Your Unique Cultural Lens: A Guide To Cultural Competence

Layer 10: Social Class – Additional Example


I was almost born to a single mother, and ended up growing up with one. This has had a significant influence on my financial status and my financial state of mind. At some point in my 20’s, I found out that my Dad left my mom while she was pregnant with me, but he came back before I was born.

My parents had very different experiences and came from different social classes, yet I think, somewhat similar financial situations. Mom grew up in Montgomery, AL and graduated high school in 1963.  She was the daughter of a government worker and a mechanic/ac repair/race car mechanic. She spent weekends at their family’s lake cabin and they had a housekeeper, or maid, really, named Elvira. Mom was one of three kids. I would describe her family as blue-collar upper middle class.

Dad grew up in Cleveland, OH – where I was eventually born, to a stay at home mom and engineer dad who worked for US Steel. He lived in Shaker Heights, which, in the 1940’s-1970’s was an affluent neighborhood. Dad was one of four kids. I would describe my Dad’s family as white-collar upper middle class.

My parents chose traditional middle class careers. Dad was in the Army and Mom was an Art Teacher.

It was probably in middle school that I started to realize and notice things about life, class and money. I started to have friends whose parents made a lot, from my perspective, of money. They had fancier cars, the kids had cooler clothes, a bunch of them had boats and they traveled. I started to notice class differences, even with friends who had more money.

I started to notice when people didn’t have good table manners, or good manners. I noticed, and still do, if the table wasn’t set properly. How you ask for the salt and pepper and pass dishes at dinner. I realized that manners and class have nothing to do with money or where you live.

About a year after graduation, I got my first position in Commercial Real Estate. Over the next 18 years, I worked in the commercial real estate field. I was surrounded by rich, white, men.

Fast forward 10 years and I am living in luxury apartment in Atlanta, GA, working in a brand new career. My house guest, Marian, and I were talking about our lives and how we lived. She pointed out that I have middle class values, but she disagreed with considering myself middle class. I was truly uncomfortable in that moment. What she couldn’t see was my experience during the 2008 recession and many years after. I got laid off. I, like so many others, lost so much. My home, my retirement savings, my credit. It’s been 10 years and I don’t know what financial status would make me feel stable.

Based on my income, and being single with no children, I earn in the top 5% of people in the country. I am back on track and working to build my cushion back up for the next recession or crash. I am also keenly aware of how lucky I’ve been – I have an education, friends, faith and the ability to figure it out without suffering.

There is something comforting about considering myself middle class. I feel like it gives me the ability to move between layers of society, the ability to “pass” with people who have more than I do, the folks who have country club memberships, not the uber rich.