Personal Action Plan: Observing People in a Different Socioeconomic Class
I am a member of the lower middle socioeconomic class, and for the purposes of this assignment I chose to observe people from a wealthier part of town. Initially, I chose to observe people at a country club. I was unable to fully complete that assignment, and will detail why in the paper because I think it helps highlight some of the impact of economic disparity in this country. Because I feel like my inability to complete the assignment was very indicative of the type of things that I was meant to observe in this assignment, I allowed the partial experience to be the basis of this assignment.
For this assignment, I chose to observe members at a private country club that is located not terribly far from my home. I am not a stranger to the country club; I have attended a wedding and a sweet sixteen birthday party at the club and found the experience to be fine, though I did not interact with the club members in any significant manner at either function. Because I had been welcomed into the club on prior occasions, it never occurred to me that I would have a problem acting as an observer in the club on any occasion, though I knew that I would probably not be able to use any of its amenities, like the golf course, gym, tennis courts, or pool without attending with a member. When I went to the club, I initially walked around outside. From a distance, I observed several people using the golf course, a year earnest -- looking team of women playing tennis, and a few older men and some women who appeared to be older stay at home mothers entering and leaving the gym facility. I was not close enough to hear any of their conversations, but they all seemed to be nice enough people and none of them even seemed to register my presence, much less do anything to make me feel uncomfortable. They were, however, without exception, all white. The only people of color I observed at the country club were clearly staff.
My experience changed dramatically and became very negative after I entered the club. I walked into the foyer of the club, which featured a couch in the middle of a hallway. To the right is a stairway leading to the second-story of the club as well as an entrance to the bar. To the left is an entrance to the restaurant and to the pro-shops. There a grand piano in the hallway as well as a welcome desk, which was unattended when I came inside. I sat down on the couch and began observing people. There was apparently some type of dance class being held upstairs, as I noticed a variety of parent-aged people with little girls dressed in leotards, tights, and little dance skirts heading up and down the stairs. There was also a meeting of a local Rotary Club, at least according to the sign. I did observe non-white people going to both of these functions, though not a representative portion compared to the surrounding population. I do not know if the dance class was limited to members, but I assume the Rotary Club meeting was not, since membership at a particular country club is not generally a requirement for membership in the Rotary Club. I noticed a girl around my own age come to sit down at the welcome desk. She never asked me if I needed anything, but about five minutes later she left the desk. When she returned, she had the club's manager, an older, very tan man in his 40s or 50s, with her; she sat back down at the welcome desk and the manager approached me. He asked if I was looking for a club member. I told him that I was not. He then informed me that I was at a private club and that, if I was not there with a member I would need to leave immediately. He stressed the part about leaving immediately. I started to explain why I was sitting there, and he literally put a hand on my elbow and guided me out of the front door. I found this very interesting, because I could easily have been a babysitter waiting for one of the children in the dance class or a person asked to speak to the Rotary Group. In fact, as a high school student I remember an organization called InterAct, which was like a youth division of the Rotary Club, and members of that group frequently went to Rotary functions.
Honestly, I chose this situation because I felt like, in choosing it, I would be able to fulfill the technical requirements of the assignment and not get too far outside of my personal comfort zone. My experience there demonstrated just how wrong I was about that supposition, and I felt more uncomfortable in this experience than I had in almost any other scenario. I do not believe that I would have had the same experience regardless of location; I think I would have been more welcomed at other country clubs. However, I felt a distinct class bias in the place. I was not welcome there, and my presence there was apparently enough to make somebody uncomfortable. I do realize that it was a private club, but there were members of the public coming and going; I was not intruding on any private functions or causing any type of disruption. Moreover, even though I was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and nice top, which made me dressed similar to or better than most of the people in the club, they were easily able to identify that I did not belong there.
At first blush, I would have said that what I learned was that the wealthy treat the non-wealthy poorly. However, I have to revise that assessment. I seriously doubt that the country club manager came from a financial background that was much different than my own lower middle-class background, and he was the one who treated me poorly. None of the club members even seemed to notice me, much less be upset about my appearance there, so I registered him as the person being rude. This made me think about the way that members of the lower classes have become eager to do the dirty work of wealthier people. There would have been absolutely no harm in him allowing me to explain why I was there, and to permit me to finish my observation. Even if he had not permitted me to finish my observation, there was no reason for him to place a hand on me. To do so was inexcusable; I was not refusing to leave the premises or providing any type of resistance, and the fact that his touching was not violent did not keep it from being offensive. What I found out when I called the police later that evening because his behavior towards me bothered me so much was that, because I was in a private location, he had the right to use physical force to eject me from the premises. I just found his apparent eagerness to treat a member of the lower middle class like refuse to be very alarming. It made some things about economic disparity in this country become more clear. I frequently wondered why 99% of people would participate in a scenario in which 1% of people control the vast majority of the wealth, and this vicarious participation now seems to me to be one of those reasons.
My perceptions about the wealthy people at the club really did not change. The people that I did observe were pretty much every stereotype of every country club member ever portrayed on television or in other forms of media. They were upper middle class to upper class, at least judging by their clothing and vehicles. They were all white. They were seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. Therefore, my perceptions of them did not change significantly.
I cannot say that I really noticed any socially conscious individuals among the country club members, but one must keep in mind that my level of interaction with them was very minimal. However, I think it is clear that there was a very socially conscious manager working at the premises, and that the girl on the welcome desk had been previously instructed to go and find him if any questionable people appeared in the foyer. I felt as if the members of the country club were oblivious to my presence, but it is entirely possible that one of them noticed me and had the people at the front desk looking for me. I do not know if that is the case because the manager would not give me the opportunity to explain why I was there, much less any chance to ask him any type of…