Class Lives

Class Lives: Stories from across Our Economic Divide

Chuck Collins
Jennifer Ladd
Maynard Seider
Felice Yeskel
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1287fqm
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  • Book Info
    Class Lives
    Book Description:

    Class Livesis an anthology of narratives dramatizing the lived experience of class in America. It includes forty original essays from authors who represent a range of classes, genders, races, ethnicities, ages, and occupations across the United States. Born into poverty, working class, the middle class, and the owning class-and every place in between-the contributors describe their class journeys in narrative form, recounting one or two key stories that illustrate their growing awareness of class and their place, changing or stable, within the class system.

    The stories inClass Livesare both gripping and moving. One contributor grows up in hunger and as an adult becomes an advocate for the poor and homeless. Another acknowledges the truth that her working-class father's achievements afforded her and the rest of the family access to people with power. A gifted child from a working-class home soon understands that intelligence is a commodity but finds his background incompatible with his aspirations and so attempts to divide his life into separate worlds.

    Together, these essays form a powerful narrative about the experience of class and the importance of learning about classism, class cultures, and the intersections of class, race, and gender.Class Liveswill be a helpful resource for students, teachers, sociologists, diversity trainers, activists, and a general audience. It will leave readers with an appreciation of the poignancy and power of class and the journeys that Americans grapple with on a daily basis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5453-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Introduction: Caviar, College, Coupons, and Cheese
    (pp. 1-12)
    FELICE YESKEL

    Class is the last great taboo in the United States. It is, according to Noam Chomsky, “the unmentionable five-letter word.”

    Even in this period of growing economic inequality, we hardly ever talk about class. We hear daily, in the mainstream media, about unemployment, bailouts, proposed tax cuts or tax hikes, Congress regulating one industry and deregulating another, budget cuts, recession, recovery, roller-coaster markets, CEO bonuses, and more. Given all the attention to economics, it is interesting that talk about social class has been so skimpy.

    Sometimes I think of class as our collective, national family secret. And, as any therapist...

  4. PART I. POOR AND LOW INCOME

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 13-16)

      To be poor in the united states or canada is not just to be faced with material need on a daily basis, to be “born into the culture of hunger,” to be homeless, or to live without indoor plumbing or electricity. With it comes negative judgment from others and feelings of shame. As one contributor put it: “I understood everything—that I was less, and they were more.” Those feelings lead to attempts to hide one’s stigmatized condition, while living in fear that one will be found out.

      The number of people who are officially poor in the United States,...

    • Cleaning Up the Trash: Fighting Shame
      (pp. 17-21)
      LINDA STOUT

      I grew up very poor in the rural South. My father was a tenant farmer, and by the time I was five my mother had become completely disabled from a car wreck. I didn’t really realize I was poor . . . at first. My parents were very loving, and I had a joyful life, working from the age of six, while at the same time being allowed to be a kid. I enjoyed my private time with my father when I got up an hour or two early to work in the fields before going to school. We didn’t...

    • North American Peasant
      (pp. 22-28)
      FISHER LAVELL

      “Mom?”

      “Mm hm?”

      “Why don’t people like us?”

      That was me, about twelve years old, sitting at the kitchen table coloring a picture of a bird-dog pup. And my mom over at the sink, doing some kind of work, maybe peeling potatoes or doing dishes or washing plastic bread bags to be hung on the clothesline and reused many times over. That was the 1960s, so we didn’t have indoor plumbing, and she would have had to carry the water in pails from our neighbor’s place a city block away. Of course, we weren’t in the city but in a...

    • I Work with Worn-Out Tools
      (pp. 29-31)
      JANET LIGHTFOOT

      I was born into the culture of hunger and had parents who were unable to pay the rent. I recall the Good Humor man often giving me free ice cream that would be my nourishment for the day. I call it a culture of hunger because I cried myself to sleep, due to the body-wrenching hunger pangs—the kind where the front of the belly reaches for the back and nothing interferes with the trip.

