Friday, June 30, 2017

The Rules of the Social Class Con Game

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University Graduate School

First, the simple, and consequently inadequate, provocative idea: Social class is a con game being run on us.

We have confidence in our beliefs about income, occupation, and prestige, and our beliefs make social class real for us.  We have social systems that reinforce this confidence. We blame others for this con, for creating social class inequities:  Advertisers, marketers, the media, educators, politicians, consumerists, men, women, corporations, white people, bad people.  We disparage negative social class attitudes as classism. 

Other people create this problem, not me.  Social class is not my fault.  "In every game and con there is always an opponent, and there is always a victim.  The trick is to know when you're the later, so you can become the former."  "The more control the victim thinks he or she has, the less control he or she actually has." (Guy Richie, spoken by Jake Green in the movie Revolver).

Most of us see social class as real and external.  Social class has a set of rules.  People in the higher social classes are seen as somehow better than people in the lower social classes. Secretly we believe people in other social classes are somehow not better.

Keeping up, being competitive, getting ahead, winning prizes, winning recognition, these are the markers for winning the game, for being social class successful.

Second, the not so simple complexity that adds more adequacy to this idea of a con game. Social class is a co-constructed idea in which we all participate differently.

Who is behind this confidence game? Who is to  blame for this inequality, for this hierarchy of prestige? I am and you are.

Complexity world views note that many systems are self constructed - this social class conspiracy is created and maintained by Just Grew - this conspiracy, this con just grew as people took advantage of our desires to manage our place in the hierarchy of prestige.
  • Educational institutions suggest that education is the key to moving up in social class.
  • Alcohol companies suggest that their brand of flavored ethanol is the key.  
  • Fashion companies suggest that their fashion brand is key.  
  • Car companies suggest that their car brand is key.
  • Travel companies suggest that a trip is the key.  
  • Coffee houses suggest that their brand is the key. 
Consumption can manage with other people think about you, your status in the co-created hierarchy of social class, at least according to coffee houses, travel, car, fashion, and alcohol companies, and educational institutions.  Magically this new degree, alcohol, fashion, car, travel experience, and coffee will change what others think about you and consequently what you think about your self.  Buy something and feel better about your self.  (And yes, I realized that I just suggested that retail therapy is a bad thing.) Getting people consumed with their own consumption is a rule of the con.

The social class con game is so effective that most people aren't aware that they are in the middle of  a game.   "The bigger the trick and the older the trick, the easier it is to pull, because they think it cant be that old, they think it can't be that big for so many people to have fallen for it"  (Revolver) .  To point out that social class is a con game is an act of civil disobedience, an act of cultural truth that is not welcomed. 

Who wants to know that their branded purse is unworthy.  "Eventually when the opponent is challenged or questioned, it means the victim's investment and thus his intelligence is questioned, no one can accept that. Not even themselves" (Revolver).  Who wants to admit that they have helped co-dreate an unjust system? See also Carl Rogers Proposition 16 - "Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself."  Who wants to realize that their expensive designer purse is just another bag.

It is easy to ego-invest in objects.  Advertisers make sure that you know their brand reflects the real you.  I call bullshit. The difference between most branded products is minimal.  "But I like my new Dell/Asus/Sony/HP."  One of William Gibson's characters, Cayce in Pattern Recognition, has a deep negative psychological reaction to branding - imagine for a moment what that life would be like.  Imagine how out of step she would be in the social class con game.

Game theory applies to "intelligent rational decision makers" and this is most definitely not the case with social class.

People play games differently; people play the social class con game differently.  Take a board game, any board game, and look at the rules.  When we all play by the rules the game goes smoothly.  When we look more complexly then we see that the rules are not so clear.  Monopoly(r),  that beloved board game makes a great example.  1) My grandmother-in-law would play monopoly and buy anything she landed on.  She grew up with no property in the real world and the opportunity to buy property was a treat.  2) Playing Monopoly with a 10 year old Romanian first time player during the Communist era was interesting - he went around the board and got his money for passing Go.  The idea of buying property as a money making scam never occurred to him, for his first game.  He played the game based on his world view developed in a Communist nation.  He got beaten early, learned his lesson, and changed his strategy.

