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Has class now trumped race as The Great Divide?

Posted by Lissa on July 3, 2012

So says Robert Putnam, anyway, he of Bowling Alone fame. (I took a Washington symposium between my junior and senior year of college that focused on that book … the gist of it, as I recall, was that you could track the health of a society by the number of its choirs, book clubs, debating societies, etc.)

It got me to thinking about my own experiences.

As far as “Belmont” versus “Fishtown”, I come from a purely Belmont background. No, we didn’t go on fancy ski trips to Vail or expensive Club Med vacations — in fact, our vacations were all either at our relatives’ houses in Toronto or at Ocean City, MD / Cape Cod, MA — but my parents (all four of them!) were college graduates who liked or loved to read. I was always in the Advanced classes at my schools and studied classic literature, history, etc. My friends and acquaintances were all going to college, of course; the real brains set their sights on Brown while others might aim for state universities, but everyone was going. Whether in my European History class, my American History Through Film course (which was AWESOME), my Holocaust class, the soccer field, the track or the stage, these were the people by whom I was surrounded. These were the people I knew.

I went on to a small liberal arts college (ranked in the top ten by US News & World Report). It goes without saying that it was purely “Belmont.” After a few years I went to work for a mutual fund company with headquarters in downtown Boston. Finance = Belmont.

I’ve only had two experiences really getting to know people from “Fishtown.”

The first was when I started out a Ye Olde Financial Company and took a second job to help make ends meet on my first apartment – I worked four mornings a week at Dunkin Donuts. The second was taking courses at Florida Community College when I was thinking about changing careers and going into nursing.

And yes . . . . the people were . . . . DIFFERENT.

Not demographically. DD was a largely female crew, mostly young, with a few women who were in their 40s; mostly white, with a few exceptions. My friends from Anatomy & Physiology class were all women, mostly black, with a few exceptions (including one blond who worked at a plastic surgery clinic and looked like Barbie). My group at Ye Olde Financial Company was mostly women, with a few men, and two out of the eight of us were black.

But the YEFC people . . . well, five of us were married, four of them with children. We all saved toward our retirement. The unmarried folks either were in serious relationships, were looking for serious relationships or were globetrotters who vacationed in places like Morocco and Paris. (How she could afford to do that I don’t actually know, but whatever.)

Whereas the DD people . . . one left for a two-week vacation to get married at 20 in Las Vegas. Her mother-in-law worked at the same DD and kept pestering the girl to hurry up and have babies so she could be a grandmother, already (I believe she was 43 at the time). Many of the workers complained about always being short of funds; they spent their money on rent, food, cigarettes, and perhaps marijuana. “Retirement savings” meant having an extra hundred bucks for emergencies, and most of them didn’t have that. I gave my five-minute Roth IRA speech to anyone who would listen, but they were much more likely to “buy silver, because my boyfriend heard that’s really supposed to go up next year.” Most were working at DD’s full time; a few were in nursing school and, like me, picking up a job to help make ends meet.

The community college people were for the most part trying to become nurses. Many already worked in medical clinics. They shared stories about ex-boyfriends with two phones, which they eventually learned was so the “men” in question could cheat on them. One had a baby out of wedlock at 19; another had two more children by two different men; a third had four children and was not yet married. Most of them had finished high school and never considered community college before, let alone a four-year degree.

The intelligence level between DD, the community college and YEFC was not noticeably different. I worked with quick, competent people and I worked with absolute morons in both places.

Have you worked and socialized in both worlds? What comparisons can you draw? What experiences can you share?

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3 Responses to “Has class now trumped race as The Great Divide?”

  1. Borepatch said

    The intelligence level between DD, the community college and YEFC was not noticeably different. I worked with quick, competent people and I worked with absolute morons in both places.

    Bingo. Culture matters.

  2. Palo Alto is pretty damn Belmont, and there’s an actual “Belmont” up the road which is even a bit more affluent and upppity. But there’s also East Palo Alto which is total Fishtown or worse, that *services* Palo Alto (and Menlo Park and Atherton and…), that’s where the cheap labor and illefgal aliens live, and are kept in a depressing cycle of violence, drugs, and generally downtrodden… They sometimes get to Community College because the shining example of Stanford is right next-door, behind the chainlink fence and barb-wire, but they seldom achieve as well or as much – or escape the poverty.

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