I grew up thinking of myself as privileged. Heck, my childhood was privileged compared to most of the village we grew up in. That we were one of the biggest targets of “stealing wash from the line” was a clue, because we had better clothes.
In a place and time where people often wore clothes remade from clothes their grandmas had (Mom bought a knitting machine to fill in the blanks between her contracts to design garments for such people as the wives of famous soccer players to take on world tour and/or the richer persons from the region. While mom consistently made more than dad that was only because dad made VERY little. And her income was as irregular as mine is. So a knitting machine, with which she could work for the village and not just the occasional rich person meant regular if tiny pings of income. I was pretty old before I realized what it meant that this job came with “undo and dye old sweater yarn” preliminaries. Yep, people were that poor. Wool often got made into three and four different garments, until the yarn held no longer.)
But dad worked a white collar job and had white shirts (five, so that they could be washed/starched on Saturday wash day. Ironing in the early days, when I was very little was done with a coal-filled iron. On white shirts. If you got a smudge on, you had to start from the beginning. And startch… let’s not go there.) And mom had his pants made by a real tailor, again, in a time and place where moms made most of the clothes. Inexpertly.
OTOH I had a huge wardrobe, both of everyday clothes (since mom was convinced that air on my legs made me ill, I wore pants at time and place no GIRL did that) mostly cut down from dad’s and my brother’s and of special dresses, which mom made mostly I think because she could make much of tiny (expensive) scraps of fabric.
So, that, and the fact dad had a real job, paid in money, and the fact we owned land and houses made us way wealthier than other people. And we took baths. Every week. With store bought perfumed soap. Which just shows you how posh we were. Our laundress loved doing our clothes “because they smell good even when dirty.”
As for the rest, we had our chickens and rabbits, and our own wine and potatoes. So we were rich.
My first culture shock was when I entered elementary school and found the language I spoke was not only different from most of my classmates but was considered low class.
Mind you I knew dad – white collar job – spoke differently from grandma and grandad, and everyone spoke differently from mom (there was a running joke about making a mom-ctionary) but I had no clue the way I spoke was considered low IN THE VILLAGE. After the class burst out laughing when I used the wrong word to ask to go to the bathroom, I weighed my words carefully and used only those dad would use. Over time my vocabulary became almost entirely his, which didn’t save me from being ridiculed in college.
Why? Apparently the village has a completely different accent from the rest of the North. First time I opened my mouth in college, the teacher looked like he couldn’t believe what I was saying, then said “Are you from Aguas Santas?” For the rest of the year I was “the young lady from Aguas Santas.”
Look, this isn’t claiming hardship or victimhood. The way to deal with obstacles in my book is to fight them. It’s who I am. I was born crosswise to life. The more I’m told I can’t the more I want to do something.
But the reason my accent stood out is that there weren’t too many of us around.
Portugal when I came along had education like ours is becoming. If you wanted to enter college and do well, you’d BEST go to the good private schools. (There was no homeschooling.)
I knew a family who, in deference to the fact that they only had little money and many kids sent the boys to private school and the girls came in with us in public school. (Yes, sexisss. Or bowing to the realities of the time and Latin culture, where men were still expected to make the most money in the house. Though expectations weren’t always the truth. See my mom.)
So each level of education you went up after the mandatory 4th grade I found myself with fewer and fewer people like me.
It wasn’t as bad as in my brother’s time, mind – or perhaps it was that he was a boy – who complained he was the only one in his high school senior class who didn’t get a car for his birthday. (He wasn’t so much complaining. He knew DAD didn’t have a car, but took the bus to work. He was making a joke about being a fish out of water. We immediately got him a matchbox convertible for Christmas. He still has it, and shows it off to people as “my first car.”)
And often, in frustration at our classmates’ stories of their grandparents we mentioned ours were both bankers, a terrible pun based on the carpenter’s table – banco, same word as for money bank – since both our grandfathers were in fact carpenters.
Mom’s dad – who came from money but blew the family fortune on women of ill repute and poets ditto – had an entire routine he worked up when we had classmates visiting the house and which embarrassed mom mortally. Now, you’d have to know he was better read than most of our professors, and spoke Latin and Greek so by then our classmates were openmouthed with awe. I wonder how many of them took the routine at face value. The only part I remember was “And my children were kept barefoot summer and winter, which many health experts say is the best way to combat weakness of the lungs.”
So I was RELATIVELY privileged in relation to the village, but conscious of how other people lived, and also that I was a pauper in rags compared to most people outside the village and also still conscious that my parents had had it much worse growing up. (My dad walked to the city for everything over 4th grade. His bookbag was made of cloth by grandma. He was even more of a fish out of water because in his time only the children of white collar workers were groomed to be white collar workers. Now, mind you, on his dad’s side there were doctors and engineers and lawyers, but grandad had (I think) same issues with words as younger son (from interaction with him, even in later years) and same sensory issues that made writing and reading difficult. In those days and with a ton of other kids, he was assumed to be “stupid” and apprenticed to a carpenter. His family was rich but we weren’t and in grandma’s family – where grandad moved upon marriage – dad was the first to attend anything past 4th grade.)