Social class is a co-constructed con game.  Can you stop playing?

Social class is a social construction based on what we each believe about prestige. There is no organized cabal running this con, there is only us participating in it, making money from it, and agreeing that this is all OK.  The social class con game is so effective that most people are conned into helping enforce rules that are not to their advantage.

tl;dr There is no reality behind the idea of social class.  Social class is a con game.

Special thanks to those who created the messages in the movie Revolver.




Monday, January 30, 2017

Social Class as Cultural Imperialism

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Wikipedia (on 27-11-2016) "Cultural imperialism comprises the cultural aspects of imperialism. Imperialism here refers to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations, favoring the more powerful civilization. Thus, cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting and imposing a culture, usually that of a politically powerful nation, over a less powerful society; in other words, the cultural hegemony of industrialized or economically influential countries which determine general cultural values and standardize civilizations throughout the world." (bolding added)
Now, use social class to replace the words civilization, nation, society, countries, and civilizations.

One of the underlying principles of the upper classes is that everyone should want to get ahead.  "Keeping up with the Joneses" is an old phrase, and a new movie, about trying to keep ahead, or at least keep even, with others.  If you don't keep up, then you are culturally and social class inferior, and the cultural assumption is that no one wants to be a loser.  Never mind how this idea ignores those with few resources and normalizes those with few resources as losers. 

Culture trickle down is a real thing.  Many fads and fashions begin with the upper classes and trickle down to the lower classes.  The use of visible fashion labels, observable wealth, positional goods, is part of this trend.  Why do we have visible fashion labels?  So that others can read them.  It should also be noted that some fashion trends trickle up, or even trickle across social class subcultures, notably athletic shoes and attire.  In the main, things trickle down.  

Even names trickle down.  In the book Freakonomics the analysis of names showed that baby naming fashion trickles down among European-American social classes.  The baby naming idea has spawned a long discussion in the Freakonomics discussion site.  I note that I have a remarkably 'British' (read white upper middle class) name that was typical of my generation. And I realize that this name has given me unearned privilege because of perceived prestige, or put another way, because of social class cultural imperialism.  People attribute privilege and prestige to me because of my name. When I accept and expect that privilege is when I help co-create and co-evolve the cultural imperialism of the upper social classes.

The mechanism of exporting culture from the upper classes to the rest of the people are advertisements.  Advertisers and the media they own are key players in this propaganda machine.  In a recent listing of the 30 largest media companies in the world Facebook is number 5!  Is it any wonder that a Google search for "Keeping up with the . . . . " fills in "Kardashians" automatically?  Is it any wonder that many web sites don't like AdBlock?  Is it any wonder that Mozilla has a tutorial to manage advertising on Facebook? The idea that if you are not paying for it then you are the product comes to mind.  I love the irony of people paying to advertise a brand name on their shirts, shoes, purses, and laptops.  

In some ways taking control of on-line advertising is an anti-imperialist action.  

The social class cultural imperialism message is that the stuff that rich people have and do is the stuff that you should have and do.  "Don't wear white after Labor Day" is a rule because in the late 19th and early 20th century the wealthy people came back to The City (New York City of course) from their vacation homes on Long Island, or Newport, Rhode Island, or Martha's Vineyard after Labor Day, and the rich people wore white for summertime sailing and summertime sport.  Keeping up with the Vanderbilts became a fashion rule still in force. 

tl;dr - you are being lied to and sold a culture that is not yours. 


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Monocultural Bias and Multicultural Bias

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Monocultural bias is the idea that familiarity with only one culture is the norm.

Multicultural bias is the idea that familiarity with multiple cultures is the norm. I like this idea better because it honors the complexities of our lives.

Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills are the holy trinity of multicultural education on most US campuses.  Pope and Reynolds, as near as I can tell, were the first to introduce this trinity in 1997, and the idea was expanded by Pope, Reynolds, and Mueller in their book Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs (2004) and the trinity is in wide use by other authors.  While Pope, Reynolds, and Mueller did not specifically address the idea of monocultural bias, the Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills trinity is a good way to unpack this idea of monocultural bias.

