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i don't got a dollar

qjules's picture

When I was in my sophomore year of highschool I decided to do a portrait of our new home for my mother for her birthday. At the time many houses in Boston were being foreclosed, the house we moved into was one of them.  The house was a beautiful victorian and represented a new begining for my family. My mother, who raised me alone for the majority of my childhood had re-married and this was her first time being a homeowner, and my first time living in a house. As a visual art major at school, I brought my painting to school to use some of the school's materials and get feedback from the teachers on my anticipated gift. Before going to the art department I had one more class and had to take my painting with me. As I sat in my spanish class the room was abuzz with chatter. "i'm tryna go to the snack machine, you got a dollar?"', a classmate asked me. "no, sorry" I said. Looking at painting he then said "yes you do, you're rich, I seen your house!" After he said that I didnt know what to say. I had no idea what my family income was, and why would I? Not only that, but my parent's money was not mine, their income did not affecct the change in my pockets or lack thereof. Growing up in Boston, class distinctions were hard for me to explain and still are. How do I explian that I dont live in "the hood" but next to it?, that I live on a quiet street, but hear shots and sirens from two blocks over? my class has been on an upward shift my whole life and I take experiences from every instance of my poor to middle class journey. I understand that oppurtunity is and will be the difference between that student's future and mine. If only I could have thought quick enough to explain myself in that moment, but then again it didnt make any difference, I didnt have a dollar.


jccohen's picture

having a dollar


This is a compelling and complicated story in terms of class and identity, and interestingly, it takes place in school and in this sense is one of the many things that we learn in school that are not part of the official curriculum.  You highlight here the complexity and nuances of class, including the way this part of our experience and identity may well change quite a bit over time.  This makes me think of the way Hall talks about multiculturalism in terms of intersections, overlaps, and gaps, and also the idea of 'differance' - the ways we are ourselves in relation to others.  Your interaction with the classmate who asked for a dollar dramatizes this, since in that moment - through your painting and his desire for a snack - you are each defined by/in relation to the other.  Does this 'reading' of the story make sense to you?  The last line is wonderfully ambiguous; you mean no explanation would've mattered, since what he wanted at that moment was the dollar?