Class Matters

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Chapter 1: “Shadowy Lines that Still Divide,” by Janny Scott and David Leonhardt

My Armenian-born parents are a clear representation of the promise of equal opportunity and spirit of freedom that the United States is meant to embody. As refugees of World War I, my family came to America in pursuit of liberty with their kinship and industriousness as their “only” resources. Today, my parents own 100% of their home on WaiKiki Beach in Hawaii, and paid for my tuition at the same private school President Obama attended. Their success story is a great testimony to US idealism, and its departure from the rigid class system of the Old World. At the same time, my parents’ journey to the New World came before the end of the industrial age, when capitalism, on a national scale, was still emerging. They were born in time to witness America at its height as a superpower, when access to “new” money, property, and quality education was available for most white ethnics to join the ranks of (at least) the middle class. On the other hand, I was born after the Baby Boomers, when post WWII expansionism, the New Deal economy, and advances in civil rights were retrenching, and globalization and privatization were on the upswing. Coming of age in the post 60’s era and dealing with chronic mental health problems has changed my perspective on the accessibility of the American dream and its promise of equal opportunity. To put it mildly, things did not go according to my expectations. In my own case, I grew up with serious privilege, so a large part of my financial insecurity is of my own making; at the same time, my recovery has exposed me to a diversity of class and ethnic experiences, which have contributed to my awareness of how difficult self-sufficiency, let alone class mobility is for most people in my human network today. Consequently, I am much more cynical about the “rags to riches” story of America than the majority of others in my upper-middle class bracket. According to...
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