      Today I am remembered as the woman who helps poor people with their applications for town welfare. I’m also known as the woman who speaks...

    • Mexican Girl from Fontana
      (pp. 32-37)
      GENEVA REYNAGA-ABIKO

      The personal experience of being a successful Mexican American female who is originally from a lower social class background is very powerful for me. Interwoven throughout my journey is a continued awareness that I am very fortunate, that hard work is essential but not sufficient for prosperity, and that I must never forget where I come from if I hope to help others like me succeed. As one of the few Latinas in a field (psychology) that is over 95 percent European American, I have struggled with a lack of mentors available to guide me throughout my educational journey. I...

    • What They Say about Poor Girls
      (pp. 38-42)
      STEPHANIE JONES

      I know what they say about poor girls.

      Tryin’ to get pregnant to keep a boy around.

      Havin’ babies to get a welfare check.

      Trappin’ men by tellin’ ’em they’re on the pill when they’re not.

      Hell, I was even in a hospital not too long ago when a receptionist started talkin’ about the poor girls around town who were taught by their parents to have “no morals” and to start pumpin’ out those babies as soon as possible to get more money comin’ in.

      Of course that woman didn’t know she was talkin’ to a poor girl inside the...

    • Better Than
      (pp. 43-47)
      PATIENCE RAGE

      I knew she was better than me because of all the things she had and the ways she was cared for by her family.

      We were in the fourth grade at Stokely School in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia. She sat to the left of me, three rows from the front. I always felt dirty sitting next to her. And I didn’t think or know why.

      You could tell her mother combed, brushed, and plaited her hair every morning before school. Her face was always shiny and clean. She smiled a lot and smelled good, like baby oil....

    • No Yellow Tickets: The Stigma of Poverty in the School Lunch Line
      (pp. 48-52)
      WENDY WILLIAMS

      I never remember being denied anything that I wanted as a child—Barbies, Cabbage Patch dolls, Easy-Bake ovens—I had it all. Birthdays and Christmas were happy and lavish. We lived in suburban Virginia in a four-bedroom, two-bath, three-story colonial house with a large yard. My father commuted every day into Washington, D.C., to work for the government, while my mother stayed home to care for me and my two siblings.

      My father had an affair, and my parents separated when I was in fifth grade. Although the outside of our home had not changed, every time I walked into...

  5. PART II. WORKING CLASS

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 53-58)

      In the united states, the concept of “working class” is politically charged. Politicians and mainstream media commentators are loath to use the term, and when they even mention class, it is invariably preceded by “middle.” In contrast to European and Latin American societies, which tend to be more class conscious and less inhibited by class-explicit language, the norm in the United States assumes a society unencumbered by class divisions. If class is to be discussed, Americans are portrayed as overwhelmingly middle class, and political figures, whether Democratic or Republican, invariably pitch their policies as ones that will foster a strong...

    • Reflections

      • Those of Us from Rio Linda
        (pp. 59-61)
        DWIGHT LANG

        The windowless room at Sunset Lawn Funeral Home is cold and overwhelmingly quiet. I stand back looking at his face and almost don’t recognize him. For a brief, terrifying moment I imagine his eyes opening to stare at me. The shapes of nearby objects shift as I sit down to get a closer look. He seems small, his thin body hidden under a white sheet. Pungent chemical odors betray futile attempts to preserve human appearance.

        He would be dressed in his only suit. It is blue. There’d be no tie, of course. Dad was uncomfortable wearing ties. Plumbers wear suits...

      • The Cost of Passing
        (pp. 62-66)
        JOHN ROSARIO-PEREZ

        By the time I was nine years old I had become acutely aware of the link between intelligence and social class. I soon came to understand that knowledge was a commodity and that intelligence conferred special status.

