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At the Top of the ‘Class’: Growing Up and Class Background

June 8th, 2016     by deb singh     Comments

Illustration by Erin McPhee

At the Top of the ‘Class’: Growing Up and Class Background

Adli is growing up with some of the best things in life: a loving parent and being raised in a violence-free home.

Adli has an educated parent who makes a steady salary and has access to fresh vegetables and organic milk.

Adli lives in a big city, with access to diverse people, cultures, resources and spaces.

Adli was breastfed.

What do these things have to do with class or his class background? Everything.

For starters, kids/youth who live in homes where they do not experience child abuse or witness violence have already got a step up from kids/youth that do. These children do not have to fight to stay safe daily and that means they are able to learn and grow without cortisol, the primary stress hormone running through their brain regularly, causing inference with learning and memory.

Trauma has been known to lead to learning disruptions and even has connections to learning disabilities. And while there are many successful people with learning disabilities, it means that Adli will not have to overcome interruptions in his learning due to family violence or trauma. He won’t have to deal with being labeled and stigmatized because of learning disabilities caused by trauma/violence, which can be connected to his future financial success and class mobility.

A traumatic event can seriously interrupt the school routine and the processes of teaching and learning. There are usually high levels of emotional upset, potential for disruptive behavior, or loss of student attendance unless efforts are made to reach out to students and staff with additional information and services. Students traumatized by exposure to violence have been shown to have lower grade point averages, more negative remarks in their cumulative records, and more reported absences from school than other students. They may have increased difficulties concentrating and learning at school and may engage in unusually reckless or aggressive behavior.”

Adli drinks clean water and organic milk daily. He has access to fruits and vegetables in his neighbourhood. His health will be stronger than children who live below the standard of living or in poverty in Toronto. Although this might seem unreasonable since there seems to be fresh food in all grocery stores, there are some Toronto communities who have to travel for these items. In the community where we live, Adli has access to healthier foods and therefore has more ‘choice’. (Check out this link, particularly points 10, 12, 13 and 14) (‘Choice’ is relative since Adli can’t really shop and cook for himself yet!)

Living in an urban center like Toronto, Adli will have access to venues such as indoor playgrounds and formal classes. Adli has access to pre-school, having started in daycare at the age of 11 months. His access to the urban environment and education will statistically ensure the likelihood of being better off financially in the future.

Finally, I read a study that people who were breastfed have higher IQs and earning power as adults than people who were not breastfed.

Researchers in Brazil have followed nearly 6,000 babies from birth for the past three decades, enabling them for the first time to get an idea of the long-term effects of breastfeeding. Nearly 3,500 of them, now 30-year-old adults, accepted an invitation to be interviewed and sit IQ tests for the purpose of the study. Those who had been breastfed proved to be more intelligent, had spent longer at school and earned more than those who had not been. And the longer they were breastfed as a baby, the better they tended to be doing.

So all these factors contribute to Adli having some middle class privilege; his education, his future earning power and how he understands the world from a class perspective

I am not middle class. I grew up working class, which was a result of me being a child witness to domestic violence, my parents divorcing and being raised by a single mom, eating generally not-so-healthy foods at times (lots of frozen pizza because of my working mom!), and not being breastfed. That said, I did grow up in Toronto, which helped with my access to some things. Another important item to note is what also contributes to our class background is our race, sexual and gender identity, and education and class of our parents. Statistically, queer women of colour are the lowest paid in Canada, particularly Black and Indigenous women and trans folk.

To complicate this further, Adli is the child of lesbian parents, mixed race and lives a predominantly white community. When we go to places like swimming lessons or indoor playgrounds, I am often the only mom of colour in the room. Many times I wonder if Adli is being or will be treated differently because his mom is dark, he has a queer parent or because he is a mixed race donor baby. Adli is the only kid on his street that has this experience and is only among a handful of kids of colour, all of whom live in 2 story houses (unlike us apartment renters).

Finally, an important part of class background is the way your parents teach you to value money, how to understand concepts like poverty and homelessness, employment and meritocracy (the idea that you should only advance in a job or school, for example, if you have earned it.) For example, it is often believed that people, who do not earn something, are not deserving of it. An example of this is if a Black person got a job because of employment equity, the masses often believe the person got it solely because they are Black. But this is a classism or classist (and racist) way of thinking because it is highly unlikely that any workplace would hire a person solely on race. It is more likely that they were hired because the applicant had the skills to do the job plus they fit the bill around employment equity mandates.

So class is complex. And it’s important to understand a ‘bigger picture’ around our every day class differences/privilege. They may seem like small things but class is buried in the food we eat, the place we live, the access we have and where we came from.

What’s your class (background)?

Other resources on Class

Everyday Feminism: Did You Do These 6 Activities Today? Then You’ve Got Class Privilege

It’s Pronounced Metrosexual: 30+ Examples of Middle-to-Upper Class Privilege

Public Autonomy: Six Questions About Your Class Location that Isn’t Asking You to Think About

Tags: class, gender, indigenous, queer, race, violence, youth

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