I was reading an old blog post the other day about the whole “it’s rude to ask what someone does for a living in Europe” thing, and I got to thinking about the difference between class/family background and income/occupation/career. It is true that what you do is a pretty common way to identify oneself right off the bat here in the US, but what’s the alternative? The most obvious one I could come up with is where you come from–hometown, family name, background. The difference between those two identities, of course, is that one is dealing with class and upbringing (which you can’t control) and the other is dealing with income and occupation (which you, supposedly, can).
Part of our American individual responsibility rhetoric is the idea that it’s only up to us whether we succeed or fail in our careers. Supposedly, occupation should be a more egalitarian way to define oneself, rather than speaking directly about class or family ties. But is that really the case? Personally, I feel a pressure around the occupation question, because I grew up in a middle to lower middle class family in the South, did very well in school, and was expected to far exceed my parents’ incomes. I am more educated than any of my family members, and live in a large urban area in a more affluent part of the country now. However, I make far less money than expected, and I find myself defining myself more by what I want to do than by what I am when someone asks about career. I often define myself as a blogger, writer, and activist, obscuring my full-time paying job. Sometimes I say that I work in the “non-profit” sector, but rarely mention my job title, because it’s more a means than an end.
I do wonder if the tendency to identify ourselves by our careers contributes far more to stress than some people realize. How many of us use an aspirational definition of what we are, or speak about our education rather than our job, or our sector rather than our occupation? How many feel ashamed by a job description? I do think that there is a tendency to see what we do as a direct reflection on our job skills and what we have to offer as professional people, rather than an accident of circumstance, what was available in this economy when we applied, or what we grew into as we went from job to job. I don’t necessarily think that defining ourselves by class is any better, but I do wonder what the attendant pressure of that definition would be.
This is something that’s been bugging me for a while when I read blogs of all sorts, though especially those in the personal development and food spheres (two categories where I’m guessing the average blogger has an above-average income). I keep seeing little throwaway sentences that make assumptions about the class and income of whoever’s reading. For example, exhortations to give to charity that are designed to make the reader feel guilty, or posts about cutting back in a recession/when unemployed that urge readers to give up the gym membership and stop shopping at Whole Foods.
Now, I realize that Internet access is a barrier, and that people online as a whole are going to generally have more money and be more likely to live in the “developed” world than the world population as a whole. But with the advent of free Internet access in libraries and other public spaces, the saturation of the Internet in workplaces, and the availability of cheap netbooks with free wifi, there are a lot of people online who aren’t middle class and don’t have disposable income. Thus, this whole guilt language about giving to charity or making “small” purchases has to go, as do blog posts about financial advice that only really apply if you were making about $40K/year before the recession.
I’m not saying that these posts aren’t valuable, just that like any writing it’s a case of knowing your audience. Instead of using language of guilt to make people donate to charity, highlight the good works that your charity of choice does and let people evaluate for themselves whether they’re able to give this year. If you are giving financial advice for middle class people, be explicit about it. Include a note that your tips are directed at those who have plenty, or those who have been employed for a while pre-recession, or singles. Basically, don’t be like this writer.
Welcome to the First Blog Carnival on Privilege! First, thanks to all the bloggers who contributed to this first round of the carnival. I was excited to see all the different takes on privilege represented here, and the diversity of those who submitted. You can see all the entries below the cut, and follow links through to read the complete posts. I also want to announce that we will be having a second carnival, since this first round was so successful. To give everyone plenty of time to think about submissions, the second carnival entries will be due Sunday, May 23rd. The topic for the second carnival will be White Privilege, so start thinking about race and racism for your posts. I would also accept posts for the second carnival that deal with other sorts of racial privilege, for example if you want to write about a community where one group is privileged based on the color of their skin, but that group isn’t “white,” that’s perfectly fine. Submissions again can be e-mailed to judithavory [at] gmail [dot] com. If we get a lot of submissions again, then I’ll probably switch over to a monthly format, and perhaps ask for other hosts for future carnivals. Also, because this came up a couple of times in this round, I do prefer new posts, but if you want to submit an older post for a carnival and not rehash an issue, that’s also fine.
And now, on with the carnival!