I’ve been thinking a lot about classism of late.
And I’m wondering whether we can “escape” the class we were born in to.
Allow me to explain…
I was born into an average, middle-class family. I grew up in the suburbs. I went to average, middle-class schools. I got given pocket money. I hung around with friends who lived lives very similar to mine. Most of us were from dual-income families. Mom and Dad both had to work in order for the bills to be paid (although some of us had stay-at-home mothers… myself included). Most of us lived in average, middle-class, suburban homes. We had an average of 1 or 2 siblings. An average of 2 family cars. We left school… (some of us went to college or studied further)… and we “got jobs”. We went on annual holidays to the coast… and, if we were really fortunate (as I was), we enjoyed the occasional overseas holiday too.
We got married to partners who had a similar middle-class, suburban upbringing. It has always been important to “get a job”… to “pay the bills”… to “see-that-the-kids-are-properly-educated”… and to “buy-a-house” (and, if you’re really fortunate, more than one house – as a good investment).
When I look at all of my closest friends, I’m struck by how similar we all are… in a middle-class kind of way. We all have a suburban home… 1 or 2 cars… 2 or 3 kids… and we shop at the same supermarkets and do the same kind of leisure activities on weekends.
This is disconcerting to me.
I don’t have any close friends (Facebook friends don’t count) who are – say – from an informal settlement… who have grown up with no house… no family car… and no microwaved TV dinners.
I have no close friends who… say… live in a shack. Or have an outhouse (instead of indoor plumbing). Or who can’t afford an annual holiday… and so on.
At the same time… I don’t have any close friends who have lived a (far more) financially privileged life than me. Sure, we have some wealthy family members (but they all started off as middle-class – and built a few successful businesses from scratch… and now live in huge homes)… but I’m not talking about them – I’m talking about the “upper-class”. People who come from very wealthy families… people who have their own aeroplanes… or islands… or castles. People who are either very famous… very wealthy… very influential (or all three).
This also disconcerts me.
I guess that most of us tend to “move in the same circles” – but I’m still a bit annoyed that I don’t mix with a healthy diversity of people from ALL backgrounds and classes. I feel a bit trapped by my “middle-class” status.
And I wonder if it’s possible to “escape” it….
Will I always think like a “middle-class” person? Will I always view life through a particular kind of lens? Will I always judge my prospects… or place limitations on my dreams… because middle-class-girls-like-me shouldn’t get “above themselves”?
I’m of the firm belief that we are all created equal. That (regardless of our wealth, status, race, culture, nationality, age, sex or anything else)… that we are still EQUAL – and no more “worthy” or “valuable” or “important” than the next human being. I value all human life (another one of the many reasons why I abhor war). I don’t see myself as somehow more valuable or important than the beggar on the street. In the same way, I don’t believe that a very wealthy or famous person is more valuable or important than me.
That’s why I’ve never idolised anyone (whether a pop star or a famous actor). I’m not any famous person’s “fan”. I don’t “look-up-to” people based on their wealth / status or fame.
I could enjoy a dinner with Britain’s royal family… (and not view them as somehow “better” than me) – in the same way that I can enjoy a meal and a chat with someone who lives in a shack (and not view myself as being “better” than them).
Money / status / possessions and fame are never indicators of who is “better”. We are all human.
And I just happen to be a human who loves diversity.
Do you know…
I once dined with a wealthy, influential diplomat in an Eastern European city. We were driven to the venue by armed body guards (I was even accompanied to the toilet by a man with a gun!). The restaurant was one of those places that only the very well-heeled and well-connected could gain access to. We had waiters standing at attention throughout the meal – and all you needed to do was tilt your chin… or lift your hand ever-so-slightly… and someone was there… instantly… ready to see to your every whim.
We ate food that had been flown in from France earlier that day. Caviar, jellied tongue, goose liver pate and many other goodies were served (all a bit strange and unfamiliar to this meat-and-potatoes girl).
The conversation was fascinating… and I thoroughly enjoyed the company.
On another occasion, I visited the presidential suite of The Palace at the Lost City… where Bryan Adams (the rock star) was hosting his after-party. The entrance to the suite was flanked by 6 waiters in black tie… each carrying a silver tray with fluted crystal glasses containing very expensive champagne. Famous people chatted on the balcony… and (just like the reality TV shows)… ditzy blondes in tiny bikinis giggled and played in the jacuzzi. I struck up a conversation with the rock star’s personal chef who was churning out edible works of art whilst cracking jokes in a charming cockney accent.
A fascinating evening – to be sure – and although it felt a bit odd mingling with different kinds of people… I never felt “less important” than the other people there.
We were all just… you know… people.
I’ve also dined with a family in a rural Cuban farmhouse. Bare floors… more of a wooden shack than a house. The bathroom was a hole in the floor (and a bucket). We ate the best guavas I’ve ever tasted… and we sang Bee-Gee’s songs together. Again – the conversation was fascinating… and I thoroughly enjoyed the company. Before dinner, we sat picking husks out of the rice… laughing, giggling and teasing one another.
And then there was the time in a rural part of Mozambique… where I shared a dinner with an entire village. We all ate the same simple dish (with our hands… out of plastic plates)… and afterwards, we sat on the sand around a big fire. There was storytelling – followed by lots of singing and dancing. Again – I absolutely loved the people… it was one of life’s most beautiful moments.
And then there’s the “normal” people… who are part of my “normal” life.
How I love an evening spent with friends! A braai… a swimming pool… a bunch of kids chasing after each other and creating a huge mess in their bedrooms… a late night discussion with wine and chocolate… a movie-night with my Nick… I love and appreciate the “normal” too – please don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that I want to cut the “middle class” out of my life…
I just don’t want the “normal”… and the “middle class”… to be… you know… “it”.
I want to dine with paupers AND kings… the poor AND the rich… (and everyone in-between). I want to forge friendships with people who are DIFFERENT than me… people who were raised in an environment completely different to my own… people of different cultures… people of different religions…. I want to connect with and learn from ALL humanity… in ALL of it’s crazy diversity…
…not just ONE tiny pocket… ONE tiny sub-culture… of white, middle-income, middle-class suburbanite South Africans (like me).