Monday, April 22, 2013

Working class and middle class kids in school

Okay so I'm way too busy right now with work and school and life and I don't even know where I put my Jensen book so this is going to be a quick post...

I can understand what Jensen (from the ten pages that I could read before I lost the book) and Hooks were saying about class and education.  After reading some of the Jensen last night, I talked to Erica about how comfortable we feel at RIC and at our jobs- places that are filled with working-class people.  We talked about how, when there is one middle-class person who needs to "get ahead" or his/her peers, everyone else seems to not like them.  Either they are deemed a "kiss-ass", too aggressive, or a "know-it-all."  And even though we are in our twenties- we both still see this today.  Working class kids like us are so comfortable being a team and we would question authority together if it meant sticking up for one another.  We've both always noticed this- but until taking this course, I never realized how much it had to do with our class and our background (what class we grew up in).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Class in America during the Vietnam War

I was researching for a paper I am writing on dissent to the Vietnam War during the 1960's.  I came across an article that is SO relevant to what we have been discussing about class, race, privilege, and most importantly, the Lareau article and how it showed that the middle class feels more comfortable questioning authority.

During the Vietnam war there was a disproportionately higher amount of blacks (mostly lower class- given the time period) being drafted and sent to war than whites (specifically of the middle to upper classes).  This obviously has to do with the racism existent in local draft boards- but there is more to it than that.  In the link below, James Fallows reflects on the drafts inequities.  One inequity was simply that the middle class had the resources to resist the draft, perhaps even in clever ways- while the lower class accepted the draft and accepted the fact that they might have to be shipped off to Vietnam.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blog on Lareau

Okay now I see that Ms. Marshall was concerned about racial inequality.  See, Lareau didn't tell me that before.  It makes sense now.

I'm thinking he didn't mention it in the beginning because he wanted to put a specific emphasis on class.  In the beginning he states that, while race matters when talking about certain resources, class matters much more.  So at first, when talking about Ms. Marshall, it seemed like he attributed all of her reasons for getting involved and questioning authority in her children's lives to her social class.  But he was simply stating that her social class enabled her to get involved.  When Ms. Marshall talks about why she intervened, it was more about race.

So what I get from this is that Ms. Marshall, among many other African American lower, middle, and upper class parents, is concerned about racial equality in her children's lives.  However, the reason that she can make accommodations for her children and question authority when a problem is presented to her is because  she is a member of the middle class and has the resources to do so.  Meanwhile, a black mother of the lower class might feel the same way but feels too inadequate to jump in and question those above her.

There were two different "reasons" here: Lareau talked about the reason Ms. Marshall could get involved; what enabled her to do this.  Ms. Marshall talked about the reason that she did get involved; what prompted her to do this.

Random thought about Lareau article...

Just saying, if Ms. Marshall was my mom, I would tell her to calm down and back the heck off....

A mother's advice is all good and well.  But Stacey can totally handle her own problems without being coddled by her mom.

My mom would always give me advice on how to handle situations but she would never intervene without asking me if that's what I wanted.

Just a random thought.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rambling- Mike Rose related to my life

