It continues to amaze me how many Americans today believe that they come from an entirely free country with a free past when it comes to class. A brilliant meritocracy where anyone can raise themselves to the top based on…something? For some they think it’s fame or what handbag one has in their closet. For others it’s where you went to school. Some are more grounded in reality and think it has to do with your actual net worth or income and nothing else. It’s much more complex, I’d argue. But we’re profoundly ignorant and arrogant today when it comes to a self-awareness around class in this country.
In the early 20th Century (until the huge cultural changes of the 1960’s) class was openly understood to be based on pedigree and family along with net worth in the US. If you read history around the terms nouveau riche and old money you’ll get a grasp of this. Or, just take Great Gatsby’s West Egg and East Egg. Old Money vs. New. It could be easily argued that it was the egalitarian Kennedy Administration and the rise of those immigrant Irish to the upper class that openly and publicly confronted that long held way of considering things. Handsome JFK and his patriotic nation of immigrants…
The thing is, while it’s not as much about family history openly as it used to be or the right cultural markers, money is still not just money in the US. It’s surely not like it was (they’ve had changes of their own) in Europe or is in terms of automatic rigidity but it still very much openly existed in the US in the past. Nowadays, it exists more in the shadows and due to the open hostility against it some people who have been snubbed, fear being snubbed or who don’t know any better actively deny its very existence. Some of those people will plug their ears and shout epithets of intense hate at you if you try to tell them otherwise. If who you were born to matters in the US the way it used to it’s demoralizing? A personal attack on some people (from their perspective)? Or some people feel lied to by those who have told them otherwise? I don’t know which.
And that’s the last I’ll say about that.