Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch

I’m a Classist.

Not in the way in which you ordinarily think of the word. Rather, I have absolutely no patience for those people who have no idea what it’s like to be poor. Who, when you say something like, “I can’t go out tonight, my car has a flat and I need a new tire,” immediately say, “So, go buy one” as if the thought merely hadn’t occured to you. Instead, of, say, realizing that just maybe you can’t afford that tire until payday, a week from now. And even then, it’s going to be a choice between new tire and fresh groceries. Is the tire really worth eating ramen for two weeks? Can you deal with hiking the mile and a half to the nearest bus stop because you don’t live somewhere with convenient access to mass transit? Will your work be pissed off at you for arriving all sweaty every morning?

We didn’t have much money when I was a kid. And running up huge hospital bills for a kindergarten aged case of pneumonia (I have about a month long gap in my five-year old memories because I was so sick) and a week spent in an oxygen tent when I was 9 due to the onset of severe asthma, didn’t help. The house my folks bought cost $10,000 in 1970, and it came with a fully stocked “bomb shelter.” We ate out of that bomb shelter until we left to go to Idaho. Dad was telling stories about how when his “Engineers Club” went to the hot dog factory, once everyone else saw how the hot dogs were made, they didn’t want the free packages that they got at the end of the tour. Dad took all of them, because free food was free food.

I’ve had a couple of encounters, since beginning my job here at the University, that have really underlined the fact that most people who live with money really, honestly don’t realize that not everyone, particularly caucasian everyone, has money.

A lot of the kids in the dental school are legacies, meaning that they are becoming a dentist because Dad was a dentist, and probably Grandpa was a dentist. Sometimes Mom was a dentist, but usually Dad was the dentist and Mom was a Dental Assistant or Hygeinist. The majority of them do not have student loans they’ll have to repay, because their parents are paying for their schooling, and always have. They’ve never not had health insurance. Mom and Dad bought them a good car for when they went away to school so they wouldn’t have to worry so much.

The first incident was with a resident who had just done her first turn through the sliding scale dental clinic at one of the local hospitals. She walked in and said, “I can’t believe the state of the mouths of those people. I mean, wow, I guess they must just have other priorities than dental care.”
I looked her in the eye and said, “Yeah, rent and food.” She was utterly stunned, like it had never occurred to her that anyone couldn’t just get dental care, afford toothpaste and toothbrushes, or that maybe sometimes those things would go by the wayside, if maybe the choice was between oral hygeine and diapers and formula for a baby, or keeping your shitty apartment.

Another student was in my office one day, and we were talking about dental care, and she was dealing with an older gentleman who had finally opted to just have his few remaining teeth pulled, and get full dentures. She, again, couldn’t believe the state of his mouth, he hadn’t ever even had a cleaning, etc…
“J_____,” I said, “Before I was 19 I went to the dentist once. The school district had a mandatory requirement that all incoming kindergartners get a fluoride treatment, and they subsidized it. After that, I didn’t go again until I was 19, and the only reason I went then was because my impacted wisdom teeth were so infected I couldn’t open my mouth because of the swelling. People can’t afford dental care. It’s really fucking expensive.”
Again, she just stared, utterly astounded that someone she knew, spoke to and commonly interacted with had grown up like that.

Sometimes I get a little resentful. Granted, part of that is the way in which the dental school coddles them on a student level as well. Every quarter I put together the list of classes they need to register for, complete with registration codes so they don’t have to go look anything up. The faculty bend over backwards, and honestly, sometimes I’d feel a little more secure going to the dentist if they were a little tougher in their grading. However, we are currently the number two dental school in the nation, so maybe it’s not as lax as I sometimes fear.

The fact remains though, that with a very few notable exceptions, these kids have never known poverty. They don’t know what it’s like to have to decide between this one thing you need, and this other one thing you need, or to spend five minutes standing in the grocery aisle pondering rice OR beans. Or what it’s like to live on spaghetti because when tube hamburger goes on sale you can make a week’s worth of food for under $10, and it will be breakfast, lunch and dinner. They don’t understand that sometimes people have to let the bronchitis get so bad you can barely move, because you came down with it over break and the student health clinic isn’t open during breaks, and you can’t afford a doctor otherwise, in fact you’re not sure you’re going to be able to afford the antibiotics you know they’re going to prescribe.