                                                            The Fast Food Worker
 For about three years, I worked as a fast food worker at Burger King.  For about half that time, I worked as a manager there.  Fast food jobs are notorious for being the most unskilled jobs in America.  Don’t have a degree?  Looks like you’re going to be flipping burgers your entire life.  Get used to the phrase, “would you like fries with that?”  Sure, most fast food restaurants do not require their workers to have a degree in order to be hired.  However, the notion that fast food work or management requires no thought and all unskilled, physical labor is not true.
                A crew member at Burger King is thrown into the hot, grease filled kitchen and told to make X amount of sandwiches in under two minutes.  The amount of X all depends on how much a customer orders and could range from 2 sandwiches to 10 sandwiches and 5 fries.  First, the worker begins toasting all of the buns they need.  Then, the worker takes the sheets of wax paper and strategically marks any special requests about the sandwiches (no ketchup, extra pickle, etc.).  After marking all of these requests on the wax paper, the worker flips all of the sheets over for the sandwiches to be assembled on them. Remembering the order of the sandwiches on the already marked wax paper on their work table (which is referred to as a “board”), the worker takes the buns (sometimes all of the same buns if the customer ordered all regular burgers but most often, different types of bread) and places them on the wax paper that they correspond to.  The worker takes tongs and lays out the appropriate meat on each bun.  Now, the more difficult part: the toppings.  Not only is this worker remembering what toppings go on what type of sandwich but they have organized the sandwiches in their minds to know which customer wanted ketchup and which did not.  If the worker puts ketchup on the wrong sandwich, it is now covered in ketchup and he/she has to waste the bun and burger, toast a new bun and grab a new wax paper and start over with that one sandwich.  This might not seem like a big deal, but when the worker is in the middle of a lunch rush, they have just wasted a sandwich while more orders are coming in and it set them back about fifteen seconds.
Sometimes when it is really busy, the worker will prioritize sandwiches.  If two orders come in through the drive thru right after one front counter order, the worker will quickly make the drive through order first in order to “make speed of service” a.k.a. get the sandwich to the window in less than two minutes.  However, oftentimes, another drive thru and front counter order will come in directly after.  If one of these orders is more than just a few sandwiches, the worker will start falling behind.  If the worker runs out of chicken tenders or simply drops something on the floor and has to cook more, it’s considered a catastrophe to the manager AND the customer that is waiting.  Not only has the worker just wasted food, but they have wasted more time.
Not only do the workers deal with pressure from the managers, but the customers treat them horribly.  Working up front is not as stressful as working in the back concerning how much you have to do in such little time.  However, it is more stressful dealing with customers than making sandwiches.  “I’ve been waiting three F****** minutes for my Whopper!  You call THIS fast food?!”.  Oftentimes, the workers are called “disgusting” when the customer gets angry about something. Because of the fast pace the workers are forced to keep up with, sometimes the sandwiches aren’t as neat as the customers would like them to be.  “My sandwich is falling apart!  Those losers back there don’t give a S*** about anything!”  Once when I was manager, a customer received a wrong order: she did not want tomatoes on her Whopper and accidently, in the midst of making about 30 burgers, one of my workers accidently put tomatoes on it.  She exclaimed, “Are you really that stupid that you don’t understand how to not put tomatoes on a burger?!  Why don’t you go to school or something?!”.  Comments like this obviously hurt me but I couldn’t even begin to explain the pressure that all of my workers (and the pressure that I) was under in that restaurant.  I would just apologize, waste her Whopper, and (while the workers in the back were STILL getting slammed with orders) ask them to make her a new sandwich.
As a manager, we would get yelled at by our district managers for wasting food.  Food gets cooked at the beginning of lunch and would be held in pans for a certain amount of time.  If the food didn’t sell in that allotted time, we are supposed to throw it away- it is considered no longer sellable.  Our district managers were so concerned about wasting food that they would literally advise us to just sell the food anyways.  There were so many instances where I’d have the workers throw away the food and then the NEXT order would be that same food they just threw away.  They would have to cook new food- so although the food would be fresh, the customer would complain because it took so long to make, I would get in trouble for not making speed of service, and I would get in trouble for “wasting” food.  If the customer actually complained to the district manager (a common occurrence) it would be a triple whammy.  If however, I didn’t cook the customer new food, they would complain that the food was old and cold.  I literally could not win.
So how does this relate to Mike Rose?  Not only does a fast food worker exhaust him/herself in the kitchen or running around taking orders and making drinks, they constantly have to use their mind.    What goes on what sandwich?  Should I waste this food or should I sell it?  How much time do I have left to make this order?  How should I prioritize these sandwiches? Their minds are going at 100 miles an hour and all under the pressure of their managers and the bad attitudes of the customers.  In the two minutes they are allotted to finish each order, they probably make about 30 difference decisions.  And in the end, they are just considered lazy, unskilled, stupid workers.  I am actually disappointed that Mike Rose did not address the fast food worker in his book because it is the extreme of “they don’t use their minds” when they actually really do.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Waging a Living (Connections)

                The first reading that came to my mind when watching Waging a Living was Kozol’s, Amazing Grace.  One of Kozol’s major points is that when people are in poverty, it is not due to the fact that they are stupid or irrational.  It is simply because they might have had some bad luck and then the American system worked against them to prevent them from rising above the poverty level.  Similar to how Cliffie and his mom and Alice Walker could not escape the poverty they lived in; the people in the film were completely stuck.