Learning is the acquisition of knowledge and skill as the result of experience. 

Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills are a function of experience.  Humans have quite a variety of experiences depending on their environment.  Some of us, like me, appear to have grown up in a monocultural bubble. This meant that I appeared to grow up with limited experiences outside my upper-middle class, predominantly European-American, English speaking world.  Others, like my relatives on my Mother's side grew up in a different bubble in economically disadvantaged rural Massachusetts and on my fathers side in moderately affluent exurban New Jersey.

It appears on the surface that we all grew up in a bubble.  I would argue that on closer look most of us grew up in a multicultural world.  I would argue that most of us already have an awareness of multicultural differences based on our experiences.  

Awareness comes from contrast.  I had awareness of the contrast experiences in my world as I grew up.  In my Unitarian Universalist Liberal Religious Youth program The Church Across the Street we visited local churches, synagogues, and temples and got a behind-the-scenes look after services.   Other experiences, from earnest discussions about gender to dating across national boundaries, provided a rich world of multicultural awareness experiences.  The reality was that I grew up in a world that was social class diverse, ability diverse, gender diverse, internationally diverse, religiously diverse, ethnically diverse, and not particularly LGBTQ diverse.

Reflecting on my past I realize that I never really lived in a bubble.

Awareness in language comes from being around different languages and learning them.  Awareness in culture comes from being around different cultures, however defined, and learning them.  Ask any migrant (someone not native to your nation or culture) about their awareness of language and culture.  I have a friend and former student, Kofi Barko, who grew up in Ghana with 4 languages and at least that many cultures.  The difference between Kofi and Will is a matter of degree. Kofi has easier access to the cultural diversities in his experience because of the level of contrast.  Awareness of the diversity of Will's early experiences will need some encouragement.

What does this mean for multicultural education?

One of the consequences of monocultural bias is seen in the predominant idea that people need workshop experiences to create awareness of differences.  Emotionally charged experiences like the Tunnel of Oppression, Bafa Bafra, and others are staples of increased awareness experiences.  The assumption in these experiences is that people don't have any awareness of the Other, which is a monocultural bias, and that emotionally charged experiences are the point of departure to create awareness.  This assumption of lack of experiences, and consequently awareness, disrespects the complex lives and experiences that everyone brings to multicultural education.  

Multicultural bias means that the diversities in each of our lives should be highlighted as a way to move quickly through awareness toward more knowledge and more skills.  Discussion experiences, like the Social Class of Origin Narrative Experience, are one way to enhance awareness of our diversities.   This is multicultural bias - assuming that we all have complex lives and experiences that we can draw upon to move toward multicultural Knowledge and Skill.

Our experiences are a rich source of diversity and for some an awareness of their own lives is a beginning.  When I assume that others come from a culturally complex world I honor their lifetime of experiences.  When I assume otherwise I minimize their world view and experiences.

tl;dr We all need to build upon the complex diversities in our lives.

References

Pope, R. L., & Reynolds, A. L. (1997). Student Affairs Core Competencies: Integrating Multicultural Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills. Journal of College Student Development, 38(3), 266-77.

N.B. This idea of monocultural bias has been adapted from recent discussions in language education about how language should be taught and the assumptions, often incorrect, found that language learners only have a single language to draw on as they learn a new language.  Learning a new language or new culture is difficult, and having multiple languages or cultures to draw on and make connections provides an individual with points of reference and connection for learning.  I am, as usual, in debt to Dr. Leslie Barratt for her insightful contributions about this idea of monolingual bias which I 'borrowed' and changed to monocultural bias.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Social Class Categories are Stupid

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

I recall a conversation about gender with a respected student affairs colleague when I quipped "Two is a stupid number" she got the giggles as she recognized this simple truth. 

Stupid is defined as lacking intelligence or common sense.  I use it here not to refer to people but as an attribute of the idea of categories.  Applying intelligence and common sense, anti-stupid, reveals a lot about categories.