Nor do they understand that you’ve put yourself in debt for-freaking-ever to go to school, because your parents can’t afford to pay for college, and your job prospects are limited, particularly in the realm of jobs you can still work while going to school and making it to classes. Even with the loans I worked all the way through school, sometimes two or three jobs at once.

One of those jobs was working in the school bookstore. One of the students who worked there was a rancher’s daughter from just outside of town, and in the breakroom one day said, “I don’t believe there should be student loans. If you can’t afford to pay for school, don’t go. It’s like welfare.”

I jumped on her shit, and explained that sometimes those of us who were obviously far smarter and more compassionate than she herself, did not have the luck to be born to parents who made their fortune exploiting illegal immigrants, and so were on our own. And that if her folks had so much fucking money, just maybe she should give her job up to someone who NEEDED IT.

Yeah, her Dad made a lot of money exporting alfalfa to the Japanese horse racing industry. And most of the labor that harvested it were illegal immigrants, and huh, it was kind of funny that the INS only ever showed up to bust them during the last few days of harvest every year. Go figure. So, yeah, not only exploiting immigrant labor, but using the INS apparatus to screw them out of the wages he owed them for that work.

That’s class.

There’s my Classism. I really don’t have a whole lot of patience for people who grew up with money and have no concept that an awful lot of people, even well-educated, liberal, caucasian people don’t.

6 comments on “I’m a Classist.

  1. javagoth
    July 31, 2008

    Oh hell yeah is dental work expensive! When I had good dental coverage I’d go regularly. Even when I’ve had meh coverage I went because usually check-ups/cleanings were mostly covered and my dentist at the time would take payments. It was embarrassing at times to have to may payments on a $50 bill but you do what you have to do…
    Even when I was being paid a lot of $ for the Boeing job I didn’t have dental coverage and having to pay for 2 Crowns over 2 years pretty much took up the funds I had for it. I regret now that I didn’t budget better for a cleaning before that job was over…
    Part of the reason I’m pushing for a better paying job with at least some health benefits is that I need at least 1 more Crown in the not too distant future and I need to replace my car pretty soon too. Push comes to shove – the car will come first…


  2. hunnythistle
    July 31, 2008

    Most of the jobs I have had as an adult didn’t include dental insurance, even when they had some basic health insurance. Currently, we don’t have dental coverage unless we travel to Milwaukee, WI — as Lee’s company doesn’t have a provider here in Seattle. Additionally, at many offices, not having insurance means that you have to pay MORE than what the insurance companies do for the same procedures. So ya, you don’t have to be scraping the economic barrel to still be unable to afford dental care.
    While the very poor are still scraping to make ends meet, the next tier up– those who still needed to stretch their budget and make groceries vs car decisions 20 yrs ago — these days they have access to quick and dirty credit. So they can just buy that tire today — add it on to the thousands already owed to the credit companies. As long as you make the min payment — you’re golden. Lenders no longer care about principals being repaid — they make money off of fees and consumers locked into perpetual debt, and repackaging and selling that debt to the next investor down the line.
    So there’s this illusion that even the poor have plenty and don’t need to make hard economic decisions. You don’t have to grow up well off in order to be clueless about tough economic choices anymore. Although with the looming recession, things may change… Eventually, someone has to pay the piper.


