Class Traitor

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It’s the little things that you notice.

I’d gone to visit my brother in Michigan while I was in grad school, for the first time in a decade. It was Tuesday evening, 9pm, and he invited us to watch a little TV before he got ready to go off to work third shift at the furniture factory. Tuesday at 9pm in my home meant Fraisier, the Kelsey Grammer sitcom about the foibles of the pretentious and overeducated. Tuesday at 9pm at Bill’s meant Home Improvement, the Tim Allen sitcom about guys who fix things and the friends and family who give them crap about it.

Oh. Of course.

Education takes us away from our home communities, away from our families. It takes us away from our politics, our biases, our language. It takes us away from familiar habits and familiar landscapes. It brings us into new cultures, new problems, new groups, new values.

Those of us not natively in the professional classes will always be double agents, playing both sides off one another. We become bilingual, able to translate. We become suspect, not able to firmly place our allegiances. We pass, everywhere we go, belonging nowhere. We always choose the tone, choose the words, choose the clothes, choose the jokes, choose whether to push back or let a stereotype slide.

It’s intellectually and emotionally wearying work. Sometimes, when you’re tired of the navigating, you forget where you are. The wrong words emerge. And everyone around you gives you that look… that look that means they’ve caught you out, they know you’re not really a member.

College changes lives. Please remember that. And please know what it is that you’re asking.