My point is that categories for any of our identity statuses are stupid ideas.  For the most part.  The inherent problem in any categorizing scheme is the criteria for being in one or another category.  Aristotelian philosophy will not allow A and Not-A to exist at once. Aristotle posited an either/or world.  The simple interpretation is that you cannot have dual gender identities, according to Aristotle.  I recall reading the World of Null A and Players of Null A (A. E. van Vogt) as an adolescent.  The book was a science fiction condemnation of Aristotelian philosophy, embracing Null A, or a non-Aristotelian world view in which you can be multiple identities at once, and leading into what was at that time General Semantics.  I recall when I was 15 (more than 50 years ago) being at a friend's house and painting an entire piece of newsprint as shades of grey, because there was no real black and white.  In my mind at that time there were no legitimate hard categories.  This art hung over my bed for a few years.

Some categories are real, and are typically based on observable and repeatable science.  For example a Platypus is a category for a critter that meets the genetic requirements for being a Platypus.  However when we look closely there is genetic diversity among Platypuses.  So if a critter manages to fall within some fuzzy genetic boundaries it is a Platypus.

I recall as a graduate student learning about paper and pencil tests used to measure masculinity and femininity.  Any good test gave two scores, one for each gender, because the authors of the test knew that there was huge overlap in gender scores when people were classified genetically by sex.  Researchers also understood that these categorical definitions of sex and gender were culturally bound, dodgy, and fuzzy.

As part of our Unitarian Universalist Liberal Religious Youth (Sunday school for adolescents) program we had a program called The Church Across the Street in which we visited local churches, synagogues, and temples and had conversation with whoever was in charge and got a behind the scenes look. I learned about the diversity within Christianity and diversity within the Abrahamic tradition. The category of Christian is, at best, very ambiguous.

I developed the Barratt Simple Measure of Social Status (BSMSS) as an update to the Hollingshead Four Factor Index of Social Status using updated data on occupational prestige.  The BSMSS is used in a lot of public and private research.  The most common question I get from those using it is how to assign a social class category to a score.  The answer is that you cannot - the BSMSS produces a score best used in regression.

Genetics informs us a lot about ethnicity and genetically based ethnicity is complex.  Classifying someone as belonging to an ethnicity is a fuzzy idea.  I know my genetic background, thanks to 23andme.com, and realize that my ethnicity is genetically fuzzy.  How much non-European genetic material does it take for me to be non-European?

People like categories.  People like simple answers.  When asked about their social class most people in the USA will identity that they are some variety of Middle Class.  When asked what this means USA respondents will say a secure job and the ability to save money.  Using this as a way to define the category I would ask "How secure a job, and how much money can you save?"

Using categories is a problem.  I read things like "men are . . . " or "women are . . . " or "all White people . . . " and I tend to disregard what follows in my assumption that whoever wrote it did not think much about these handy, and wrong-minded, categories.  When you generalize I want to know what criteria you are using for men, or women, or white, or all white people.

The way we determine social class is dynamic and situational.  People in different social class circumstances and identities define social class quite differently. The best non-stupid way to look at social class is as a hierarchy, a continuum of status and prestige in which the markers of status and prestige change.  What counts as prestige for those in the upper 30% , the ruling class, is often quite different than what counts as prestige for the lower 30%.  Those of us in the upper 30% get to make the rules and set the social class categories.  And yes, this rule making is social class cultural imperialism and privilege.

tl;dr Social class categories are stupid ideas.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The 67.5%, Anti-Intellectualism, and Oppression by the Educated Class

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

A Brief Lesson in US Education Demographics

In 2015, according to the US Census Bureau, US 32.5% of adults over 25 have at least a four-year college degree.  This is the ruling class. 

An additional 10.2% have an Associates degree, a total of 58.9% have some college or more, and 88.4% have a high school diploma or more.  All in all people in the US are pretty well educated. The US ranks 13th globally in population with tertiary education.

Look at this another way.  A lot of people start college and don't finish with any degree, a lot of people don't even go beyond high school, a lot of people never finish high school.  The majority of people over 25 in the US do not have a four-year degree.