        Despite the egalitarian disguise of our Catholic school uniforms, you could easily discern the “haves” from the “have nots” if you looked below the surface. The distinction was made not only on the basis of appearance but of attitude. For example, the better-off students boasted of being financially rewarded for their good grades—a dollar for every A—when report cards were handed...

      • The Floors of the Met
        (pp. 67-71)
        KAREN ESTRELLA

        About ten years ago I took my grandmother, myabuela, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. To most New Yorkers, this amazing institution is affectionately known as “the Met.” My grandmother had never been to the Met. She was one of those Old World people who never go out for “entertainment.” These are people who still unplug all appliances and electronics when they are not being used. These people never buy something they don’t really need, barely speak English, and always think you have never eaten enough. My grandmother has never been to the movies, or...

      • Washroom Class Politics
        (pp. 72-74)
        TIMOTHY HARRIS

        I discovered my class anger in 1983. I was twenty-two and working at an auto parts warehouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’d just been discharged from a four-year air force hitch and, in the fall, would leave for Amherst to attend the University of Massachusetts. I lied to get the job. College was my secret, for me to know and for them to find out.

        Enlistment in the air force had been my ticket out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The city’s two meatpacking plants offered the rare union wage in a right-to-work state, and the rich smell that hung in...

      • Artichokes
        (pp. 75-80)
        N. JEANNE BURNS

        A friend said recently that one definitive marker of social class is whether you know how to eat an artichoke. This probably isn’t true for migrant farmworkers who toil in or around Castroville, California, the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Capital of the World.” Or even for people who grew up on the Mediterranean, where the plant is native. But M. F. K. Fisher, who herself grew up surrounded by fields of artichokes, recognized the class-climbing rank of the thistle in her essay “The Social Status of the Vegetable.” And the distinction feels right to me, even seventy years later, despite other, more...

      • Here’s How to Drive the Poor Crazy
        (pp. 81-88)
        MICHAELANN BEWSEE

        It’s raining and I’m driving home from the organization I helped start, Arise for Social Justice, with a knot in my stomach because I’ve just found out Legal Services is drastically cutting services, when suddenly my windshield wipers stop working—just freeze in place.

        “Jesus H. Christ,” I say to myself. The wipers were intermittent (no pun intended) throughout the winter but had behaved really well the last two months, and I’d just totally forgotten I can’t count on them. This reminds me that I’ve got to stop and pick up power-steering fluid because I have a leak in the...

      • Red Datsun Security
        (pp. 89-91)
        KAREN SPECTOR

        The driver’s seat of my red Datsun wasn’t properly bolted to the car floor. I think there were four points at which the seat had once been firmly secured to the car body, back when it was a new, brightly painted auto on the lot, but now only one bolt managed to hang on. The result was a mixture of rocking and swiveling that made for perilous driving, though also for freedom in reaching into the back seat for a sweater or into the glove compartment for some gum, and all with the seat belt still firmly attached.

        I sat...

    • Working Class and College

      • A Box from My Grandfather
        (pp. 92-95)
        JANET CASEY

        In my first year of college, my grandfather sent me a large cardboard box filled with unrelated odds and ends that he somehow thought I needed, or perhaps wanted. This assortment, I perceived immediately, was intended to help me fit in, to make me feel like a genuine college student; the only problem was that my grandfather had no idea what sorts of things might actually accomplish those goals. To me, then, his efforts seemed ill-conceived and embarrassing—reminders of a past from which I was already trying to distance myself.

        It was about halfway through my first semester, and...

      • Vacuum Cleaner Truth
        (pp. 96-99)
        SIERRA FLEENOR

        “Okay. If you finish vacuuming before I finish cleaning the bathroom, you can watch TV while I dust. If I finish first, I get to watch TV while you dust,” my older sister said, coaxing me into a bet. I tried to calculate whether or not I could push the heavy vacuum quickly enough to beat her bathtub scrubbing.

        “Deal,” I replied with defiance.