Jean Reynolds (the CNA) and her daughter Bridget were in a heartbreaking situation- Jean has several children and Bridget is unable to help financially because she is dying of thyroid cancer.  They did not have access to health care so Bridget’s doctors told her plain and simple, “Enjoy this Christmas because it is probably going to be your last.”  Thyroid cancer does not have to be a life-threatening cancer.  However, it was threatening to Bridget because she couldn’t afford the right treatment.  How could Bridget and Jean possibly save money when they are trying to save Bridget’s life?  What will happen to the health of the other children when all of the money is being spent on bills and on Bridget’s cancer?  Bridget was not receiving any form of preventative treatment or the doctors would have caught the cancer in its early stages; Jean tells us that the illness is much too far progressed for treatment that they could afford.  Sure, this may seem like too much of a specific case- major health problems like cancer certainly have a huge impact on finances.  But the movie stated that 18,000 Americans die a year because they lack health insurance.  This entire group of people is probably trying to save themselves while trying to make ends meet.  Eventually, Bridget is provided with health insurance which covers the rest of the children as well.  The family moves into another home because they were evicted out of theirs.  Although Bridget now has health, she is still very sick and Jean still struggles because she only makes $11 an hour as a CNA.  Jean does not have the time to go back to school to be an RN.  She is stuck in a situation that provides her no advancement opportunity.

The story of Barbara Brooks was inspiring.  She was abused by both her uncle and mother growing up so she went to live in a house with other teenagers.  She was then abused again by the workers at the house.  Several years later, she ended up being a single parent of five.  She worked at the house that she grew up in- the one that she was abused in- because she loves the kids there and wants to make a difference.  Working at the house, she was making $8.25 an hour so she decided to go back to school to get her associates degree.  Somehow, Barbara juggled raising five kids, working full time, and going to college all at the same time, which is truly admirable.  She then got a raise- $11 an hour.  This is where all of her hard work is supposed to pay off, right?  Wrong.  Since Barbara made more at $11 an hour, she was no longer eligible for food stamps or Medicaid.  Her section 8 housing rent was also increased by $149.  Overall, Barbara made $450 more a month than she did working at the house.  However, she received $600 less from government assistance.  She said, “The harder I work, the harder it gets.”  It’s agonizing to see a single mother work that hard to try to make her life better, only to be pushed down by the system she is stuck in.  She graduates with her associates and gets a new job, making $12.10 an hour to start.  After ninety days, her boss loves her performance and offers her a raise and full time status.  Again, Barbara’s assistance is cut and she has to work harder than ever before- simply because she got an associate’s degree and performed well at work.  She decides that in order to be successful, she needs to go back to school to get her bachelor’s degree.  She tells her boss that she can no longer work full time.

                Kozol would claim that these women were placed in awful situations that they did NOT cause- Jean’s daughter ended up with cancer and Barbara lived an extremely rough childhood.  However, when they try to rise above the situation that they’ve been stuck in for years, they are pushed down by the American system.  For Jean and Bridget, it is the health care system.  For Barbara, it is government assistance.  So much for the American dream…

                The other material that came to mind when watching the film was Wolff’s, Capitalism Hits the Fan.  He discusses how the productivity of workers has risen and continues to rise every year.  Yet, since the seventies, workers have been paid the same wages despite their hard work.

                This reminded me a lot of Jerry’s story.  Jerry was a security guard at a multi-milllion dollar building in San Francisco making $12 an hour.  Twelve dollars an hour, Jerry claims, is like making $6.50 an hour anywhere else because living in San Fransisco is so expensive.  His one-room studio apartment’s rent is $530 a month!  He also pays child support but has not had enough money to see his two children in nine years.  Jerry’s union protests for a pay raise and all of the security guards get one: a whopping $.75 raise.  Still, this helps him save some money to finally go see his kids (which, by the way, was a really heart-wrenching moment- anyone else feel tears surface?).  Finally, Jerry and his boss have a disagreement and Jerry is fired.  His union gets him a new job as a security guard at a different building- making $10.25 an hour with a $.25 cent raise every year.  It would take Jerry EIGHT YEARS to get back to the $12.75 he was making at his other security job.  It made me wonder if Jerry would ever see his kids again.  Then, a statistic came on the screen, which is specifically what reminded me most of Dr. Wolff, “Real pay for male low-wage workers is less than it was 30 years ago.”  As Wolff stated, during the 1970’s real wages for workers stopped declining.  Despite the fact that the company that Jerry works for is becoming more and more profitable each year, Jerry receives only a $.25 raise.

