I am an immigrant. My parents brought my brother and me to the United States when I was three years old. My father was a psychiatrist and my mother was a psychiatric nurse. While they both worked as professionals, our family income was modest. Their professional growth was limited by a variety of factors, internal and external. But, as immigrants, they leveraged their education as best they could, and invested in ours, both my brothers and mine.
My parents bought a modest home in a middle-class neighborhood just inside the boundary of one of the best (read: wealthiest) school districts they could find. It was their way to ensure their children would receive the best education they could afford. Our school district was economically diverse. It had students whose parents were wealthy business people, educated professionals, as well as in blue-collar manufacturing-type work. While students always made distinctions by economic class, there seemed to always be an implicit respect for education and those who were educated, particularly in science – both in my school district and our culture writ large.
As a brief example: In the 1970s, scientist discovered that the earth was experiencing depletion of ozone due to of man-made halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants, and foam-blowing agents (chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs), HCFCs, freons, halons). Both types of ozone depletion were observed to increase as emissions of halocarbons increased. Scientists sounded the alarm, and society (our culture writ large) both industry and consumers responded creating products without CFCs and/or HCFCs. Compare this historical response to the one we see today around the issue of global climate change. While about 90% of climate scientist agree that climate change is real and humans contribute to the change, a large segment of our society continues to push against these scientific findings. It is simply different. What changed?
There is no single variable that can explain an enormous cultural shift, there are certainly variables that contribute more than others. In a society that values (some might say over values) education, many white working class employees feel they have lost respect and dignity. Respect, because many are treated with disdain by those that are formally educated; dignity, because so many of them lost their jobs went overseas through outsourcing and off-shore manufacturing. In response, many people in white working class resent and/or disbelieve what they are from what they see as the “educated elite.” Resentment for the professional/educated class comes from their routine exposure, likely daily, to those who treats them with disdain. The white working class tend not resent the wealthy because of their limited exposure to the wealthy outside of magazines and television.
If this circumstance is to be remedied, we, as a culture and society, must begin to connect with others outside of our own socioeconomic levels. I believe that those of us that have had the fortune of receiving a high-level education must:
1. See it as exactly that – a great fortune, not as a result of any personal attribute or superiority
2. Connect with others by genuinely empathizing with the day to day experiences of the white working class.
We can build a culture that connects people across socioeconomic and educational boundaries. These types of boundaries create a false separation between us and others in our society and culture writ large. As modern human, we are all more than 99.9% genetically the same and we share a planet that is the result of more than 4 billion years of evolution. Let’s behave that way.
Let’s cultivate our culture, together!