The Professional Class
by anna shane, Thu May 15, 2008 at 09:36:53 AM EDT
As a degree carrying member of the professional class, I've had an easy life. But I'm the first and only one in my family so far to earn a doctorate. One grandfather was a bus driver and the other went into real estate. My dad had a college degree, but my mom didn't. I grew up in a middle class family that profited from the post-war boom. My parents bought their first house when I was a baby, and they stayed home owners, and had one to leave to me at their deaths. My uncle, who was a fireman, owned his own home and through appreciation he died better off than my dad, who was an engineer.
I find that conflating class with income is a strange concept. Although I'm in the educated and often more affluent professional class, I identify with my extended family and friends, most of whom struggle to pay monthly bills and have few dreams of retirement at all, much less the retirement my parents and my fireman uncle enjoyed.
But if it's not income, what makes a someone an 'elite?' How is it that Hillary, my first choice for president, relates to working people better than her opponent, who's wife grew up in a struggling family?
The answer is only partly education. In this country we don't have a static class system, it's possible to change so-called class, as Barack did, through education. He went to Harvard and was on the law review. He married a fellow professional who'd faced greater odds than he had, but so did Hillary, she also married a someone from an arguably even more struggling family than Michele's family. So this can't fully answer how Barack is seen as the elitist, because Hillary isn't, she's seen as a woman of the people.
The answer that seems to work is the one of identification, the 'class' with which one identifies. Which group you like to spend time with, which group you like the best, in other words which group calls for your empathy. Of course even people born rich have the capacity to identify with struggling people, just as some struggling people have the capacity to view themselves as elite. It's a choice, in as much as everyone is free to 'be' part of the 'class' they feel most 'at home' with.
The professional class is often seen as 'the know-it-all's,' the 'we'll tell you what's best for you,' class. It includes physicians and lawyers and school teachers, and professors, but not small business owners, who are in the merchant class. Even though far from all professionals are rich, we get the same perks as the rich, we get invited to the right parties, we're welcomed into the so-called 'higher echelons' of social life.
Hillary is a down-to-earth person. She's as comfortable chatting with housewives as with world leaders. She can drink a beer at a bar and shoot pool, and she can host a dinner for the most powerful men and women in the world. Like me she came from a working class family, and had the benefit of a better educated parent and parents who valued a college education. She was smart enough to get into the best schools, and she was the top in her classes. She ' worked her way up' but she married a fellow from a poor, single parent family who had nothing to offer to her but his dreams.
Still, I don't think this entirely accounts for her ability to connect with most of us, that is most of us who get to 'meet' her and don't have to rely on 'reports,' it just shows she had early practice. What made the difference is that Hillary never forgot about regular powerless people, and what makes her special is that she's always been most interested in the voiceless, those of us whom politicians overlook (those who can't always vote), children who need safe and good schools, adequate nutrition, health care; mothers who are rearing our next generation, wounded veterans; women around the world who suffer real consequences for their sex.
Elite is a choice, you can think that your education and experience makes you a better human being than the next guy, or you can see that we're all in the same boat, and we sink or swim together.