they’re probably the equivelent of Hot Topic, Forever 21 and American Eagle), and there is a bit of discussion about wealth inequality, but it’s not a theme. It’s set in a Sydney dance school :)

  • lemonzz April 2nd, 2014 1:45 AM

    Ugh this discussion is SO. GOOD. Thank you guys for having such an open, honest, and much-needed conversation! Gah I wanna hug you all. I feel so enlightened and encouraged and validated. I wish every person in my life (especially those around my age and younger) from any spectrum of the socioeconomic scale would take the time to read this.

    & just to share my own thoughts…
    Especially since coming to college this year, where many of my peers come from extremely wealthy families, I have really taken notice of the gross amount of privilege and more importantly, many of these students’ perception of lotsa’ money & the luxuries that it brings as something normal, a granted (hello, self-entitlement!). And yes, of course I realize privilege is a relative term and I myself reap its benefits in different ways too. But ok the thing that really bothers me about aforementioned materialistic rich kids is when they don’t understand or acknowledge the scope and impact of their family’s income. What’s worse is when they really flaunt it, like in an almost comical asshole-y, stuck-up manner OR complain about their financial situation. It’s like the whole white privilege issue (sorry to open up a whole ‘nother can of worms): that white people are so privileged they don’t even know it. (I know that’s a pretty bold/controversial? statement – just including this definition for brevity’s sake). ANYWAYS, please continue to do more stuff like this; it’s really eye-opening and comforting to hear people’s different stories and relationships to these “taboo” topics! <3

  • Monroe April 2nd, 2014 10:20 AM

    Sharing the drink lol. This for me was one of the worst aspects of growing up poor. Having to share one drink among six siblings, and having to “wipe off the germs” with my shirt when it was my turn to drink. So annoying.
    I feel conflicted about rich people. On hand I’m not really resentful. Sure I may judge them as shallow, soft, spoiled, and trivial, but I don’t resent the fact that they have more than me.
    I think if you do have money and you feel conflicted about that, just OWN IT. 99% of poor kids would have killed for your upbringing and privileges. NOBODY wants your pity. I think the song “common people” sums up how poor people feel about rich people who try to ingratiate themselves with the lower class. Enjoy being rich and don’t be a jerk.

  • pen2sword April 2nd, 2014 12:24 PM

    I loved this discussion, especially because I’ve been having an internal dialogue with myself about this stuff for a few months now haha. Lately I’ve kinda become more aware of what my “class” is in the world & how it subconsciously affects me… Like when I go to my friend’s house and see that his family has a bunch of kids, one working parent yet they can still afford to own a house and various cars (while my family has two working parents, only a couple of kids, yet we rent and only have one car). Plus my friend has been raised to choose a “career” that is “practical” whereas my family’s philosophy regarding me wanting to be a writer is basically like, “eh, writers don’t make much, but it’s not like any of us thought we were ever going to have money anyway”. My friend’s family thinks that people shouldn’t get married unless they’re quite financially stable; meanwhile my grandparents couldn’t even afford flowers at their wedding.

    Yet I’m also aware that our two families are pretty close in range; I have so much more than some people, and his family has had to make sacrifices in other areas (like when he was younger & literally all his toys/clothes were secondhand) (so it’s also interesting to see how your class can kind of shift over time– e.g. my family used to own a house).

    Anyways… This sparked so many thoughts, I could talk on & read about this subject for ages.

  • Flossy Mae April 2nd, 2014 1:02 PM

    I think this is really interesting because, as a couple of people pointed out, it is very different in England. Class is based around culture, not money. I think for the most part, it’s about education, but it’s not about ‘working class’ people not being educated or not being able to make/appreciate art, it’s about ‘working class’ serving as a definition for those who don’t necessarily make or appreciate art (I am in NO way saying that working class people are any less than middle/upper class at all, I’m just responding to a point someone made). In London, if you are unemployed, totally broke, basically in possession of no money whatsoever and living off benefits but making/appreciating art, you would not be defined as ‘working class’, but rather as living what we call a ‘studenty’ or ‘arty’ lifestyle. Similarly, you could be earning LOADS and still call yourself ‘working class’ because of your upbringing, or more basically, your values (like Lord Sugar, who is a millionaire and still firmly working class, self professed).