        “On your mark. Get set. Go!” she called.

        My mom had left to pick up some more cleaning supplies and the list of condominiums we would need to clean that day, so my sister and I...

      • I Am Working Class
        (pp. 100-104)
        MICHELLE M. TOKARCZYK

        If I ask myself when I first became aware of class or, specifically, of the class to which I belonged, I realize that I had not one epiphany, but rather several. The reality of my working-class childhood would crystallize, only to be forgotten (or repressed) again. I could not hold on to an identity as someone who grew up in the working class until I could talk and write about my experiences with people from the working class.

        MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES are marked with recollections of my family’s economic struggle. During my early childhood my father was a “parkie”; he...

      • Hitting the Academic Class Ceiling
        (pp. 105-107)
        K. STRICKER

        I grew up in a small, working-class town in rural South Dakota. Neither of my parents attained education beyond high school, yet they succeeded in making a reasonably comfortable life for me and my two siblings. My family had a small house and a relatively reliable used car. My dad had a decent job as a waterman for the city, which enabled my mother to stay home until my youngest brother started kindergarten.

        My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I don’t remember ever hearing a conversation about the importance of education. I knew good behavior in school was important, but...

      • Blue-Collar Heart, Ivy League World
        (pp. 108-112)
        JENNIFER O’CONNOR DUFFY

        As a professor of higher education, I derive my professional interest in upward mobility and the experiences of working-class women at elite academic institutions from my own experience as a working-class student at Amherst College. My maternal grandparents, immigrants from Italy, never finished fifth grade; they were required to work to help pay for the family’s expenses. As adults, they owned and operated an ice-cream store. Across the street, my paternal grandfather owned a gas station. My father grew up in low-income housing, otherwise known as the “projects.” Although he was accepted to college, his parents did not have the...

      • Between Scarcity and Plenty
        (pp. 113-116)
        CAMISHA JONES

        I was born into a low-income family. My maternal grandmother dropped out of school in the sixth grade to go to work. Both of my grandmothers’ work history includes positions cleaning wealthier white people’s homes. They took what they had as skills and resources and stretched them to meet the needs of their families. I learned from them how to value and take care of the possessions I have. My mother conceived me when she was seventeen. My parents married the following year, not only because they loved each other but also to give me a good start in the...

      • A Nuyorican’s Journey to Higher Education: Toward Meritocracy or Internalized Classism?
        (pp. 117-123)
        JIM BONILLA

        I’m the son of a retired secretary, and I was raised in a single-parent household. In that sense, my story is not so different from that of thousands of working-class New York Puerto Ricans. Straightaway I can tell you Mami would be horrified to hear me refer to us as working class. My mother wholeheartedly bought into the myth that all clean, hardworking Americans were middle class. Even as a “pink-collar” worker, she identified upward with the middle-class (white) people she watched each night on television.

        During New York’s hot, muggy summers, unlike many of my street friends I got...

      • My Parents’ Hands Are on My Back
        (pp. 124-126)
        CHRISTINE OVERALL

        I grew up in a Toronto suburb of tiny bungalows. Although we did not go hungry, my father, a chronic alcoholic and World War II veteran, was sometimes unemployed. I often wore secondhand clothes, or clothes that I made or others made for me. We lived on my mother’s careful budgeting, and it allowed no luxuries.

        A common stereotype about working-class people is that, unlike middle-class people, they do not value higher education. And there is some truth to the stereotype. Working-class people know they need to take care of themselves: education should be practical and pragmatic; it should be...

  6. PART III. MIDDLE CLASS

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 127-128)

      The contributors in this part grew up in fairly diverse backgrounds, lending support to the fact that the term “middle class” is a very loose and elastic concept. As one author put it, “My family and I existed as so many others did and still do: in the strange and shifting ether of the middle class.”