There were moments when I realized the world I lived in wasn’t even what my classmates lived in. Like, my clothes were usually avant-garde and stunningly original. By the time I hit college and had stopped shunning dresses and skirts, my mom took great pleasure in designing clothes for me, and all I had to do was dream up something and she’d make it because she was retired by then (heart issues don’t do well with deadlines.) Those who know my older son will giggle at the fact I MOSTLY wore thirties-style clothes with some improvements/modifications.
BUT in college that cut no mustard, because my clothes were not designer. People would show off and squee over clothes not according to how they looked but to the label. And each of those cost more than my parents paid for my entire wardrobe.
What I’m trying to say is that I was both conscious of privilege and OBJECTIVELY what my brother calls “poor as Job.” (Though the only time our beasties died was when mixie swept the village. We lost all our rabbits.)
Like my kids, never thought of myself as poor. Because what money there was went to books, and I could never be persuaded to give a good g0ddamn about designer labels. I had what I wanted to have and if what I wanted to have was trips abroad, it just took being a little more creative.
And because I never let school stand in the way of my education (thank you, Mark Twain) I could easily out compete people from “the best schools.” Partly, frankly, because it was simply expected. There was never “oh, you had a c, you poor thing.” Dad put us in school with the assumption we’d be the best, even though at the same time he and mom thought I was mentally retarded, because that’s what idiot doctor told them when I was born extremely premature. There was this “if you can’t get it at first, work harder” which btw was the treatment offered for both my lack of hand-eye coordination and my digit dyslexia. Weirdly, over time, it worked.
To me it was a matter of course to out-compete people who had come from private school. Dad expected it, after all. And he couldn’t be wrong. It’s only in hindsight I realize in saying “you will do well, and you will enter college” (In brother’s time by exam, in mine by exam and grades, but both only admitting half of one percent of those who tried. The others went to professional training of various kinds.) my parents were shooting at the moon.
When my brother first got good enough grades to enter high school, mom didn’t have the money for the books (which used to cost like college books here) so she tried to get them used from my aunt whose son was a few years older. Aunt, who came from money said “if you can’t afford the books, send him to learn carpentry.” Fortunately mom got a job in and bought the books.
Even in my time when things were supposed to be more inclusive, when I b*tched at the cost of a book my Sociology professor insisted on, I was told that “The children of the poor shouldn’t aspire to college. They should become seamstresses.”
I’m saying this not to show that I was a poor victim. Mostly such slights infuriated me. I’m saying this to show that I was a fish out of water both above and below my “station” at the same time, and therefore keenly aware of how strange people both positions were.
The assumptions of the other kids in the village (none of which I was ever really close to after 10 or so. My best friend was from an “outsider” family and way better off than us) baffled me. Like when they spoke of being beaten for eating fruit their mom had bought for company. Mom always had fruit and it was a “grab at will.” “For company” was the good cheese, the chocolate and the “bought biscuits.” Or their casual assumption that of course their parents would file papers saying they were developmentally disabled so they could work in the factories at ten.
And the assumptions of my classmates baffled me, the more so after 9th grade when, by grades, I got tracked to the “college preparation” track. Vacations abroad, really? Designer clothes? Eating at restaurants more than once every few years? WHAT?
This was exacerbated by being in languages where a lot of the people had ties abroad and came from very wealthy families.
I swam between these cultures, able to fake it (mostly by misdirection and not mentioning my vacations reading atop the garage, mostly, when it came to college) but never belonging and therefore seeing all their assumptions as a little nuts.
Becoming American was relatively easy because the “rules” are more permissive and laxer and coming from nothing is not a problem.
This long preamble is to explain why the comment left by the Fail 770 troll was bizarrely odd, but showed what is going on in their heads.
One thing you have to understand is that the establishment in SF is incredibly sincere. What I mean is they REALLY want to bring in the “victims” they perceive and give them places of honor. They do. And they want to read about “exotic” things and places, and people they consider victimized heroes.
The other thing you have to understand is that entering SF as an author (what, as an ESL for whom English is a third language and who had no contacts in the field? Bah, it took a little long, but listen, I entered college in Portugal. Coming from the village, and often not owning any of the books I was supposed to have because they were too expensive. If I had a motto it would be “I contrive.”) was like entering college in Portugal.
Most of these people –Definitely MOST of the editors – came from families where ALL generations had gone to college as far as they remembered (kind of like my husband’s family. It amuses me that paternal grandad would have bowed and scraped and been speechless before my inlaws.) More than that, they’d gone to prestigious colleges. For 99% of them, if they had an ancestor who worked with his/her hands, it was buried in the mists of time.
There were exceptions, of course, but those were often “fallen from grace” families, like my paternal grandfather’s.
Some of the older editors were the first in their families to go to college, but they behaved and integrated as being more papist than the Pope. They had something to prove and were too la-di-da for words, and would never admit to a childhood of scrimping and saving.
And almost none of them had ever known many people outside lower middle class.
This is understandable because in America you usually move only within your “class”. (We don’t, but we’re weird.) Unless you’re an odd, or military or another group that walks between worlds. Your business associates and neighbors, in the age of suburbs seem to all have “close enough to mine” backgrounds. (Where “mine” is whatever yours is, not mine obviously.)
