What Color is your Collar?
Date posted: November 1, 2007
When did I become so class conscious? How did I grow into that obnoxious girl that categorizes people based on where they live, what they wear, and how they talk? Their dialects, education, and possessions determine their location on my social stratification model. I am not materialistic by any means – I just believe that social class reflects on a person’s general disposition in life; occupation, education, qualifications, income, grooming, manners, cultural refinement, taboos, and language and diction. I fully realize that over the years, I have evolved from a common middle class girl into a distinguished lower upper class lady.
In 1949 William Lloyd Warner set an early example of a stratum class model; Upper-upper class is what we call “old money” and those are people who have been born into and raised with wealth. Lower-upper class is equivalent to “new money”, and those are people who, like me, have become rich within their own lifetimes and due to their own work. The upper-middle class is, like my family, professionals with a college education. But other members of my family belong to the lower-middle class, who are low paid white collars, but not manual laborers. Today, I believe it is only fair to mingle with or marry from my current social class.
Ok … let me start from the start. It hit me for the first time when I met Lisa in her office back in June 2001. She was leaving Egypt and I was her successor. I still remember how my eyes wandered around and literally fell in love with everything Lisa had in her office; the glass bowl and gold fish, the scented candles, the tall vase and bamboo shoots, the lace curtains, the Christmas cards on the shelves, the pink and orange pens on her desk, and his picture – a picture of a dark Egyptian man on Lisa’s desk.
“Ismail, my husband.” Lisa said and I did not know what to say. He obviously looked like an impoverished under-educated working-class Egyptian. As though Lisa could read my mind, she openly admitted that he was poor, that his English was even poorer, and that his family was among the poorest, and that she knew that I would never consider talking to him, let alone getting married to him. I was shocked and perplexed. I struggled for the right words and nothing came out.
Later on that day, Lisa told me that her mother thought she was out of her mind when she decided to get married to Ismail – a black Arab waiter who could not speak English. But she had never met a man who made her feel so special and so precious. She did not need him to talk to her in English, when everything she needed to know was written in his eyes. I told her that they were different – socially and culturally different. She replied with confidence that we were all different and that if I was looking for a man who is a clone of me, then I would look for an eternity – in vain.
I told her that she was smart, pretty, successful, well educated, well traveled, and well positioned in her career. She could have had any man she wanted. Lisa’s smile grew wider as she told me that she did get the man that she wanted. She told me that people from the same country might share the same cultural outlines but when looking deeper one would find various sub-cultures, norms, values, and beliefs. Lisa told me that she loved his family; they had a small house, yet they insisted that she spent a few days with them. They had little food, yet they shared it with her. They did not speak her language, yet they made her feel welcomed and important with what went beyond words.
“Girls in this part of the world measure men on the scales of wealth, education, and social status. Those scales are often deceiving. They only permit you to look at the outside of a person and deny you any access to his real potential; you see his house not his heart, his car not his mind, his language not his words. The Egyptian society is like a foster home for the seven deadly sins including greed, gluttony, lust, and sloth. Why do you insist on turning human beings into dogs who have to wear collars and labels to identify them? A white collar for well educated executives and professionals, a blue collar for workers and laborers, a pink collar for female jobs like nurses, nannies, and secretaries, and a golden collar for those who dropped out of school and college to pursue a vocational career.” Lisa’s words still resonate in my head and I still have no answer.