Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Dirty, Shameful Bias

I have a deep-rooted prejudice toward wealthy people. I don't get them and I usually don't trust them. What is my definition of "wealthy"? Quite simply, it means having/expecting to have lots more money than me. It's all relative and quite subjective, but my class awareness very much colors my perception of others. If you know me personally I've wondered all these things about you:

Did you attend a four year college or university? Is that something everyone in your family just does? Did your parents pay at least half your tuition and expenses?

Did you take piano lessons as a child?

Do you now or have you ever ridden a horse for leisure?

Have you worked in any facet of food service?

Did your parents ever give or buy you a car?

Do you go the doctor any time you feel off?

Was riding the bus ever your only option for getting to work?

Have you ever spent a summer in college either backpacking in Europe or working an unpaid internship?

Are you capable of ordering the most expensive item on the menu without a second thought?

I'm not saying a "yes" or "no" reply to any of these questions will determine whether or not I like you. But I am hyper-aware of how similar or different your answers are from mine. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that most of my intermittent social anxiety stems from feeling out of place around wealthier people. I recently attended a party with lots of other thirties-ish adults, most of whom have salaried jobs, houses and multiple children. I felt so uncomfortable. "Am I not dressed well enough? I bet I'm the only one who works for an hourly wage. But I'm also a part-time stay-at-home mom, so that's kind of bougie enough, right? But I don't take my kid to any activities so now we have nothing to discuss. FUCK, THEY PROBABLY THINK I'M A BAD MOM. But we only have one car and it's tricky. Oh, christ, that lady's wedding ring is probably worth more than our one shitty car. I definitely don't belong here." Sadly, some version of this internal dialog often comes between me and a good time.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that I can sometimes pass for an experienced, third or fourth generation upper middle class person. Perhaps this is because I use the word "perhaps" conversationally. Anyway, when I'm mistaken for a rich person, my knee jerk rage is a bit shocking. I still remember when a snotty goth coworker once made a crack about my assumed "prep school background." Bless his sad little black-clad heart, he didn't know what was coming. "No," I shouted, like a self defense class pupil. "I'm from a factory town and a seven kid family. We had one bathroom. I know all about Kroger Cost Cutter Corn Flakes in the sad yellow box. My public school education blew. Here, look at this fifth grade class photo of me in my brother's hand-me-down sweater, JC Penney eyeglasses, and mullet cut with rusty scissors from the kitchen drawer."


I am actually more ashamed of being assumed wealthy than I am of that photo.

My prejudice is problematic for a couple reasons. In truth, I am wealthier than a lot of people... like, most of humanity. Literally. I try very hard to remember that this myopic "us vs. them" viewpoint is practically meaningless on a global scale. It would be different if I still felt the stress of being poor, if I still felt sorry for myself for having less. I actually feel very comfortable with my household income and fortunate for that sense of ease. But this bias is so visceral, so embedded in my subconscious that reasoning it away simply doesn't work. I know it's unhealthy. Whatever, I'm not worried about you, rich person. Especially if you're white, you're gonna be just fine. Please enjoy your privilege. I'm more concerned that this bitterness is bad for me, as bitterness generally is. And the only reason I'm blogging about it is because this sometimes helps me overcome a problem, or at least release some of the burden. And if it doesn't, at least you get to know who I really am.

And truly, some of my favorite people are wealthy. You may be one of them, and that's fine. Just know that if I ever see you treating a service worker disrespectfully, I will secretly decide you're a horrible person.