Columns

Simon ’16: Viva classism!

By
OPINIONS EDITOR
Wednesday, December 2, 2015

On Nov. 19, the University released a draft document entitled “Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University.” Though the plan’s merits have been highly disputed, I give the University my most resounding plaudits for its unparalleled efforts to address every social injustice in the phonebook. At the very least, Brown is trying.

But that is not to say I am without my own axe to grind. The plan called for the hiring of a dean “dedicated to working with and supporting first-generation and low-income students.” To that end, I say heaven help us all in this patrician culture!

Issues pertaining to classism will not end by hiring a dean. As a first-generation, low-income student myself, I don’t need any lip service from a six-figure-studded dean to explain why or how or when society decided to calculate me out of its equation. I have little interest in knowing how the pie is disproportionately allocated — I don’t have the time; I just want to eat my damn pie.

I also do not believe classism is in the same camp as racism, sexism and most other -isms. Though there is an unfortunate relationship that’s shared amongst them all, classism holds a slight distinction because it’s not a social prejudice defined purely by untruths and fantasies of superiority; it is a prejudice defined largely by money — a tangible, divisive factor that cannot be rectified by protests, marches and Upworthy.com.

Unless we put capitalism to bed, classism will endure. That does not imply I’m in favor of communism. I would like to keep communism asleep for as long as possible. If the Soviet Union has provided the modern world with anything worthwhile, it would be a manual that states in bold, italicized font: Don’t be us.

I’m implying that I am torn. I am frustrated. And I am done fighting a battle that cannot be won.

My freshman year of college was sobering — class divisions were boldly drawn from day one. I remember every day of fall semester being asked prying questions by classmates: “But which part of Los Angeles are you from?” “Did you go to private or public school?” “What do your parents do for a living?”

I could’ve lied. At times, I was tempted to say my dad was a media magnate and my mom a critically acclaimed actress who now runs a prosperous talent agency in Century City. I could’ve said I lived on Doheny Road within earshot of a Real Housewife’s mid-life crisis. But lying is a dirty art, and I have a terribly guilty conscience. More importantly, these things can all be easily fact-checked.

Instead, I wish people had just assumed I was a prince of sorts.

So, to my dear first-generation and low-income students, I’ve decided to give to you what I wish someone would have given me at the dawn of my college career: sound advice on how to approach classism. I’ve taken a good, hard look into my past three-and-a-half years at Brown to cultivate and offer up some handy life hacks that should make assimilating into the most discriminatory of social circles as seamless (and unsuspecting) as possible.

One: When choosing a concentration, stick to the discipline of the wealthy — classics.

Two: Say you’re from “the city.” (Remember, Barstow is still a city.)

Three: Avoid making eye contact — eschewing nonverbal social cues is a cost-efficient (and proven) way to express disinterest in the 99 percent.

Four: Apologize for showing up on time.

Five: Ask around for the coat check upon walking into the Ratty.

Six: You now hate your parents — expressing contempt for mother and father is a perennial avocation of the moneyed.

Seven: Acquire vests.

Eight: Bemoan life’s most trying grievances: phone calls from your accountant, organizing Sunday brunch, out-of-season berries and the estate tax.

Nine: You no longer watch movies; you watch films.

Ten: Your drinks should be as pretentious as they are polysyllabic. It’s not wine; it’s pre-war cabernet sauvignon. It’s not juice; it’s organic cayenne pepper-infused limeade with wheatgrass extract. It’s not beer; it’s urban champagne.

Eleven: Swipe into libraries with your MasterCard.

Twelve: Your new aspirations will include one or more of the following: becoming a land baron, becoming a Hamptons white wine mom, acquiring a personal stylist, paying a lower tax rate than your personal stylist, developing an allergy to gluten.

Thirteen: Try hailing the RIPTA.

Fourteen: Kick your humanitarian efforts to the curb. Georgian silver, Duncan Phyfe furniture and Aubusson rugs are your new rarefied passions.

Fifteen: Rules for dating: Talk love; think money.

Well, I guess I’m not done fighting after all. Sure, my gloves may be off, strewn into the closet, collecting dust and never to be worn again, but I suppose fighting for a cause doesn’t always have to take place on offensive lines. As Rhett Butler posits in Gone with the Wind (my Bible): “The only thing stronger than shame … (is) the ecstasy of surrender.”

So let us surrender to classism. But let us surrender with the knowledge that surrendering does not imply having lost. It might just be the most strategic course of action to take. My white flag may be waving, but I’m not signing any peace treaty until there’s a Mont Blanc in my hand.

Chad Simon ’16 has had a wonderful time writing for The Herald and would like to thank the students, professors, alums, parents and Providence Journal journalists for their kind emails. He responded to not a single one because he’s kind of an ass. But he’s a very grateful ass who can still be reached at chad_simon@brown.edu.

One Comment

  1. 100k in debt w/out interest says:

    I’m not sure if I understand what you’re saying here. But here is my response based off of what I interpreted your article to mean:

    Why hide who you are or where you come from? Who cares if you’re not from the city or if you wear the most expensive brands or if you’re not wealthy? Who cares if you call movies films? Who cares if you’re a low-income first-gen student? And of the people who do care and who make you intentionally feel bad for it or who belittle you, are they really worthy of your time or worry?

    When I see students among me at school, I don’t think “Wow, she’s poor” or “Wow, that student sucks because he’s rich” or “Why don’t I have what they have?” or “Wow, woe is me” — No!

    Though we all come from different backgrounds, we’re all at Brown for a reason. We study and work our butts off to make the best out of our respective situations. Some students come from low-income backgrounds and will be graduating debt-free but need to work 3 on-campus jobs to travel back home for the holidays. Some students come from middle-class income backgrounds and will be $100,000 in the red after graduating. Some students come from wealthy families and don’t have to worry about finances at all but they do have to worry about their abusive mothers or fathers.

    To me, everything is relative. I might have financial struggles, but I don’t think all wealthy people or middle-class people are without problems. Because they aren’t. And perpetuating the myth/suggesting that wealthy people don’t struggle or that low-income students are the only ones who struggle or whose struggle is most worthy of attention is dangerous and polarizing (Think Class Confessions FB page). Shouldn’t Brown aim to address all financial struggles? Yes, they should. But they can’t, because it costs money.

    Thus, the government and financial aid departments have to do their best to answer the following question: Which financial situation deserves more attention? A person who grew up in poverty on full financial aid working 3 jobs but graduating debt-free and lined up to work at JPMorgan or BBH on salary OR a middle class student who grew up with some financial problems working 1 job and graduating $100,000 in debt now forever tied to banks and the government. No one can answer this question because it doesn’t have an answer. One is not a better situation than the other. But both sides will probably think the other is better (like a curly-haired person saying they want straight hair vs. a straight-haired person saying they want curly hair) and no one wins. They are both better and worse in different ways. Whoever determines this is simply determining who struggles now or who struggles later. Regardless, we’re all going to struggle at some point.

    I also see absolutely no reason to be ashamed of where you come from and I see this phenomenon as an unfortunate product of campus culture and of our generation. We are indoctrinated into believing that we all deserve everything in the world and that our lives are inherently more unfair than others’ for reasons x, y and z. Struggling, though, is a part of life whether we like it or not, and we all struggle differently. I don’t think you need to lie about your struggling or pretend to be someone you’re not. Be proud of your roots! You are a student about to graduate from Brown University. And that’s an awesome accomplishment regardless of where you come from!

    If someone judges you because of your financial situation, why prioritize that over several other people who will love you (and who do love you) for exactly who you are?

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