Although the United States of America should be a classless society, classism is entrenched in all our social institutions. My experience with social class began from childhood and was most profound during high school. I briefly studied in a rural school and experienced the worst demonstration of classism, characterized by the display of status symbols. According to the textbook, social class is primarily defined by economic status of an individual or a group (Ritzer 176). There are three social classes in the USA: low, middle, and upper classes (Ritzer 176). In the rural high school, each of these classes displayed its economic strength through diverse material things.
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Our schools was stratified by the amount of money or wealth a student could exhibit through the status symbols. All of the students believed that the symbols were a representation of power and wealth in the family. The upper class was distinguished by the brands they wore, which were expensive luxury clothes that most of us could not afford. They mostly wore designer clothes and shoes, Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F), or Hollister. If you wore anything less luxurious, it was difficult to fit into these groups. Students from the low class were known to wear the cheapest clothes whose brands were not recognized at all. Therefore, the brands one wore defined the people she could hang out with inside and outside the school compound.
Cars served as another significant class identifier, as the rich children drove newer models and packed closer to the school while others parked further. Although only students from the upper class drove expensive and new cars, a difference existed in where they could go without worrying about gas prices. Most children from the working middle class had older models but were limited by gas prices and could only drive to and from school. The rich ones would drive to nearby towns to attend parties with friends or watch some games. Discussions about car models isolated majority of the students as only the rich had vast knowledge on the topic.
Electronic devices and coffee also formed other status symbols that differentiated students based on social class. The rich children had iPhones, which were mostly the newest models. They often held these devices close to their chests, making a display of their wealth and money. Students using less expensive brands would keep their phones hidden away in their bags or pockets. Starbucks coffee was a signature drink for the upper class children. In addition to students, staff members also walked around carrying Starbucks coffee mugs as a display of class.
My experiences resonate with the encounters of classism explained by Hooks in the book Where we stand: Class matters. The poor students were ashamed of themselves and isolated themselves from classmates. According to the book, “among young people, from grade school age kids to teenagers, to lack signs of material success is to be marked as worthless and to be the object of shame” (Hooks 82). Therefore, the poor children grow up with low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. I agree with Hooks that “grade schools and high schools are the places where class conflict is bitterly expressed through the constant shaming of kids who lack material privilege” (83). Since I left high school, I have never encountered such open display of class differences. The government should do more to minimize classism in school and encourage more low class students to perform better and build self-confidence from early stages of life.
Hooks, Bell. Where we stand: Class matters. Psychology Press, 2000.
Ritzer, George. Essentials of sociology. Sage Publications, 2019.
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