    • dangerous_beans
      August 1, 2008

      I’ve been reading financial service books, and several of the folks I’ve read, I enjoy. Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey are two. She started out a waitress, and he’s had to file and declare bankruptcy so they understand what it is to scrape by. David Bach, however, is one of those who’ve never been poor. He’s third generation investor and doesn’t get that sometimes in order to make ends meet, you can’t actually put $100 into a retirement fund because you don’t have that to spare.
      My goal is to get my husband (myself since I married into it) out of credit card debt so that we don’t have to pay the fees and interest. When we’re done paying on the car in March, we’re not going to trade it in and buy another. I want, desperately, to be able to start saving for a significant down-payment on a house (not here) but I’m afraid that none of these goals will be reached because rent is going to be increased in January and there aren’t any apartments or houses being rented for less than what we’re paying and will accept our cats.
      I was spoiled growing up. I was never concerned about money, though as an adult now, I worry about my parents and rising cost of living on a decreasing retirement fund.
      The recession that’s starting in the US is also starting in Canada, albeit more slowly and it’s different. The housing prices are coming down, but not to a level that we can afford. And once they’re at a level we can afford, well, there are laws going into effect in the 4th quarter that say you must have a minimum of 5% down on any home you mortgage, and the amortization period can be no more than 35 years.
      I don’t know how we’re going to be able to afford to live since I’m still unable to legally work. Hopefully I’ll have the proper paperwork settled and in place by the new year.


  3. morinon
    August 1, 2008

    For two years, we lived in Salem on Welfare. It sucked, we got out as soon as we could, but we’ve often been in places where we couldn’t afford medical or dental, and right now I can’t afford to go take care of a chipped tooth. Fortunately, it’s not yet gone really bad.


  4. elettaria
    August 1, 2008

    Nah, that’s not classism. Classist would be to accuse every single person who was middle-class (or whatever) of being like this and hate them for it, which I presume you’re not doing. I’ve met one or two people who were actually like that, just as I’ve known people who, say, hated anyone who wasn’t gay and was constantly accusing them of Oppressing them personally. *shudder* This is about being infuriated by people who are arseholes in a specific way.
    You get a very similar problem with disability, actually. The blank stares, the inability to comprehend what life is really like, the refusal to believe you when you explain. I don’t know if you get the poverty thing with people who should really know better (I’m relatively broke, but I haven’t experienced quite the level you’re describing, certainly not while I was growing up), but you certainly get it with the disability thing: doctors who simply cannot understand what you mean when you say, for instance, “I am bedbound and so I’m too ill to come in to the surgery.” Also there’s the invisibility business, and the expectation that we damn well should remain invisible, that it’s an affront to decent, hard-working people to flaunt that we are poor and/or disabled (and a lot of people who are disabled are living in poverty). We are actually hated.
    Now I admit that most people, if not everyone, can have trouble understanding something they have neither direct nor indirect experience of. I can’t tolerate fluorescent lighting, and most people can’t even spot the difference between it and incandescent lighting. If you asked someone with no experience of using a wheelchair to describe the wheelchair access in, say, the local university, you’d be lucky if they so much as remembered having seen a disabled toilet, let alone where there was level access and where there were problems with the lifts. I still catch myself making assumptions that don’t apply when talking to someone in the US about the healthcare industry, because it is so utterly different here in the UK and we don’t always realise the extent to which this can be true. I didn’t find out until recently, for example, that apparently there are lots of women in the US who have absolutely no access to contraception, not just because of the financial side of the healthcare system (which I’m slowly getting the hang of), but because of lack of services and/or medical staff refusing to dispense contraception. So yes, I make the odd mistake when talking to people about this. The difference is that I use my brain and think things through, and if someone tells me I’ve got something wrong, I believe them and try to learn more.


    • polimicks
      August 1, 2008

      The contraception thing is totally fucked. I cannot believe that anyone honestly thinks that they should have a job if they are going to refuse to do a major part of it. It just drives me bugshit.
      Bush’s re-election was what pushed me off the fence about getting sterilized. All I could think of was the terror of getting pregnant and not being able to get an abortion. So I got myself fixed.
      There is a big problem with the Liberal movement in the US that an awful lot of them are really well-off. They don’t know what it’s like to be poor, and one of the reasons that they are as active as they are, is that they have the time and money to be that active. But they assume that their experience with affluence is universal to all (especially white) liberals.
      Granted a lot of times if you sit down to talk to them (if you can GET them to) they’ll realize the error of their ways. But sometimes they just won’t hear it. In their world everyone white has lots of money and lots of free time and should be out saving the world, and if they aren’t then they are Red-Staters who are too dumb to know any better.
      I have another screed ready on this one eventually.


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This entry was posted on July 31, 2008 by in Uncategorized.

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