To wrap up my blog, I’ll throw out a statistic that the film showed,

“Over half of Americans that started the last decade in poverty, remained in poverty ten years later.”'

Mary Venitelli was the only  women in “Waging a Living” that finally got out of the mess she was in.  However, she could not do it alone as the “American Dream” likes to claim.  Mary met a man that helped her watch the kids while she worked extra hours as well as contribute financially to her family.  This means that out of the four people the producers of Waging a Living interviewed, only one made it past poverty- and she needed help in order to do so.  This movie shows how individualism is a myth and that, as Barbara Brooks stated, “There is no American dream.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Response to Andrea's Blog- Oliver and Shapiro

Oliver and Shapiro do raise some excellent points about systematic barriers that have led to the widening of the wealth gap between whites and blacks...

However, I completely agree with Andrea when she claims that racism is NOT a thing of the past (which is how Wilson makes it sound).  Wilson attributes the wealth gap between whites and blacks wholly to this historical, systematic oppressing of African Americans.  These systems surely contribute, but they cannot be fully blamed for black wealth disadvantage.

Andrea mentioned a few ways that blacks are disadvantaged because of pure racism and not the mere remnants of policies that were put in place in the 19th and 20th centuries.  For example, she mentioned job discrimination and black death at the hands of the state.

Really, all it takes is a simple news search on Google News to understand that anti-black racism is still prevalent in society and contributes to the widening racial wealth gap.

1. In the article attatched to the link below, the writer states:

"Our culture is still deeply suffused with anti-black bias, despite an African-American president in office. National surveys (pdf) continue to reveal commonly held stereotypes of African Americans as less hardworking and less intelligent than whites."

This very stereotype (and racism) is what causes job discrimination.  If blacks are discriminated against in this way, they certainly have a harder time getting a job and earning an income.  I know that income is different than wealth, but income contributes to wealth.  I don't think you can acquire much wealth without any income.

The writer also states this:

To be sure, this whole issue of racism had a more straightforward quality in the past. We did not have to resort to complex surveys and experiments to reveal its depth. There used to be something loud and obvious and terrible about racism -- circumstances with some ironic virtues. A visible and openly declared enemy is so much more directly confronted than one that operates stealthily.
And that is the dilemma of racism in our times. We have hints, suggestions, indications, if you will, of racial bias all around us today.

I think that this is exactly where Wilson apparently got confused.  Sure, in the past, pure racism was much more outward that it is today.  But this is not to say that it doesn't exist and contribute to the amount of wealth that blacks are able to accumulate.  Racism is a prominent contributing factor to wealth inequality between race.


This is another really awesome article in the New York times about how blacks are disadvantaged.  The actor, Forest Whitaker, was accused of shoplifting at a deli but he hadn't done anything wrong.  The only reason why this grabbed great attention was because Whitaker is famous.  However, these situations occur daily to African Americans-- situations that wouldn't have occurred had there been a white person in the same situation.  It might seem like a stretch to apply this to the widening wealth gap, but Oliver and Shapiro claim that, due to these historical systematic policies, blacks do not have "the skills and education necessary to fit in a changing economy."  Sure, this might be true.  But even despite these policies, how are blacks supposed to attain skills and education when they cannot be trusted in a local deli?


This article discusses racism AND history as causes of the wealth gap.  The point of the article is not really relevant- that in order to educate people about racism, we must first address "progress" in America and then talk about what we can further do to prevent racism.  However, the author discusses racism and history as equal contributing factors to the wealth gap.

He claims:
"Much of the actual structure of racism remains, and that's a much larger obstacle to equality of opportunity."

And directly after goes onto claim:
"Unfortunately, few Americans understand the extent to which anti-black racism was an organizing principle for public policy through much of 19th and 20th centuries."

THIS is what Oliver and Shapiro should have done to address the wealth gap.  They should have discussed both racism (that yes, still exists today) AND the layers of systematic disadvantages towards blacks.  Both of these factors have led to the growing wealth gap between whites and blacks.