The ruling class, the educated class, basically people with at least a four-year college degree, is only 32.5% of the population.  And yet, this minority, the educated class, manages a lot of the economy, media, consumerism, advertising, and the school curriculum.  Some people are notable exceptions, and given the population size the exceptions are meaningless.

For the other 67.5% of the people, those without a four-year degree, well, sorry about all this.

What can this 32.5% majority thing mean?  It means income inequity, it means power inequity, it means access inequity, it means systemic inequity, largely created by the people who study inequity. This inequity also means that the majority of people depend on the minority of people to run things. If the minority, the educated class, doesn't solve problems that in itself is a problem.  If the minority, the educated class, is busy solving their own problems, that means the problems of the 67.5% don't get addressed.  Oops.

It is clear that the educated class, the 32.5% are not addressing the problems of the 67.5%.  Just look at health care, social services, water, infrastructure, and the rest in areas where the 67.5% live, then look at the nice neighborhoods with good services where the 32.5% live.

Look at college attainment by group;
     32.8% for European Americans
     22.5% for African Americans
     15.5% for Hispanic of any race
     53.9% if you are Asian American
     32.3% for men
     32.7% for women

Mentally adjusting for proportion of the population by ethnicity, (77.1% white, 13.3% African American, 5.6% Asian American, and 17.6% Hispanic) and, yes, the 32.5% is mostly white people (note please that the term white is what the US Census used in the data linked here).

The Reproduction of Social Class. Most people who attend college have parents who went to college.  The US has a self-replicating system of membership into the 32.5% group.  First generation students and students with low income are a minority on campus.  Look at College Navigator, pick a college, look at Financial Aid, and find the number of Pell Grant students.  High prestige colleges have very few. Graduation rates by family education and income are what you might expect.

Chances are good that those members of the educated class are you and me. Honestly, who else would be writing or reading a blog on social class?

Anti-Intellectualism

My hypotheses is that anti-intellectualism is the failure of education in two ways.

  1. The failure to educate all people appropriately.
  2. The failure of members of the educated class to recognize their privilege as a minority group with majority power.  This failure leads to the exclusion of members of the 67.5% group. 

Failure to Educate

The educated elite in the US, the 32.5%, have normalized a college degree.  Everyone in charge, the ruling class, have college degrees.  College preparation curriculum in high schools abound when we know that not everyone will go to college, and not everyone will be successful in college.  And yet the college preparation curriculum is favored in high schools.  The children of the college educated 32.5% set the curriculum for everyone.

The official Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate for high school looks only at those who begin 9th grade and graduate within four years.  That number is 82% overall, Asian 89%, White 87%, Hispanic 76%, and Black 73%.  We know that college graduation rates are heavily affected by income, so we can assume that high School graduation rates are similarly related to income. Income, is related to education.

There are two conclusions to differential educational attainment by income and ethnicity.  One conclusion is the failure of the educational system to appropriately educate all students.  The other conclusion is the failure of students to achieve because of low ability. I refuse to believe that any demographic factor has anything to do with student ability. There is no credible evidence at all for any differences and intelligence between groups of people, and yet intelligence is so highly praised by the educated class and yet is evenly distributed in the population.

The Failure of the Educated Class to Recognize the System they Created

The undereducated is a phrase that assumes that everyone should have maximum education and that members of the 67.5% are somehow inferior.  The overeducated is a phrase that suggests that the 32.5% don't have common sense and are somehow inferior.  There is an assumption among people in the 32.5% group that upward mobility and educational attainment should be valued by everyone. Badges of honor for members of the 32.5% are decals in the back window of the car, class rings, campus shirts, and football weekends.

There is an assumption among members of the 67.5% that the system is rigged against them.

Oppression is always a transaction.  The 32.5% don't see their half of the transaction, believing instead in open access, meritocracy, and the good life in spite of massive evidence to the contrary. The idea among members of the 32.5% that "We know best because we are educated." is quite indefensible.

Consequences of Systematic Exclusion of the Under-educated. 

