I read the first essay: A Question of Class in Dorothy Allisons Skin about five times and every single time I read it I cried. it bought home some sharp hard truths about the fact that my adoptive parents have no idea who their children are or where they come from.
I am not middle class, I have never been middle class but I was colonised by the middle class, I was taught that I was middle class, that my people were middle class, that I was exactly the same as all the other middle class kids around me. i have had advantages by being adopted into the middle class, but not as many as you would think, I still spent my early twenties crazy, broke and homeless i still don’t really get the rules of middle class behaviour and sensibilities and I still fuck up royally all the time.
I grew up in a really affluent town in the south of England amongst good schools and university educated adults, but that’s not who I am, that’s not where I come from. I wasn’t even born in to the working class, I come from the underclass, the chaotic poor who have given up, who have no where left to turn.
Nobody ever made connections or taught me to make connections between poverty, lack of education, mental heath issues and having all your children taken into care. I was taught that poverty was a personal failing. My adoptive mother would often scream at me or one of my brothers “Do you want to end up living in a council house?” as if that’s the worse thing that could possibly happen, as if my people, my blood line for generations back hadn’t lived in council houses.
And there were things we were expected to know, things good, well behaved, well bought up middle class kids knew, that we couldn’t possibly have known, the three times table, the fact you don’t talk about money, the words to silent night, as if I hadn’t spent the first six years of my life in the east end of London not being fed or educated properly
I understood that we were the bad poor: men who drank and couldn’t keep a job; women, invariably pregnant before marriage, who quickly became worn, fat, and old from working too many hours and bearing too many children; and children with runny noses, watery eyes, and the wrong attitudes. My cousins quit school, stole cars, used drugs, and took dead-end jobs pumping gas or waiting tables. We were not noble, not grateful, not even hopeful. We knew ourselves despised. My family was ashamed of being poor, of feeling hopeless. What was there to work for, to save money for, to fight for or struggle against? We had generations before us to teach us that nothing ever changed, and that those who did try to escape failed.
And I understand that, my father was an alcoholic, him and and my brothers father ended up in prison, my other siblings fathers disappeared, half my sisters got pregnant as teenagers and all that goes back generation after generation, nobody was educated and if they worked they did mind numbing soul destroying jobs. And so many of them died young or disappeared
I grew up in a world where girls of the class I was born into are seen as slutty, promiscuous, are more likely to be teenage mothers, and boys of the class I was born into were expected to be vandals, layabouts, criminals. so we were policed heavily, I was screamed at for being cheap, provocative, obscene, flirtatious, and my brothers were regularly forced to watch a video that talked about how bad prison was, because despite all that babbling about nurture over nature my adoptive parents and their educated middle class friends still believed that the bad blood had a chance of winning through.
My mother, the woman who gave birth to me got pregnant with my sister at 15 and in the environment I grew up in that was seen as a personal failure too, there was no understanding, no critique of the fact that there are clear understandable reasons why women of her social class who lived with intergenerational poverty, mental health issues and lack of education would get pregnant very young
and now I have this whole web of class issues that can’t be untangled, there is so much dissonance in the way I relate to class. I am ashamed that I come from generations of poverty, embarrassed that my sister cant behave more middle class like in front of my adoptive parents, and angry that I got told for such a long time that where i come from was defective, wrong and I should automatically be able to become middle class despite the experience of my formative years,