      Some came from consciously “upper middle class” families, while others grew up in secure, but materially less well off, circumstances. A few contributors focus on the “cultural” and “social” capital their class status provided them, while others, people of color, point out the complexities...

    • “Better Be Street”: My Adventures in Cross-Class Romance
      (pp. 129-132)
      POLLY TROUT

      The first time I thought about class I was thirteen. I met a stoner boy in a heavy metal T-shirt at the bus stop in Tacoma, and we got to talking. I missed my bus, he missed his bus, then we started making out on the bench. He pulled up and said, “Hey, so what does your father do?”

      “He’s a lawyer,” I said.

      “That’s funny.” He frowned lopsided, eyes glancing down to the left. “You sure don’t act like a rich girl.”

      He never called.

      My father was a corporate attorney, a deacon in our evangelical church, and a...

    • It’s Who You Know and How You Talk
      (pp. 133-138)
      BETSY LEONDAR-WRIGHT

      I consider myself extremely lucky to have had several staff jobs at nonprofit organizations whose missions I believed in. After my twenties, I never again had to get a “day job,” but was able to get paychecks for full-time work on the cause dearest to my heart, economic justice in the United States.

      But was it luck that got me those jobs? Or did it have something to do with my upper-middle-class background? I’m guessing it was my background.

      How do nonprofits decide whom to hire? Virtually all of them have affirmative-action policies for race. Gender diversity usually takes care...

    • Childhood Friendship: When Class Didn’t Matter
      (pp. 139-141)
      PAMELA BURROWS

      In first grade my best friend asked me what my report card marks were in grammar. I didn’t know the word “grammar,” so she had to explain a little bit. Turned out mine were “excellent,” while hers were “needs improvement” or something of the sort. I had, at that tender young age, spent less than a moment considering how to frame my sentences, or what word fit best where. Like her, I spoke pretty much like my parents spoke, and the result was that I was perceived as a smart, well-spoken child, and she was perceived, well, pretty much as...

    • Finding Myself in the Middle
      (pp. 142-145)
      MONICA CRUMBACK

      When I was a very young child, I knew that I was rich. And, considering my family’s in-ground pool and my own ongoing private education, you would have had a tough pull convincing me otherwise. The “oohs” and the “aahs” that escaped my friends’ mouths at the sight of my pool rang too loudly and pleasantly in my ears; and I was equally pleased that my mother chauffeured me off to school every morning while all my friends, poor things, took the rickety old bus to the public elementary.

      So even though I could clearly remember my schoolteacher father recruiting...

    • A Privileged Path in a Class-Shattered World
      (pp. 146-149)
      ANNE ELLINGER

      I’m about eight years old, waking up in my New Jersey bedroom with the purple-and-blue tulip wallpaper and the violet gauze curtains. These sweet sounds wake me up: first, my dad shaving, the water gurgling down the drain, the swish of his shaving brush, thescritch-scritchof the razor across his face. And second, a Strauss waltz fromDer Rosenkavalier, our family’s current obsession. I always awaken to classical music. I jump out of bed, run past my dad in the bathroom, and jump into bed with my mom, where we snuggle and listen to music until my dad jokingly...

    • Oreo? A Black American Experience
      (pp. 150-155)
      JOHN VAUGHN

      At an early age, I was introduced to the idea that an “Oreo cookie” was sometimes more than just a sweet treat. For blacks, it was a phrase used to describe someone whose race was black but whose values and orientation were white—black on the outside; white on the inside. I learned about the concept of “Oreo” when I was being teased about being one. It hurt. I did not want to be an Oreo. I wanted in the worst way to prove that I was black, but felt that somehow I did not know how. Was there something...

    • Class Is Always with Us
      (pp. 156-160)
      KYLE HARRIS

      After devouring bowls of soup, Carolyn, Hillary, and I sipped homemade mead, waxed philosophical about social change, and condemned the violent deeds of rich white men. Soon the conversation turned toward personal debt. I bragged that I paid my credit cards off with a $9,000 check from the New York City Police Department, who had falsely arrested me during the Republican National Convention protests.

