Your Classism is Showing

This morning I started my post kids equivalent of the New York Times at the local cafe: the website Cafe and a cup of lukewarm tea at my breakfast table. I was especially excited to read Deb Copaken’s first piece for them. Her books have long been favorites of mine. Especially Hell Is Other Parents which, before I started reading blogs, was the one thing that assured me that I was not alone in thinking parenting was a crazy ass trip.

Then I saw the words that were chosen to be caught in an image for the Cafe piece…
Deb Copaken Cafe Dot Com
May I repeat that again

Yes Deb, this is the true sign that the world is not what it should be. That you could not get hired as a greeter at a retail store. You have AN EMMY!! What were they thinking? If only they realized the gem they missed out on, the witty bon mots you could have written to throw out as people rushed past you.

Let me come at you from the other side of the equation, as a former retail manager.

From this side, things have sucked for a long time. Many of us also are college educated, even if we didn’t make it to the vaunted halls of Harvard. We probably don’t have an Emmy or a place on the New York Times Bestseller list but we may also be writers or artists or newly single parents. We have gone through trials and tribulations and lived hand to mouth for a long time.

We have to hire people seasonally. And it’s easy for us because a lot of people are out of work and we work at The Container Store, one of the few retail chains to offer benefits to more than managers and a wage that if not quite living does not equal food stamps. We are flooded in applications and get to be choosy. We may go with the first wave of people who applied.

We may try to hire the people we had to lay off post Christmas last year because they already know the job and we know they will show up. We may hire friends we know that desperately need the money. We may very well not hire you because of your accomplishments (we need someone who is going to show up and not leave when they get a better job.) But more likely we didn’t hire you because we never even got to look at your application because we hired most of our seasonal help from the September flood of applications. After all, retail salespeople out of work know that it’s the best time to get hired on seasonally .

You hit the nail on the head time and time again in your piece but what you missed is that the attitude of the people in the gilded age (that they are special and deserving of their riches because of who they are) is the same attitude in your horror that someone like you can not get a job at The Container Store.

Your story has a semi-happy ending with a job where I can’t wait to read the rest of what you write. And hopefully the ending got happier after your doctor’s appointment. But for retail workers and most of the service class, there are no happy endings.

We’re not doomed because tough times are affecting the upper middle class. We’re doomed because no one thought times were tough until they did.


  1. Posts like this that get written from a quick read and based on the perspective we have individually… I love these kinds of posts! Thanks for the grounder in reality.

  2. That attitude really pisses me off. Working in retail – or any public-facing customer service occupation is a very specific skill set that not everyone has or can develop. Just because most customer service jobs have low pay does not mean that “anyone” can do them.

  3. Christopher Smith says:

    I think you very much misinterpreted the essay or just outright misrepresented it.

    That entry was written not from the perspective that she was entitled the job or the job was a bad opportunity. She’s quite clear that particularly because of the benefits package, she considered it to be an outstanding opportunity, even if it was doing something in a field that had nothing to do with her career.

    Her point was that we’ve all been sold a lie that people who are unemployed are lazy, dumb, unskilled, or in some other way deserving of the consequences that befall those who live under our quite tattered social safety net. She didn’t think it was unreasonable that the Container Store rejected her. She thought that the idea of “work hard and you’ll have a job” is a load of bull because clearly all the hard work in the world *and* a willingness to take any job that was offered was still not sufficient to be gainfully employed.

    If you look at the text immediately following your quote:

    “For years we Americans have been fed the convenient lie: study hard, work hard in your chosen field, work hard at your marriage, save money, organize your flour, salt, and sugar into labeled bins, and you will be in control of your life and your destiny. But control is an illusion during the best of times.”

    and further down (and highlighted as much as the quote you honed in on:

    “…most of us are just a single job loss, a single medical diagnosis, a single broken marriage removed from a swirling, chaotic, wholly uncontained abyss.”

    • I disagree that I misrepresented the essay. I am not sure if you took the time to read what I said or just reacted to me not agreeing completely with her. I did not choose to parse that quote, Cafe or the writer did. That is the quote that is highlighted on the original piece. I didn’t “hone in” on it.

      As I said, I agree with most of her points. What I disagree with is that this is just now an issue. The economic downturn has been happening for years and for a long time most people have known that the American dream is if not a lie, an illusion. The tone of her piece came from a very privileged place.

    • MadGastronomer says:

      Well, I thought the pull quote was pretty bad, but clearly you didn’t. How about this then?

      “There is no time for shame in a recession.”

      She thinks that working retail is shameful. If you cannot see the classism in that, then it can only be because your own classism is so big it’s blocking your view.

      That remark about the COBRA rep sounding like he was in a call center in India didn’t reflect so well on her, either.

  4. I remember one weekend a few years ago. I’d been looking for a job for a few years, since I’d stopped taking college classes, and frankly my (middle-class) parents just didn’t believe that it was that hard to get a job. My dad had been constantly berating me about needing to “hit the pavement” and “walk around and apply at stores” and not “sit and play on the computer all day” while my mom, more calmly but no less patronizingly, would start the same arguments off with, “I keep hearing how hard it is out here, but….”

    This weekend that I remember, my mom asked if I wanted to go up to the mall and walk around. I said sure, since we hadn’t been there for a while. We got there and noticed that they had closed the small food court, so we had to get something to eat at the big one on the other side of the mall. Then we went up the stairs and started over toward the movie theater.

    On the top level, half the stores had been closed. We looked down and there were closed stores on the bottom level, too. The more we walked, the fewer stores there were. When we got to the movie theater, there was nothing there. All the surrounding stores were gone, and only one or two were left on the bottom. One of them had a “closeout sale” sign in the window.

    I wasn’t surprised. I’d heard the place was in bad shape. My mom, however, was practically in tears. “All of the people who worked at these stores,” she said, as I watched the pieces fall into place for her, “They’re all out there looking for new jobs.” That was the moment she realized how bad it was, the moment she realized that it wasn’t just college kids too lazy to get jobs. I’d been telling her for years, and it wasn’t until that moment that she got it.

    That’s how that article made me feel. Like: yeah, she’s absolutely right — but it’s nothing the rest of us haven’t been saying for years already. To get a job these days, you have to either be incredibly lucky or you have to know somebody.

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