Why do people embrace the anti-intellectual, the anti-rational, the idea that my opinion is as good as your fact?  Intellectualism, rational thought, data and discourse are perceived by members of both groups as part of the 32.5% mental model.  The education groups, like genders, are seen by members as mutually exclusive.  (I recognize that this binary exclusionary membership is an indefensible idea.) Characteristics of your group cannot be characteristics of my group. Because you like science, data, dialog, and rationality, I don't.  And yes, I am well aware that this dialog is carried out in people's heads about gender, religion, and all of the facets of identity.

Final Thought

What voice do the voiceless have?  Where are the media outlets for the 67.5%?  Is it Fox News?  Is it conspiracy theory web sites?  Or are these outlets conscious efforts to exploit the 67.5% for financial gain.

A riot is the language of the unheard.  M. L. King, 1966 

==========

tl;dr the US system is made for and by the college educated, sorry.

Watch Mike Rowe do a Ted Talk about the 62.5%

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The secret handshake, one reason for campus orientation programs, and one reason orientation fails.

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Assumed knowledge in cultures

I have been fortunate enough to enter into many different cultures in which I was not native. One of the first pieces I wrote as a young professional was for The Campus Ecologist.  I quoted some material from our local English language newspaper in Budapest about the upcoming November 7 holiday in that city.

"Opening Hours All foodstores, markethalls and markets will be open until 7 pm on Friday. On Saturday, stores in Budapest will keep the usual public hours. Tobacconists, pastry and flower shops will keep Sunday hours, catering establishments the usual Saturday hours. All other stores and department stores will be closed.

On Sunday tobacconists, pastry and flower shops, catering places, foodstores and markets, will keep Sunday hours. All other stores will remain closed. Milk, bread, and rolls will be on sale at designated catering points on November 7 and 8."

As you can see there was missing basic information.  That information was assumed to be general knowledge for members of that culture.  Of course everyone knows tobacconists' Sunday hours. Hungary was a mono-culture when I wrote that piece in 1988 and the Hungarian people were unused to outsiders.  I currently (2016) live in Roi Et Thailand, on a world map we are between the N and D of Thailand, in the northeast.  This is an economically disadvantaged and largely rural area and the people are not used to outsiders.  Dr. Will and Dr. Leslie make up half of the European looking international faculty on our campus, out of 500 faculty members.  There is a lot of assumed knowledge that we keep finding out about.

We are getting better at entering new cultures after lots of practice.

Welcoming or unwelcoming cultures

Social class, as I have written before, can be seen as a collection of subcultures arranged in a hierarchy of prestige. Cultures have unwritten rules, from one perspective unwritten rules are what defines a subculture, a collection of unwritten rules about food, music, behavior, and the myriad behaviors of people, including tobacconists' Sunday hours. The emphasis is on shared knowledge, assumptions, values and ideology.  Cultural natives learned this at home and by being immersed in the culture.  These rules define the normal life.

As the world is woven closer together across national and regional boundaries cross-culture contact is more common.  We, the universal human we, begin to understand that people come from cultures different than ours, and some of us begin to help them learn our cultural ways.  There is also a group who seeks to keep culture private and for members only.

Social class and the secret handshake. 

Travel guides for tourists typically list some of the cultural norms.  In my part of the world greetings and touch are a little different than in other parts of the world, so the guides help explain the Wai and rules of touch (basically don't).  Cultural assumptions apply to Buddha images and behavior in temples, and we provide guides to help tourists learn respect for the Buddha.

In Thailand's tourist areas, where there is an expectation of positive cross-cultrual contact, there is a lot of help learning the secret handshakes, or in this case the rules of the Wai, in Thai culture.

Welcoming and unwelcoming campuses

Every social class subculture has a collection of secrets, cultural assumptions like tobacconists' Sunday hours. Not every member of a culture is pleased to share these secrets with outsiders.

Knowledge about the new cultures is critical when people move across cultures.  And thus, we have campus orientation for new students moving into the campus culture where we teach you the official version of campus culture.  We also have the enculturation of students happening during their first few weeks on campus when they learn the student carried cultural norms of behavior, like drinking, drugs, and sex.

Most official orientation programs focus on campus traditions, enculturating students to the campus culture.  Not enough orientation focuses on introducing people to the culture of college and the norms of the academy, like the syllabus, like office hours, like how to study effectively, career paths, and the like.