      My friends appeared as impressed with my story as I was with myself. I had lived a lot with that debt: hopped from one summit to the next protesting capitalism, shot a feature film, wrote a...

  7. PART IV. OWNING CLASS

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 161-164)

      Rich. affluent. superrich. whom do we consider wealthy? Like many class terminologies, there is no precise marker or measure.

      In recent years, we’ve heard about the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. But even this generates confusion. The top 1 percent of income earners earned over $600,000 in 2010. The top 1 percent of wealth holders had net worth over $6 million. While there is a high overlap between the top 1 percent of wealth holders and income earners, there are many households with high earnings but also high expenses and little savings.¹

      We choose the term “owning class” because...

    • Born on Third Base
      (pp. 165-171)
      CHUCK COLLINS

      On my first trip to downtown Detroit, fifteen miles from my home, I realized I lived in an entirely white world. There was not a single nonwhite student in my public or private elementary school. In our suburb of Bloomfield Hills, the only black people we saw were women at bus stops. They were maids returning home to Detroit after working in the suburbs.

      ON A MONDAY MORNING in late July I detected an unusual buzz of conversation in my house. My father wasn’t going to work that morning. He was on the phone with his employees. I kept hearing...

    • Money Was Never a Worry
      (pp. 172-177)
      CATHERINE ORLAND

      When I was growing up, money was never a worry. I never knew how much money my parents made until I was busy filling out the bubbles to apply to take the PSAT in the seventh grade. I was standing by the phone and working on our black marble countertop while Dad stood at the kitchen island, washing the salad for dinner that night. I asked my dad what our family income was. Without missing a beat, he responded, “What’s the highest one?”

      I scanned the bubbled choices and hesitatingly ventured, “150,000 plus?”

      “Yeah, that’s it,” he said, his tone...

    • The Women Who Cared for My Grandparents
      (pp. 178-180)
      SARAH BURGESS

      For me, class has been and remains intertwined with race. I learned I was wealthy from the black women who took care of my grandparents until their deaths. Anna and Ubalda, women from the Dominican Republic, cared for my grandparents in Washington, D.C. Sarah and Dorothy, women from across town somewhere, cared for my grandparents in Greenville, South Carolina.

      These women were kind to me. Anna and Ubalda gave me and my brother presents for Christmas. Dorothy cooked us macaroni and cheese, ham and green beans. Sarah told stories. We greeted each other warmly whenever I visited. I hugged them;...

    • What Was It Like Growing Up Owning-Class?
      (pp. 181-184)
      JENNIFER LADD

      I had a wonderful childhood in many ways. I grew up in Belmont and Cambridge, Massachusetts. My parents had professional jobs—university professor and psychiatric social worker—but both of them and their parents had come from legacies of wealth made in the late 1800s.

      I experienced a lot of freedom. I was able to play outside with friends most of the time I wasn’t at school, except for the acting classes and flute lessons. We lived in a comfortable three-story house, with each one of us four children having our own room, and with a basement big enough to...

    • A Day of Traveling across the Class Spectrum
      (pp. 185-187)
      CHARLOTTE REDWAY

      Traveling across the class spectrum is for me, at this point, both exhilarating and exhausting. Let me paint a picture of a Monday morning. I arrive at work at 10 a.m. for a staff meeting where we, all family therapists, have an hour of “check in.” I work with a fabulous group of people, including a thirty-five-year-old woman who over the last few months has been sharing her incredibly difficult time worrying about her brother. He has taken to the streets and is “using” again. My coworker struggles as she tries to get him into the same treatment programs that...

