(My front-porch gnome)
I recently read an article (I don’t remember where) that mentioned that the phrase “working class” was falling out of favor. Apparently, some people find it offensive, though for the life of me, I can’t imagine why. I should think that all those other folks who aren’t included in the “working” class designation should be the ones offended since there seems to be an implication there that they don’t work. And, besides, I’d rather someone call me “working class” than “lower class” any day.
Yes, I’m one of those in the working class, and I suppose it’s fairly obvious that I’m not ashamed of that. With a blog name like Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl, it would be hard to pretend to be anything other than what I am. And, really, it’s those of us in the working class that keep the world humming along. I mean, how could we get along without our auto mechanics, our carpenters, our janitors? When I was a janitor, sometimes people would laugh when I told them that I took great pride in keeping all those toilets clean, but haven’t we all, at one time or another, been in a position to be deeply grateful for clean public toilets?
When I read about people fighting to keep affordable housing for the working class out of their neighborhood, I wince, realizing that they’re talking about me. It’s painful to know that someone finds the idea of having me as their neighbor offensive. What is it they’re afraid of?
Sure, I probably do bear out some of the stereotypes those folks might harbor about the working class. I like yard art—especially gnomes, flamingoes, and those little plastic birds with whirling wings. And I not only eat Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper, I LIKE them. Spam, too. And, yes, we do have a 28-year-old car in our yard, but it’s not up on concrete blocks.
(My other porch gnome–he keeps it swept for me.)
Really, I think it’s pretty likely that I have the same dreams for my children that wealthy folks have for theirs. And it’s also likely that if they could look beyond my image, they’d probably find that we have more in common than they’d imagine.
There’s no doubt, though, that there are differences. Four years ago, when Ariel was a high school senior, she was invited to Scholarship Day at UNC-Chapel Hill, which meant she was a finalist for a merit scholarship there. Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man went along with her, and they were both pretty wowed by the lavish treatment they received. It was high-falutin’ stuff for us country folks. Most memorable, though, to Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man was listening to the other parents at his table talk. They were having a lively conversation debating which place they preferred for their winter vacations—the Canadian Rockies or the French Alps. Now Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man can usually talk to anybody, but as someone for whom even a trip to Dollywood would strain the family budget, he found it a bit difficult to relate.
And even now, there are times when Ariel feels the divide between herself and her wealthy friends. It’s very hard for her friends who’ve never known privation to imagine how it feels, just as it’s hard for her to imagine how it feels to have your Daddy buy you a new Lexus SUV.
I guess the important thing for her (and us) to remember is to look beyond that Lexus, beyond the expensive clothes, beyond the talk of trips to Europe. The late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood used to sing a song called“It’s You I Like” which I frequently sang to my children). It included the words “…it’s you I like…the way down deep inside you. Not the things that hide you…” I love that phrase “not the things that hide you.” Too often, we do judge someone by their outward image, by the things that hide the truth of who they are. And it goes both ways. It’s just as wrong for me to judge someone by their Lexus as it would be for them to judge me by the pink plastic flamingoes in my yard.
I am painfully aware of my prejudice against rich people. Just the other day, when I read about some celebrity hairdresser in New York City who charges five hundred bucks for a haircut, I felt my blood pressure rise in anger. Both for the greedy hairdresser and for the people who would pay that. And every Saturday, when I read our local newspaper’s “Home of the Week” feature (which really should be called “Mansion of the Week”), I find myself thinking the most uncharitable thoughts. Especially in 2008 when Progress Energy raised our electric bills by 10.2%, and soon afterward, our newspaper featured the huge summer manor (yes, it was just a summer home!) of a retired Progress Energy executive. Talk about bad timing.
Yes, sometimes I feel a resentment towards the rich that veers dangerously close to contempt. And that’s wrong. When I judge them by their luxury houses and cars (the things that hide them), I’m being just as narrow-minded as any other bigot. Judgment, so often, keeps us from seeing the good in people. It is a true poverty—a poverty of the spirit. And poverty of the spirit is the worst kind of poverty there is.
Sure, some of those rich folks have gotten rich on the backs of the poor. And, yeah, many of them have never struggled or known hardship. But I really don’t know their stories, any more than they know mine. The unfortunate truth is, though, we’ll probably never know each other’s stories. Because they don’t want me in their neighborhood.
But they’re welcome to mine. Sure, it’s not likely that they’ll drop by the doublewide to have a nice Tuna Helper supper. And it’s even less likely that they’d invite me to up to their mansion to have tea. But if they do, I might have a few suggestions for their yard. “Looks a little bare,” I’d say. “What you really need is a nice flamingo or two. And a couple of gnomes wouldn’t hurt…”
(My latest acquisition. I adore the little wrinkles behind his neck.)