Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Working Class Crossover

Most of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have areas of interest that might surprise a lot of other folks. Where this subject matter comes from is less important than the depth to which this focus can grasp at and hold tight to our reflective consciousness. Some people might call them our ‘hot buttons’ or for others, their ‘touchy subjects’. No matter the moniker, the subject in question often seems to capture our attention and hold it tight.

I am guilty of a number of these inquisitive infractions. For whatever reason, I find my attention drawn to a wide variety of subject matter. ‘Class in our society’ is certainly one of those areas of interest. In my mind, it ties in nicely with ‘The American Dream,’ ‘Class Consciousness,’ and (the old favorite of mine) ‘risin above your raisen.’

Over the years, I’ve read several books on class. It’s a subject matter that has long since fascinated me on a very personal level. Perhaps the thin fabric of my upbringing had a lot to do with it. Growing up, it certainly wasn’t the glamor of wealth or accumulated material possessions that caught my attention. Instead, I think it was the place American society had sketched out for me as a child based on my social, economic, and cultural upbringing.

Both my grade school and high school slotted me into educational tracks based on my test scores. My family structure certainly didn’t help advance any educational chances at success. There were sometimes understood and other times openly stated assumptions that I would follow a pre-ordained path and certainly never give any thought to ‘rising above my raisin'.’ My mother and father did just that. My grandparents the same. That simply was the way it was and always had been.

One of the chapters in a recent book about class talked about working class folks who, usually inadvertently, get a taste of another life outside of their own realm of existence. The example was a young woman who was taking college classes at night to get a promotion at work.

What she found to her amazement was her newfound ability to grasp the material and delve into it at a deeper level than she ever thought possible. She was encouraged by her teacher and fellow students to continue her pursuit of knowledge. But this is where it got complex and ugly.

Her boyfriend didn’t like the time she was spending in class and not with him. Her parents worried that she was hanging out with ‘those’ people who would give her ideas about her own class and status in life. She was treading where few of her family and relatives had ever gone before. And it made them all very nervous.

‘Educating Rita’ as a wonderful example of these phenomena. Educating Rita was a 1983 movie starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters. A woman takes night classes at ‘the university’ and finds to her amazement that she has the knowledge and talent to succeed there. But forces in her life all seem to conspire against her. Think of this romance/drama as the American Dream without the violins and background music. Instead you’ll hear the scrapping of fingernails on a blackboard and the vision of the future that can’t be reached.

Another good example of this idea is the movie ‘Rudy.’ Based on a true story, ‘Rudy’ does a good job of examining the complex and confusing roles that class places on folks seeking to break out on their own mold and for those who watch them leave the fold.

One of my first novels ‘Love in the A Shau’ painted a picture of just this scenario with my main protagonist. I also touched on this concept briefly in several blogs: ‘Damming the Intellectuals’ and ‘Rising above Your Raisin’ as examples of social and economic crossovers.  Another recent blog entitled: ‘Book of ‘61’ talked about the caste system at my old high school.

That caste system (strictly my words and impression only) at Cretin High School was neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. It was simply recognition by the administration that some students were better prepared for a college-bound track of studies than other students. Test scores were the primary indicator of this placement but I’m willing to bet that socio and economic factors also played a role in that determination.

Class is a worn out pathway we are forced to follow until such time that we consciously select a different route to travel. It is a conscious, and perhaps at other times, a subconscious decision to follow our heart and head instead of directional cues from those around us. It might mean leaving behind friends and family who choose to stay in place.

But in the end, it is being true to oneself and seeking fulfillment where it means the most…to you…consequences be damned.


JJ Harrigan said...

Great comments, Dennis. There's a lot of us from that era. But to most of us, I think that old saying still applies. You can get the child out of the working class, but you never completely get the working class out of the child. And the whole world of work and reward is shifting so much that we tremble for our grandchildren.

Unknown said...

Denis, If you haven't already read the book "Caste", I would strongly recommend it. It was December's Rosemount History Book Club's book and was one of our top ranked books by its members. Happy New Year.

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