Thursday, October 05, 2006

Reflections on Academia and Class

Sorry this is so academic (kinda), this is actually a commentary I turned in. It isn't very well written. I wrote it in 30 mins for an assignment that I had to do, like quick! Feel free to leave comments on it. I just thought I would post it because I have been thinking about it a lot and I need more of an audience for this than just my extremely ethno-centric teacher who doesn't really seem to appreciate this. This is in Response to two essays I read on Class and Identity.

These two essays seemed to epitomize issues that I have been aware of for a very long time. I have written about such issues in the past in my responses. 'Invisible Identities' was an interesting commentary on being working class and white in America. This part of my own identity is something that I have always been aware of because of my particular life experience. There were many areas in the essay that I identified with and some that I did not. I will explain.
The description of Engen's father as a truck driver that dropped out in the 8th grade, hit very close to home for me. This is almost the exact same circumstance of my fatherÂ’s life. The only difference is that my father dropped out of school much earlier than the 8th grade. My mother is the one who made it to the 8th grade. This point in the essay was very striking for me, but quite obviously a typical circumstance for a white working class male in America.
When Engen describes his family's reaction to his education, I was flooded with recent memories of trying to navigate my way through family dinners since I have really started to internalize my education. I have been openly criticized and have been made aware of criticism of my 'mannerisms' that has taken place behind my back. I will expand on this.
I was recently on vacation with my family and was explaining to my 10 year old little sister why she should not disturb her mother for something that she wanted at that particular moment. I explained the dynamics of parents and children and that sometimes parents seem mean, but they are really just tired. I felt that my little sister is old enough and smart enough to understand this. She looked at me retorted, 'Why is everything you say like givin' a lecture?' There was not a doubt in my mind that this sentence was a direct quote from her mother, her aunts and whoever else was there when the original conversation about my communication habits was taking place. This was very painful and not something I will soon forget. I have many other examples of this kind of thing. I feel that I am forced to except the fact that I need to conform to the family dynamics in which I was raised, but more than that I feel like I want to, gladly. I do feel that small talk can be hard, but I guess that they feel that small talk with me is more trouble than itÂ’s worth.
In Wong's essay the major part that I identified with was her description of her father's once dreams and her reaction to finding them out way after the fact. I experienced a similar situation when I was told by my mother that my father's dream in life was to move to New York one day because he heard that the ground was very fertile in upper state New York. The fact that this was his motivation for wanting that, and that this was his dream and the he still has never been to New York, makes me cry every time I think of it.
It is a constant act of my own versatility to be able to 'appropriately' perform in the academic, career and family arenas of my life. Sometimes, I get it more right than other times. I do not agree that I will acculturate and adopt the mannerisms and/or out-look of the middle class due to my proximity to it. I believe that my working-class background mixed with my academic achievements is my 'habitus'or governing principles that will always have me very aware of the contradictions of understanding both.


Marian said...

You are so brilliant Carrie.

There is always a cultural crash that comes with education, especially when you don't come from an educated family. Hard as hell, I think...

It is sometimes helpful and sometimes terrifying to think about the fact that identity is never really a static entity anyhow. You aren't the girl you were 4 years ago... but your family members aren't the people they were either.

Mostly, tho, I just wanna say that you are awesome.

Marian said...

As for which social class box you are supposed to fit into now that you have your degree: I say, fuck it! Refuse and Resist. Nobody can force you into any box... and frankly, I sorta enjoy flouting the boxes I'm supposed to be in... makes me feel more at ease when I swear like a sailor (even if I can do it in six languages due to my level of education :P )