Membership in the upper-middle-class, or the ruling class, is not easy to come by unless you were born into it.  There are guardians at the gates of the Upper-Middle Class (UMC) campuses favor a certain privileged and monied background: standardized tests, high tuition, high grades, experiential learning and volunteer work, year abroad experiences, prestige variety of English, fashion sense, social capital, cultural capital, and knowledge of tobacconists' hours.

And yes, there really is a handshake.  I have taught the handshake to many people.

Which are you: welcoming or unwelcoming?

Based on personal experience and bias I would guess that one of the many reasons that students from the lower economic strata in the US are not successful in college is that so many people, faculty, students, staff, and administrators, are not welcoming.  Too few of us help cultural immigrants learn the secret handshake.

There are, of course, individual and social consequences to this unwelcoming attitude.

tl;dr campus has a culture, college has a culture, how do we teach outsiders about this culture? Are you welcoming to cultural/college strangers or unwelcoming?

I want to acknowledge Kristin Cothran for keeping this idea of the secret handshake alive and in my heart.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Check Your First World Privilege


Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

There are two loaded terms here: First World, and privilege. They will be explored in that order.

First, Second, and Third World

The history of the idea of First World and the current use of First World are more than a little different.

The idea of the First, Second, and Third world came from the Cold War identifying each team, First World (USA and Allies) and Second World (USSR and Allies), and non-aligned Third World nations.  This idea of three worlds was a European/North American idea.  Over time and use the phrase Third World has come to mean poor nations.  Now the Third World phrase has been replaced by Developing Nations/Countries, or Less Developed Nations/Countries, or Undeveloped Nations/Countries. Notice the shift from political alliances to economic development. These new names really means that there are a lot of poor people in the country.

The metric of developing, less developed, and underdeveloped are very interesting notions based on the idea of upward economic mobility.  Again this is a European/North American idea.  The assumption that every nation should have a developed economy, and all that entails, needs some reflection.  I live and work in Thailand and we are striving to have a sufficiency economy.  

G20 nations, the First World in economic terms, the national economies that represent 85% of the Gross World Product and 80% of the world trade are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the EU which is represented by the European Commission.

Here in this blog, First World is about national economies, about the G20 nations. Even in wealthy nations there are poor people, so not all is quite so simple. Family income varies both within and between First World nations.  Also the idea that it is better to be poor in a wealthy country than poor in a poor nation may be both a myth and a reality. People migrate for many reasons, some of those reasons are economic.

In each of these G20 nations that there are marginalized, oppressed, minority people.  This is about those people who have more than enough.

Privilege

Privilege is an advantage that you have that someone else doesn't. There are several kinds of social class privilege as noted is a previous blog. Economic privilege is about accumulating wealth - earning more, saving more, and reducing expenses. Social and Positional privilege are transactional. We each create privilege in our social interactions with others through how we relate to others.

Economic privilege is when you have more money than others. I hope that you have seen and read all of the wonderful posts and graphics on "If the world were 100 people"

Maslow's hierarchy provides an interesting lens to look at First World problems.  Basic physiological and safety needs are met for many of the First World people - food, water, sanitation, housing, public policing, medical care, transportation, and many other basic needs get covered.  Note that Maslow provides a First World model as he was concerned with First World needs of love, self esteem, and self actualization.  When you are hungry, thirsty, and afraid it is hard to work on your needs for love, self esteem, and self actualization.

In wealthy nations, developed nations, K-12 education is low cost or free.  According to the US National Center for Educational Statistics the average expenditure per student in the USA in constant 2013-2014 dollars was USD $12,401 per year.  Since students are in US public education for 12 years to get a diploma (discussion of HS graduation rates by family income, gender, ethnicity, and parental work and residence history is another topic entirely), any US High School graduate has an education that cost between USD $120,000 to $140,000 (the range reflects annual changes to government support).   This is more than the lifetime earnings of many people on the planet. This is First World economic privilege. 

College costs, even in the US, are government subsidized at public 4-year and community colleges.