    • Social Capital
      (pp. 188-190)
      SALLY GOTTESMAN

      Many, perhaps most, mornings when I turn on the radio to listen to the news, I feel disheartened and disempowered. The news is bad and getting worse. I am tempted to turn the radio off and forget about all that is going on “out there.” After all, what difference can I make? Who’d listen? At least in here I can play “music class” with our three-year-old and one-year-old and know that my voice makes a difference.

      But then, sometimes, I catch myself and ask a question that I believe it is incumbent for me to ask: “If I don’t think...

  8. PART V. MIXED CLASS

    • [PART V Introduction]
      (pp. 191-192)

      For many people, class identity doesn’t fit into a tidy box.

      Some had parents raised in very different classes, so they were exposed to a variety of class sensibilities in their immediate family. Others were born into one class where they grew up and then moved to another country or community where the class structure was very different. Still others have experienced the roller coaster ride of both upward and downward mobility.

      People whose parents came from the far ends of the class spectrum, very poor and very privileged, hold the dynamics of class division within their own families—and...

    • Coming Clean
      (pp. 193-197)
      APRIL ROSENBLUM

      Lying in bed in my apartment, nursing my baby, I fall asleep for a few instants. When I awake to the sound of birds, people outside laughing, and golden light twinkling on leaves outside my window, I’m jolted back a few decades into a drowsy memory of the neighborhood I grew up in.

      There was a time when my childhood summers felt this safe and carefree. But by the time I was eight, the crack epidemic had come to our Philadelphia neighborhood. Two different houses behind us were firebombed. Gunshots became a nightly occurrence in our back alley. Adults in...

    • Ferragamos: A Cross-Class Experience
      (pp. 198-201)
      ZOE GREENBERG

      I have Ferragamo shoes. They say “Salvatore Ferragamo” in gold script on the inside sole, and they’re made of black leather, with a gold plate at the top of the round foot that holds together a black leather bow. The pair I have are selling as classics on the Italian website for $395, but I got them at a consignment shop for $25.

      I began to think about shoes when I was discussing this class anthology with my godsister, Nava. We grew up together in Mount Airy, a racially mixed and economically mixed neighborhood in Philadelphia. We both grew up...

    • Girl Scout Green
      (pp. 202-205)
      MARIAH BOONE

      Being the mother of a Girl Scout has given me a startling window into the world of class.

      At the beginning of my daughter’s kindergarten year, I called up the local Girl Scout council to start a troop. I took all the training and filled out the copious forms required to become a Girl Scout leader.

      I started a Daisy Girl Scout troop of four little kindergartners at my daughter’s preschool. Soon, a child from a nearby school joined the troop. I had lots of fun helping the girls earn their petals by learning about different parts of the Girl...

    • Living beyond Class: My Journey from Haiti to Harvard
      (pp. 206-210)
      JACQUES FLEURY

      My name is Jacques, aka “the Haitian Firefly” in artistic circles. I am a poet, author, columnist, journalist, and burgeoning novelist. I came up with the nickname “the Haitian Firefly” to reflect my bold individuality and life credo that we are all essentially fireflies; we glow only for a short amount of time, so we might as well shine as brightly as we possibly can while we still can.

      I grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, as part of a middle-class family. My father was an entrepreneur, tailor, and landlord, with his own business in Port-au-Prince. My mother and...

  9. Afterword: The Power of Story
    (pp. 211-214)
    CHUCK COLLINS

    Class matters, as these stories show. Read together, this collection of stories has cumulative power and impact. Many of them still give me goose bumps even after I’ve read these contributions a dozen times.

    I felt the shame Wendy Williams described when the cashier at the school lunch line knew she got the reduced-price lunch in spite of her best efforts to pass as middle class. I fumed with anger at the betrayals that Michaelann Bewsee felt at the hands of landlords and welfare officials. I delighted at the scene of Karen Estrella’s taking her immigrant grandmother on her first...

  10. About the Contributors
    (pp. 215-226)
  11. Resources
    (pp. 227-228)
  12. About Class Action
    (pp. 229-230)