    I think it’s a lot more complicated in England because I don’t think there’s that much emphasis on your actual wage to define you. It’s more about where you live, and what you believe and how educated you are that seem to define it.

  • wpaigej April 2nd, 2014 5:10 PM

    A lot of what Chanel was saying really resonates with me. I too am a black student who attends UVA. The bit about getting an internship is SO REAL. I feel like unpaid internships can be great but are just not realistic because money is just so necessary for housing, food, etc. Also, the class privilege here is almost overwhelming here at times since it seems lots of students, particularly the “sratty” ones, just have no worry when it comes to everyday expenses.

  • IndigoJo April 3rd, 2014 7:10 AM

    This was such a reality check for me! I am naturally really frugal and anxious about money but my family has never had to go hungry or buy second hand clothes.

    Student loans have made me very aware of privilege and paranoid that everyone else has it better than me – a lot of my friends get grants from the government due to their low income, sometimes because their parents run farms and they can fix their profit each year, and they are unconcerned about money. The majority of people I know at University have their living costs paid by a combo of government and parents, whilst my parents can’t support me at all.

    When my parents were first married, my dad got in a car accident and couldn’t work and they lost their flat and ended up in council housing (where they still live). They were living off credit cards and the subsequent debt has hung over my dad’s head for the last 40 years. Although we’ve never really struggled, the debt cancels out a lot of my families theoretical income (hence why I don’t qualify for grants but my family can’t support me) and its made me really aware of what I do with money and really petrified about the student debt I am accumulating. I feel like to offset the debt (especially as I study Classics) I need to get a killer CV by getting perfect grades and working part time and volunteering and running clubs.

  • IndigoJo April 3rd, 2014 7:17 AM

    Also I think an important thing to remember if you are comfortably off but you are feeling like you don’t have enough is that once you get past the necessities it’s all about priorities. So as a kid I would get jealous hearing about my friends’ cool summer holidays when my family never went on holiday, but my dad would always point out that I had my own computer when most kids had to share with their siblings. Now I’ve moved out, I will happily buy the cheapest food and not go out clubbing as much as my friends so I can save to go on holiday in the summer!

  • yarndresses April 4th, 2014 10:19 PM

    The comment on veganism being a privilege; that ignited awful memories in me that I’d totally forgotten about.
    I always thought I was lower middle class because my parents constantly screamed that this utility or that was about to be shut off and I never bought brand name clothes, but then I became a pescetarian in fourth grade. I thought the same thing about it being generally cheaper until I went out to eat with a friend’s family one day.
    We went to some fast food burger joint and we were going through the drive through. It was my friend, her mom, her two sisters and I. Her mom specifically told everyone to order off the dollar menu. I looked at it and I kind of got shell shocked because there was nothing there but french fries for me. I told her I guessed I’d have them, but she kept asking me if I was sure until I cracked and asked for a fish filet.
    When we got back and my friend’s mom went away, my friend WENT CRAZY. She essentially tore me apart for daring to pick a 4$ sandwich- didn’t I see that everyone else was picking 1$ sandwiches? I couldn’t justify it beyond mentioning her mom had kept asking me if I was sure; she responded to that by saying her mom was just being polite. I stopped hanging out with her, but she still went to my school- three years later, she guilt tripped me on the same situation again when I tried to eat in class.

  • Nomali April 9th, 2014 4:21 AM

    I read this on phone last week and never got around to commenting. This is one of my favourite things on Rookie ever. EVER. This is an important discussion, thank you for initiating it.

  • emlyb April 14th, 2014 3:23 PM

    thank you SO MUCh for this. SO MUCH. i would looooove to see more stuff like this on rookie in the future!