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One of the reasons I've been doing all the noodling about class and my background is I'm still trying to figure out my place in the universe here.

I work with a bunch children of true privilege. Most of these kids have never had to wonder whether or not they'll make rent, if their car can make it just one more week, month, year, are oil changes every three months really necessary, how bald can your tires be before they're gonna blow...? They come from families where going to college and medical/dental/law school was a given. Of course they'll be a doctor/lawyer/dentist like Dad and Grandpa, don't be ridiculous. If they fail, they have a parental safety net that will catch them.

I understand "privilege." I understand that it is not a zero sum game, and that just because I don't have as much privilege as someone else, that does not mean I don't have more than other people. Trust me, I've learned a lot these last few years and I get that.

I understand that I will rarely, if ever, be profiled by the cops because of my race. Because I am white and well-spoken, people frequently assign me a higher class level in their head*, without telling me I'm a credit to my race.

However, I have to say that poor white people don't avoid as much hassle because of their race as you might suppose. They get followed through stores to make sure they don't shoplift. They get pulled over for "attempted" speeding because they're driving a piece of shit car. And they can't teach their children that they can trust the police, either.

Now, it is true, that if I have and bear the markers of economic privilege, I am not going to get the same hassle that a POC with those same markers of privilege will get. I will probably not ever get pulled over because my car or my clothes are too nice. I fully recognize that.

However, in order to bear those markers of economic privilege, you have to be privileged enough to be able to afford them. If it really were as simple as, "Well, then get a new car/better clothes/more expensive haircut," as I have often been told to do in discussions of privilege (talk about missing the point) we'd all be laughing.

Because I went to college, and my parents insisted on "correct" spoken English in our home, and they valued education and read to me as a child, I can pass as someone with an upbringing of a higher economic class. Because of this, I frequently get to hear what people of higher economic classes really think about people who grew up like me.

It's not pretty.

I have what I refer to as my "The Privilege of Dental Treatment" lecture that I give to new students, usually one on one in my office, after they evince some sort of shock, dismay or surprise at the conditions of some of their poorer patients' teeth. I formulated this lecture after hearing some undergrad students talk about one of my residents a few years ago, who after their turn through the local sliding scale clinic said, "I just don't understand the state of these people's teeth. I mean, I guess some people just have other priorities."

So, I listen carefully to my students discussing patients, and when I start to hear the classism creeping in, I pull them aside for my one on one lecture, beginning with "I saw the dentist exactly once** before I had my infected and impacted wisdom teeth out at 19. The only reason I got them out then was because they had infected so badly, the swelling kept me from being able to open my mouth."

In response to these opening lines, one of my students responded, "But you went to college!"



*This goes back to the "not all poor white people are Budweiser swilling NASCAR fans" thing.

**Required pre-kindergarten fluoride treatment, subsidized by the school district when I was five.

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October 2012

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