Access and cost for education in First World nations is First World privilege. If you have a graduate degree, like 10% of the US citizens over 25, then you have an education valued at between $200,000 and $500,000 depending on tuition, major, college, and degree. That is First World privilege. 

This blog is about social class on campus so I will leave issues of medical care, transportation, and all of the other parts of life to another writer.  I assume that the reader can work out the advantages of economic privilege and medical care, and transportation, and other parts of life.

Consumer Privilege is a special case of Economic privilege.  First world problems dominate the news, because First Worlders pay attention to news media and consume the goods and services advertised therein.  First World tragedies are somehow more newsworthy than Developing Nation tragedies; local news gets more attention than global news.  Ask yourself what news you pay attention to.

Ads on web pages are a First World problem.  Advertisers know a great deal about each of us because of the cookies on our computers, which is why we get targeted ads, so we can spend more money on their product.  Money is a wonderful thing. In doing background reading for this blog on the Bloomberg website, which has a nice rating of colleges by ROI, and I got a popup noting that I use AdBlock and suggesting that using AdBlock will somehow negatively affect me.  I noted that 22 companies tried to give me cookies on that page.  The point is that advertising revenues drive what gets covered and AdBlock stops web based advertising.

Consumer goods, a large percent of the economy in First World economies, are directly related to which world you live in.  Think of college as a consumer good.  Boutique high prestige colleges around the world, both public and private, dominate the market.  Big box campuses, typically public and state colleges in the US, serve the masses.  Having a degree from the US is First World privilege.  Having a boutique name brand degree is even better.

Social privilege is about cultural norms and group membership and how a person or nation is perceived by each of us. I ask the reader to pause for a moment and reflect on their personal reaction to the list of G20 nations.  Go back and look at it again.  I underlined it for your convenience when you scroll up.  Did you perceive some of the nations in a negative way?  Were you surprised that some of those nations were on the list?  Your reaction is part of your perception.  Do citizens from certain nations have more or less prestige in your eyes?  Of course they do.  One story that US citizens tell themselves is that USA is #1, which is demonstrably false.  The assumption of superiority in spite of fact is First World privilege.  Nations not on that G20 list have far less perceived prestige.

We create social privilege when we interact with others.  This is one of the secret handshakes of social class.  Dress in a certain way and you will be perceived in a certain way.  Speak in a certain variety of English with a certain accent and you will be perceived in a certain way.  Come from a certain nation or region and you will be perceived in a certain way.  Perception leads to action.  Both perception and action are part of the social interaction.  The social interaction is the origin of social privilege.

Will you be perceived differently if you are from a G20 nation than if you are from a developing nation?  Of course.  At the time of writing this I live and work as a Professor at a University in Thailand and am asked quite often where I am from.  Like asking someone about their college major, part of the social process is the perception of the answer.

There is a special term in Thai for European foreigners.  And it is positive.  When I lived in China there was a term for foreigners, which was negative.  Social norms, like the language we use, are part of creating hierarchies, which lead to privilege and oppression.

Being from a high prestige nation is First World privilege. 

Positional privilege is seen most clearly in organizations and the military which have a clearly defined hierarchy.  Those on top who get privileges and perquisites that those on the bottom don't get much of anything.  The USA belongs to the G20, the group of wealthy nations.  This creates a certain position in the hierarchy of nations.  I would assume that representatives of the US government get invited to a lot of meetings and parties in Developing Nations, in part for the social privilege for the host, in part for the economic opportunities, and largely because of their positional privilege.

As a faculty member my positional privilege is related to my degree, where I got my degree, where I work, and my academic rank.  And yes these matter, at least among my faculty colleagues.

Check Your First World Privilege

First World problems are a meme, and worth a few minutes of your time to look at.  Making fun of ourselves for our over-consumption, privilege, and general economic wealth is a good thing.  The limited perspective that comes from living in a bubble is a First World privilege problem.

Please have a global perspective that is sensitive to the economic, social, and cultural wealth, or lack of it, in your life.  If you live in the First World, be aware of how economically, socially, and culturally wealthy you are. Please.

tl:dr - people in rich countries have privilege

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25+ examples of western privilege is a nice look at privilege