Saturday, August 8, 2009

Game Of Beaujolais

OneChele's spot
deals with the assimilation and acculturation of those who aspire to what many see as "The Good Life".
But in reading many of the comments to her posts, it seems as though most people are really fascinated with the affectation of wealth more than the work required to gain such wealth.
Don't get the title wrong - her spot is tongue-in-cheek.
It's meant to be read as satire - not as a guide, with hard and fast rules, of what it is to be Bourgeoisie.

It's amazes me that many people view what money buys as the only measuring stick to determine one's level of class and culture.
I just had this conversation with some young cousins who is fixated on everything Polo.
These people (my cousins); live in the hood, have no education, get public assistance, have terrible credit and own nothing.
But they manage to dine out regularly, buy everything Dillards sells, and take vacations.
And they call their neighbors "ghetto".

I had to fly up to Dallas to pick these cousins up from their aunts.
On the drive home, I stopped in Houston at the Galleria to look at the Fall lines.
My cousins asked why Dillards wasn't in the mall.
When I explained that Dillards isn't high-end but ready to wear, they were confused.
To them, having everything Polo (even though they really couldn't afford it) was thought to be the epitome of "Rich".

When they asked why I only bought a few items even though I liked more and had the money, I had to tell them that they weren't worth the price.
(Actually, I have a couple of friends who are buyers at Barney's, or who work at design houses who get me much better deals.)
But they thought that having money to spend meant that it should be spent.
Don't get me wrong, I like spending money - I just hate to waste it.

So I asked them these questions;
Who is (was) more "ghetto";

Martin Luther King, or Fiddy Cent?
"But MLK was smart and he helped people" was the reply.
"But Fiddy is worth hundreds of millions of dollars", I said.
"But MLK has more class", they answered.

The Cosby's, or The Paynes?
"Cosby was rich", they said.
"But who has/had a better house?", I asked.
"But Cosby was a Doctor", "And his wife was a lawyer", were their replies.
"But whose house is better?", I asked.
"But the Cosby's probably have antiques", they said.
"And Curtis an' dem don't talk good.", they said.

George Bush, or Barack Obama?
This one stumped them.
There perception of class was largely influenced by their perception of race as a measure in determining an answer.
"Barack's daddy left his mom and went back to Africa", I said.
"I know how he feels.", said one.
"George Bush's daddy was POTUS and his family could get him the hook-up in whatever he needed.", I said.
"George Bush went to Yale", I said.
"Obama went to Harvard" said one.
"Well... Bush is just country but Obama is smart.", said another.
"But Bush's family had money and Obama had to move around a lot.", I said.
"What was the question?", one asked.
"Who is more ghetto", I said.
They all came to the conclusion that it was Bush.

So, even these ghetto kids came to the conclusion that "class" is determined by more than one's material resources.
Even when one meets all of the perceived criteria for being "ghetto" - it's still hard to determine who fits within these boundaries.

I had a lady (who thought herself to be "high-class") come to my house and suggest that I update the furnishings in some of my rooms.
But this lady failed to realize that this furniture had been handed down for several generations.
This furniture will be handed down for several more.
This woman failed to realize that the newer pieces were Henredon or Thomasville and not some knock-off Ashley look-a-likes.
This furniture is real wood - not plywood and melamine.

I've had people suggest that I sell all of my rentals and my house and buy an even bigger house.
All that ish is fully paid for.
If I bought a bigger home (I already have a 5/3 /3 brick home), I would have debt.
If I had debt, I wouldn't be able to let desperate tenants live in my rentals for free.
If I had debt, I wouldn't be able to help support our local charities.
Buy a bigger house to impress whom?

Isn't it better to be than to seem?
My neighborhood is one of those all-Black neighborhoods where most of the residents assume that they are better than everyone else living there.
Maybe it's a Southern thing where there were so few who had any real resources that they assumed that they were standard of success.
Maybe they were - but this standard is not universal.
It's only relative.

My family life in California was working to middle-class, but much of what these people brag about are things that were common in my day-to-day life.

My mom and my step dad provided a life with few extra resources.
My Southern paternal grandparents were "small town rich" and loved to show off.
To them (my grandmother, mostly), money was everything.

My West Coast grandparents had more but taught me to never brag or talk about money.
Everyone had money, so money was just incidental.
What everything came down to was how we treated others.
What seemed to matter was how much value we could add to society.

The difference was that my Southern grandparents were new to money.
(and they wanted to let everyone know they had a little).
They were probably the first generation to move from the family farm.
My West Coast grandparents had owned their ranch for generations.
Children were sent off to school to improve the family's assets.
Since they had been a prominent family for many generations, they already knew the rules.
"Showing-off" was to be done only with one's peers - not to make those with less feel worse.
"But how do you know who has less" I asked, as a child.
"Exactly", my great grandmother replied.

I've read somewhere that wealth usually only lasts for three generations.
The first generation makes the money,
The second generation enjoys the money,
and the third generation wastes the money.
Any family who can retain and create wealth beyond the third generation usually becomes one of the moneyed families.
Any family that can make it past the third generation usually gets to the point of worrying how to give away money.
But this trick is more difficult than it seems .
Most families fall into the trap of seeking status.
This trap leads to the financial mess in which our country finds itself today.

Truth be told, I'm not Bourgie.
I have no interest in the zero-sum game.
I have my own stuff to do.
But this seems to work out well for me.
I'd say that I'm like Dean Martin.
Everyone in the Rat Pack liked and wanted to be liked by Frank Sinatra.
The only one who didn't care was Dean.
But Dean was the only one who Frank respected.

So what's the point?
Don't aspire to be Bourgie.
Aspire to be you.
That way, you determine the rules.


brohammas said...

hmmm... bougie.
I grew up in what I consider the second most materialistic place on earth (second to SoCal)by the most Western/practical people alive.
It sucked.
Money didn't matter to the folks, and if you acted like it did, you were not silly, but bad. It got to the point where I would be ashamed to buy a name brand, no matter whether or not I could afford it, but simply because it felt too "showy". Especially hard since I am in some way a fop at heart.
I was trained to see conspicuous consumption as the epitomy of self centered evil. Fast forward to Cribs, My Sweet 16 Party, Real Housewives of Wherever, the OC... Cable sends me into some sort of mental anarchy making me want to stab the screen with a fork.

I need help.... or some new chinos.

FreeMan said...

Isn't it better to be than to seem? I think that's the key question to ask. I don't come from money but I'm pretty understated probably because I value stability than flash. Also, I would be lying to say people who were flashy where I grew up were always looking over their shoulder trying not to get jacked.

I have a alternate point where I wonder if people associate class with money because real class is tied into etiquette and upward mobility that most don't know how to access or shun because they were never accepted. So there is this new definition of class by being able to buy the trappings of the rich with class. It's like buying your way into a country club or knowing the right people but not out of acceptance but because of real effort to fit in. Either way I just wonder if that's the reason for revised definition of Class.

Mista Jaycee said...

This is a great Effin Post! I would like to cross post this one! Good Job John! I read this post with my Wife!

uglyblackjohn said...

@ brohammas - SoCal ISN"T the most materialistic place in America - they're just better at it.
Most people who've been around enough people and have enough resources really don't care about all the show.

@ FreeMan - I didn't grow up with money.
Both my parents were largely disowned by their families for their marriage to each other.
I only benefited after their (my grandparents) wills were read.

@ Jaycee - Thanks.