I have a very smart friend, Lisa, who once said that the best way to understand class is to think about it as where you sit on an airplane. In first class the seats are bigger, the food better, and the attendants more attentive. That’s assuming you can afford to get on the airplane at all; the bus is another world altogether. It’s also about how easily and conveniently you can get on the airplane and those special lounges at the airport. If you are very rich, of course, you have your own airplane and we’d never see you at the airport at all.
We don’t talk about class in the U.S. because we don’t have a vocabulary to talk about it and because we only get brief glimpses of the lives of people with money. Paris Hilton might be ridiculed as a party girl but she’s not reviled as too rich. Most of us don’t have our own planes, and relatively few of us can afford first class seats. If you look around a bit, though, you can learn some interesting things about privilege. Inside Higher Ed has a helpful piece this week, for example, that gives us a little peek into the hidden world of power.
As it turns out, (Legacy of Bias), the relatively well off get into college more easily. It shouldn’t be surprising– if we get on a plane we see material privilege–but it usually is. It goes against our American democratic grain to think that not everyone earns their way, just as we believe that economic failure is always a matter of individual rather than social responsibility. I wonder, though, how much research it will take before the facts of class in the United States become something like common sense.