A couple of weeks ago, as I was heading from my ballet barre class to Le Pain Quotidian for my daily skim cappuccino, making plans with my friend to get gel manicures and then to bring our kids together so we could consume rosé and goat gouda, I was hit with a lightning bolt.
The word “bourgie” (pronounced boo-zhee) comes from the French term, “bourgeoisie,” naming a social class comprised of merchants and artisans who lived in cities and catered to the nobles. They were often derided as being social climbers and trying to fit in with the aristocracy. Karl Marx used the term bourgeoisie to name the economic ruling class of the Industrial era, that tried to keep the working class down. In modern times, the term has morphed into a description of anyone who is perceived as “high maintenance” or putting on airs, those members of the materialistic middle class, showing off for each other with name brands, expensive cars, and big houses. I’ve always sort of identified bourgie people as those who come from socioeconomic privilege, never having to worry about much in their lives, but are completely oblivious to their privilege.
Having grown up to two parents who were born into economic hardship and instituted frugality and hard work in us from a young age, I have looked down my nose at those who I perceived as bourgie. When I’ve seen women in their Lululemon active wear hopping into their Mercedes and BMWs, I’ve silently judged them. I’m not like them, I have told myself, because my active wear typically comes from Target and I drive a Toyota.
However, I have recently looked at my lifestyle and been forced to reckon with the possibility that I may be a bit closer to this bourgie culture than I previously acknowledged…
Here are some of the telltale signs I have identified that I may just be a little bit bourgie:
- I live in a neighborhood where my kids can attend schools that boast arts-integration programs, provide French or Chinese immersion programs, and have peace educators who teach students meditation and emotional intelligence (“can you say, hippocampus, kids?”)
- I own and rent out a condo in a gentrified neighborhood that has slowly pushed out working class people of color to make room for other upper middle class white people like myself
- I give a significant amount of time and money to SoulCycle and barre classes (not that you could tell, thanks to my penchant for wine and cheese consumption)
- The only double-wide I am acquainted with is my BOB jogging stroller, which I use to cart my children to soccer, ballet, swim, and banjo practice while obsessively tracking my steps on my Fitbit. (They don’t really take banjo lessons. Although I’m trying to get them to follow in Mommy’s footsteps and play a woodwind instrument…)
- Amazon Prime delivers everything I need to my front door because I just don’t have time in my action-packed life to pick up my own toilet paper or groceries.
- My neighbors and I decorate our front yards with ideological and political signage, some more important than others in the context of all the issues our society faces (my latest favorite are the signs protesting a potential ban against backyard chickens…)
Regardless of how much I may try to separate myself from what I perceive as a culture to which I don’t belong, I AM part of an identity group that holds a great deal of privilege.
Maybe part of this refusal to place myself in a category of upper middle class is based on my upbringing as well as the childhood experiences of my parents. My mom was born in a small farming community and spent the first several years of her life residing in a converted garage. My dad grew up in one room of a multifamily home in Havana, which he shared with his single-parenting mom and two sisters. My parents did not come from socioeconomic privilege by any stretch. They were both the first in their families to complete high school let alone go on to college and grad school.
To be sure, that was not my life. I never went without. My parents were warm and caring and probably spoiled us quite a bit looking back. We grew up in a middle class environment, in a nice house where I had my own room, went to well-funded public schools, and made friends with nice, smart kids. Yes, my parents were very frugal because of their childhood experiences. We didn’t buy designer fashions and Kohl’s was my mom’s favorite retailer for our clothes (even though I begged for Guess jeans and Esprit tank tops – it was the 80s and 90s, people). Our basement looked like a nuclear fallout shelter with about 100 cans of food that my parents would stockpile whenever there was a good sale at Kroger.
That said, because of the immense opportunities afforded to me, here I stand, in my active wear, realizing that I am a member of the smaller percentage of people in this country who never have to worry about how I’ll make ends meet. I can make frivolous purchases without calculating what I’ll have to go without until the next paycheck. I can feel confident in my knowledge and education that I’ll usually be taken seriously by others in a professional environment, and nobody will question my ideas or decisions because I have a strong academic and professional pedigree that gives me power. When I mention the neighborhood in which I reside, people raise their eyebrows and say things like, “oh wow, that’s a really nice neighborhood. You must be doing pretty well for yourselves.”
So does living this bourgie existence make me a diversity and inclusion hack? Can I own my privilege yet still argue that it doesn’t fully represent who I am or what I value?
Most likely, I will continue to walk this tightrope of privilege, strutting to barre class in my active wear and drinking my cappuccinos. I will also challenge myself to push against stereotypes and seek the full stories of others without rushing to judgment. Unless they try to take away the backyard chickens. Then game on.