tl;dr f*ck class.

I wouldn't classify as "white trash", nor the other end of the average person spectrum, middle class, I'd say my immediate family is solidly working class. My mom spent her working years in pink collar work, my dad, when he worked served the rich as a craftsman creating the finer things in their lives, he managed apartment buildings, (an ultimate lazy man's job), later he put his carpentry skills to work as a state employee. Radiating out from my parents, my family had someone who tends to your dead, cleans your fancy clothes, pieces together major infrastructure, others had higher level service jobs, selling fancy things and teaching. Second cousins had more access to higher educations than we did, keeping conversation at major family gatherings interesting. We lived in gritty industrial cities nobody outside of the state could quite place, we lived in rented houses and apartments under the power lines, next to the train tracks or next to the freeway; alternately, out in the actual woods in logging and coal towns or in the places airplanes are made. It's easy to say "I'm from Seattle" but really I'm from Redmond, Mercer Island, Spokane, Arlington, Kent, Black Diamond, Shelton, Maple Valley and Tacoma. I didn't meet an actual rich kid until I moved into Seattle at 11 and went to school during a time of desegregation, which put me in the company of kids whose parents wanted them to have a public school experiences, people who lived in real mansions behind gates with guardsmen. Once I was out on my own and ever since, I've been poor. Like really poor, like living without running water or heat poor. The people I spent my formative years with had similar lives, we're the people who make and sell folks the nice things they have in the houses they own, pour their drinks, put food in front of them, entertain them, we're in the business of making sure they have a fun day or a nice night, we provide things we can't ourselves afford to enjoy.

For most of my life this arrangement has been fine, I'm a pretty good salesperson, I've been a charismatic entertainer, and a competent craftsperson, I love what I make especially when it's pretty good. I'm filled with joy when other people want to give me money for the things I have made, however I get weird when that exchange turns into a service. Are they buying the product of my artisanship and skilled craftsmanship, are they using my skills to manifest something they themselves cannot execute well, are we in agreement or am I reading their mind, am I making a product they're buying, are the commissioning my artwork, or are they ordering something from the Q factory? Making curtains for a restaurant is one thing (side hustle), grant writing and designing a site specific artwork is another (product of formal art training). I hate to admit to myself that I see capital A Art as a service provided to rich people, and I wonder if that thinking is the result of my upbringing.

Chugging along through college under the impression that it was a way out of poverty, I have attended a community college, a fancy pants art school, and a top 5 university. The class disparity between myself and the academy has never been more chilling than at the university. The faculty is amazing and diverse and is comprised of people I'm perfectly comfortable with and would like to maintain lifelong relationships with, it's the students with whom I share classrooms with who make me feel incredibly out of place, not because I didn't deserve to be there, but because I'd more likely sew their table-runners or have built their wine cellars, or have sold them their motorcycle helmets than ever be invited into their homes as a guest. The city I've called home for over 30 years is fast filling up with the people I'd more likely sell something to than people who'd invite me to dinner.

The education I have achieved doesn't prevent me from going home, as it does for the author of the linked article, but rather it's cemented me in my acceptance of being working class. It has shown me that aspiration is a bit complicated and a little dirty. That while it's totally okay to want a comfortable middle class life, it's also totally cool to make do with just keeping the lights on and have new books flowing in. The author noted her NACAR t-shirts as a tie back to her roots, for me it's punk rock, I'll show up at the gym wearing a band t-shirt I've had since god was a child and the whippersnapper trainer will laugh at their perceived irony of a grad student wearing such a thing to the gym, hahaha. Piss off.

The conversations surrounding white privilege are complicated for me, I think because because of a loop of assumptions, I assume that everybody else assumes that because I'm white and educated that I haven't experienced crushing adversities, that I assume a certain set of privileges, yeah, no. I legit assume that every time I leave the house I'll get arrested, hurt or killed for being female or punk. Meanwhile, I am still poor, first and foremost I am a poor woman. I understand, respect and appreciate that even with the little privilege a poor white woman has, it's more than many others, I will participate in conversations which work to illuminate privilege, it's inner workings and how to work within it. The best I can hope for is to take what I've learned in the academy and sow these seeds in unexpected places, the best I can hope for is to be that one memorable teacher who saves some poor kids life through art. For me that teacher was Wayne Swanson, I hope I can have a similar reach as he with his career as an art teacher.


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