Americans betray and hurt each other everyday in the form of class discrimination.
It exists within families, too. My own family members have had major fluctuations at nearly every socioeconomic level over the last 100 years. Most of them were entrepreneurs and they followed beaten paths such as farming, a factory, oil, real estate development, rentals, law, and (ahem!) cocaine (which was reported several times to different authorities and they never caught it). In all of those sectors they’ve had both good years and really bad ones, and when they’re doing well then they’re intolerant and contemptuous of poor people, and when they’re doing badly than they want sympathy and a bail out. They’re exactly the kind of people that everyone loves to hate.
The truth about family money is that it comes and goes. And then it comes back. And then it goes again. In order to attain financial stability it’s necessary to continually create new profit streams because eventually the old ones will stop working.
My dad was a litigation attorney for over thirty years. His income was unpredictable and his overhead was high. He appeared rich because his office was located at 50 California Street and it occupied half of the 22nd floor, but the truth is that sometimes we had money and sometimes we didn’t.
My older siblings thought it would be cool to become real estate developers. Suzy was in the middle of building a 20,000 square foot mixed use building, plus an 18 parcel housing track, when the housing market crashed and then she couldn’t sell her projects.
As a family that has been at every socioeconomic level, we’ve learned to disassociate our self worth as human beings away from how much money we have. Winning and losing ground plays such a huge role in our lives that it’s ridiculous to subscribe to the social class system. Unfortunately, some people can’t let go of it because it is deeply ingrained in them.
Here are a few examples of how far people will go to keep the class system intact:
In August 2007 I was in a relationship with an attorney who planned to quit his job at an insurance defense firm in order to go back to school. I wanted to get married and have a kid, but under the circumstances he couldn’t and I stayed anyway. I was in love with him and I made every accommodation for him in more ways than most people can imagine, over and over again, and I never complained. By sharp contrast, he whined and complained to his mother that I earned a small salary and that I lived with a roommate and I drove the wrong car. He complained to her so much that within two months she hated my guts. She told all of their relatives that I lied about my dad’s occupation because she couldn’t believe that someone could be a litigation attorney for 30 years and not leave a fortune behind for his children. She said that I was a prostitute with no job skills and that I was on a mission to trap her son.
That’s class discrimination. Did I deserve it? Of course not. Did he betray me? Yes. Did I get hurt? Yes. When I told my sister Suzy what happened, she exclaimed, “Who the hell are these people?! Run away from them as fast as you can.”
Here is another story about how class discrimination had an impact on our family:
In January 1993, Suzy was a PhD candidate at Stanford and she began dating Paul, who was in business school. He introduced her to his parents in Lexington, MA, a cardiologist and a psychiatric nurse, and they were extremely friendly. However, everything changed after they realized that Suzy was on a fellowship. They treated her the same way that my ex’s mom treated me.
Once Paul said to me, “Why don’t you go to Denny’s, isn’t that where you people eat?” I was shocked. I think my jaw dropped to the floor.
This horrible story continued:
When she and Paul were engaged she got pregnant by accident. Still thinking that she was engaged, she planned to have the baby, but Paul had other ideas and he left her. He pressured her to get an abortion and after the deadline passed he pressured her to put the baby up for adoption. She kept the baby, who is now a very healthy, well adjusted young woman at Mills College. After all of these years I still want to punch Paul in the face.
When Suzy was pregnant our brother Mike gave Paul $20,000 in cash to cover her expenses. This sounds unbelievable, but Suzy and Paul eventually got married. He graduated and got a job as the director of marketing at a pre-IPO in the high tech sector and a few years later his company sold which created a large windfall. Coincidentally, our brother fell on hard times and so he asked Paul for his money back, and he refused to give it to him.
Class discrimination is serious business because it has an impact on our daily lives, and who does it benefit? In contemporary America everyone is tied to a constant yo-yo economy, and so where does that put us in the socioeconomic class system during the yo-yo’s down cycle?