What I mean is these are people who not only have never associated with persons of other races and cultures (except those who went through the same schools and thus while externally different are exactly the same inside) but to whom “lower class” or “poor” is like the other side of the moon. They know it’s there but they’ve never seen it.
They exhibit great nostalgie the la boue because they have never experienced real mud and real hardship, so to them this is interesting and exotic, and they don’t realize it reads dreary and grey to us.
They casually demonize the working class they are trying to help (and they really think they’re trying to help them, mind) because they’ve never had to do menial, back breaking work, and they project themselves onto the poor. The poor are, of course, just like them, so the only way to explain that they are poor is that they have been misled, told lies, and stolen from by the rich.
Marx fits into this type of mentality like a glove. To a person unable to understand true human variety of drive and need and guilt, Marx “explains everything.” Like, say, generational poverty. It never occurs to them that so does a horrible culture. Oh, they also fail to understand “poor” isn’t the same for everyone. My brother and I might have been “poor as Job” compared to our classmates, but we were wealthy and pampered beyond the dreams of avarice compared to our parents’ childhoods. I doubt this distinction would even be apparent from sufficiently above us.
These are the people who favor raising the minimum wage because in their world this means that poor people will have more money, completely missing the fact that most poor people will lose their jobs and most jobs that aren’t worth minimum wage but still need to be performed will go to illegal immigrants who will become an unassimilated under class in our midst.
Meanwhile, never considering drive or need (which weirdly is different for everyone) to succeed, they explain poverty (besides by theft from above, which two seconds thought would show makes to sense) they assume that people of other races/classes must be stupid and need help from above.
Oh, they don’t ASSUME it ALOUD. No, it’s just built in in their cures. Say, why aren’t there more minorities in science fiction? Oh, because people want to read about people like them, and if you don’t PORTRAY minorities, then they won’t read the genre.
Cupcake, as a kid from the village I read American SF with no issues. Minorities and the poor are no more stupid than you are (in general) and don’t need you talking down to them and trying to be like them so they’ll like you. In fact, Sweetie, having someone who has Latin blood three generations back, if that, write coy little stories about the plight of speakers of Spanish and Portuguese does NOT in fact attract me so much as make me want to break into the village patois, “Oh, morcona, deixa-te das fitas. Anda ca pra minha rua, que eu dou-te um pimpim que ate ficas a deitar verniz.”
Our lotus eaters in publishing (and entertainment and academia) don’t understand that. Their need to relate only to those who are “good people” i.e. who’ve internalized their version of the world as they think exists, means they lionize external minorities who have the same internal make up they do.
People like Larry and I? We’re utterly baffling. They can only explain our inability to conform to their internal picture of the world by refusing to go on about victimhood and refusing to stay in our assigned places by thinking we’re evil and class and race (and in my case gender) traitors.
I remember the precious flower who told me I didn’t like current feminism because I grew up with the gains of feminism. Poor darling didn’t know I grew up in a time and place where a woman needed her husband’s signature to get a job, where “family passports” were a thing, female suffrage wasn’t and where EVERY teacher told me of course I wasn’t as smart as the boys. Yes, in public. Aloud. I’m here to tell you it didn’t break me. I just made sure I was better than every boy. It is BECAUSE of my background that I don’t think we do girls any favors by protecting them from “micro aggressions.”
Humans who haven’t been ruined by wealth and Marx (a lethal cocktail) thrive on adversity.
And it is because of my background that I do see the good intentions AND the bafflement from the left side of writing, entertainment, politics.
They’re trying to help us, honestly. Why aren’t we grateful? (eh. “You should be thanking me.”) They want more minorities and poor people in science fiction, because that’s the decent thing to do. And of course they don’t want minorities and poor people who don’t agree with them, because, as Marxism explains they’ve been colonized by the oppressive culture. And why would you want to propagate the oppressive culture.
This is why no matter how many times we explain to them that we are not sexist or racist or homophobic, they come back to the same. Because if we weren’t we wouldn’t oppose them.
And that’s why we must want to take sf to “the fifties” which never existed outside their heads. (I suspect and have heard from people who lived it, the fifties were more like the village than like June Cleaver.)
They’ve never read those books, of course, because they’re full of false consciousness and might infect them, or something.
It’s not the lotus eater’s fault. They are the 1% of the 1% who had the money, the contacts and the connections to either be NY editors (Baen excepted, as always) or to be picked by their former college roommates/distant relatives/friends of friends as the next best thing.
They all speak the same new-Marxist language, and they all want to improve the world.
Those of us who climbed hand over hand into being published and who refuse to hide our origins and cater to their monolithic world view are like a fart in church. We disrupt their perfectly formed, carefully maleducated perceptions.
They don’t understand that in a world of online and indie publishing with no gatekeepers, and the inability to shut us up/keep us from the public by having a word with someone, we’re the forefront of a coming wave.
The poor things don’t understand they’re the French court circa 1780. Aping the revolutionaries in the US and trying to be hip and speaking truth to imaginary power. All unaware of the coming change.