On Internalized Classism
CW: class privilege and shame and stuff, vague generic related badbrains, rich people complaining about their problems, beating around the bush regarding the concept of deserving
I’ve read a lot of humor around upper-middle-class Asian American experiences that I have found highly relatable over the years. One Indian comedian jokes about having an expensive wood table with disposable takeout napkins on top. An article talks about spending more on gifts they bring to family abroad then they ever spend on Christmas or birthdays. I remember having to argue with my parents every time I wanted a new toy, but being given a laptop in middle school. Having money was more about quality than abundance.
Because of this, I never realized how weird my mindset around money is. Buying fast food feels bad, but jeans that cost over $30 feel expensive. Nevermind the fact that a two person meal may cost as much, but not last as long. The first time I bought ice cream from an ice cream truck, I felt shame, not because I had given in, but because I knew we had much better ice cream at home.
I knew this because that’s what my parents told me every time I asked if I could.
In high school, I had a class project with a friend who lived on the other side of town. When I went to visit her, I noticed the lawn was dry and unkempt, the house was messy, and they wore shoes inside. It didn’t look like something out of a catalog, it looked lived in. Home.
I never felt that in the house I grew up in.
There is a weird kind of signalling going on here, where we don’t spend money on creature comforts. My clothes and sheets were cheap and my collection of stuffed animals entirely consisted of gifts from people unsure of what else to buy for a girl who didn’t like pink. But we had a Mercedes in the garage, marble counter tops, and land in India. I remember being told we didn’t have enough money for a toy I wanted because it was over $50, and pointing out in return that we had a Timeshare.
Somewhere, buried deep in my brain, is the idea that I shouldn’t spend money on things I enjoy because it is wrong. There is also the idea that I shouldn’t buy things of “low quality”. I can’t take my family friends to my favorite taqueria. When planning my wedding, having friends help out was like saying you didn’t have enough money to get a “real” person to do it. And even though I shouldn’t buy expensive clothing, god forbid I get anything secondhand.
I don’t actually endorse these thoughts. Over the years I have gotten much better at not judging others for these things (I’d like to say I don’t do that at all, but that might be naive of me; I almost certainly have blind spots here). It’s harder to deal with this when it comes to myself. I have to budget, not so I don’t spend too much, but so that I know it’s okay to spend money on myself. I still ask my husband for permission when I want to make a large purchase (not because I am supposed to, but because getting explicit permission quiets these thoughts). But I also ask him for forgiveness when I eat fast food. I also ask if it’s okay to give things away instead of sell them, or throw away something broken instead of holding on to it in the hopes that I can fix it someday.
I don’t know what this all adds up to. Both my parents grew up lower class than I, so maybe that’s part it. But we don’t often talk about class when it comes to badbrains, and I imagine that as much as class affects the way we view others, it also heavily affects the ways we think of ourselves.