Saturday, September 17, 2011

Class Warfare Within the Family

Over the past few months, I have begun to feel some tension within my family.  Just a little background, I grew up in an upper middle class home on the North Shore of Chicago.  My high school is notorious for its upper class snobbery and as a teenager, I spent much of my time at my friends’, well for no better word, mansions.  It was NOT your typical upbringing.

Recently, while spending time with my family I have begun to feel a greater and greater disconnect between myself and them.  I find myself uncomfortable at their fancy galas, awkwardly sharing drinks with my sister’s friends who are doctors, lawyers, and rich business people, and being dragged to various upscale restaurants and bars which I simply cannot afford.

I began to realize that my choice to become a teacher means I have moved to a different social class than my family of doctors and business people.  And the class gap is widening.

Now, I’m not saying I am completely upset by this change.  I find myself proudly joining ranks with union brothers and sisters.  I am impassioned to work side by side with the less fortunate.  I am glad that I am not so far removed from the suffering of people directly impacted by bad economic and educational policies.
But I find I have less and less to say to my family.  In many ways, they just don’t get me and they never will.  My sister works hard as a doctor, and I respect her dedication and drive.  But she is invariably surrounded by people who are of a similar social background, only coming into contact with lower classes through her patients, never as friends.  Her doctor friends complain of those “lazy nurses at Cook County Hospital” who are too protected by their union.  I always challenge them to question, “What bad practices caused the union to fight for those protections to start with?”  But the doctors do not care.  In their mind, the nurses are just plain “bad”.
Time and time again, I have been forced to sit through dinners and nights out with my sister’s friends who literally brag about the new diamond earrings they bought, rave about the condos they have invested in for the bargain price of 500 grand, and show off the latest designer bags or clothes they have purchased.  They complain that after student loans, they will only be making a measly 100 grand in their new job.  Sometimes I want to scream out “Do you realize that I will NEVER have that kind of cash thanks to my career choice?” Making a six figure salary is not in my future.  Nor is owning a home, a car, heck, I’d be hard pressed to keep a dog.   

But I love what I do.  I think I make an important contribution, in my small way, by working with the children and adolescents who have been left behind.  I love advocating for those kids, protesting for their rights, pushing back on systems that only benefit the diamond earring owners and six figure salary types.

Still, I do have regrets.  I find myself really really angry that people who are doing jobs like business or public relations are making so much more than I am.  I feel like what I do is ultimately the more important job.  And there is some jealousy there.  Jealousy, resentment, and the feeling that a deep injustice is occurring. 

I suppose I will need to just get over whatever it is that I am feeling.  I am just scared that if the people who I love and know to be thoughtful, kind, intelligent folks don’t care enough or know enough to be outraged by the growing economic inequality in our nation, what hope is there that change will ever happen?

1 comment:

  1. Katie: I am a graphic designer for Northwestern University in Chicago. I went to SAIC for my degree and have been working for over 25 years. I earn under $42,000 a year. My sister,who married an investment banker, hasn't worked in over 25 years. When I try to be honest with her about how difficult it is for me to just get by, she implies that I must be some sort of under achiever. That I should be making much, much more money than I am. Like you with your sister, I find making conversation with her more and more difficult. Yesterday, at a family gathering she unveiled her new $1600 handbag. I could barely manage a polite smile.