Thursday, November 1, 2007
Blue Collar = Genuine and other perceptions
I'm in a meeting the other day and this guy is describing a part of town as "a historically a blue-collar neighborhood." He went on to make remarks about the people who used to live in that part of town and used words like "genuine." His overall tone was that to be blue collar, which equates to working class, which equates to making less money, is somehow a more honest state of being than to be white collar. (I don't know what other kinds of collar descriptions should be accounted for in today's work world, since there is a lot of diversity these days. There must be more than just blue and white, right? Are there workers with collars of other colors? What about people who work from home in their bathrobes, are they robe collar workers? Are there people who only work in t-shirts who would be "no collar" workers? Dog collar? Shock collar? I need to do more research.)
I've run into this type of thinking before, the "people who work with their hands are the honest, dependable people, they're sincere and authentic." They essentially say that blue collar work is pure and anything else is tainted. They glorify the factory man over the salary man.
The inverse (or is it converse? Or Nike?) is that people who don't work with their hands are the opposite, i.e., white collar workers are dishonest, unreliable, phony - can't be trusted, always manipulating. It strikes me as funny that the same kind of people who show this blue collar bias would probably be offended if someone made broad generalizations about groups of people by gender, or race, or religion - but to generalize about people based on the kind of work they do is ok. Hmmm.
Maybe it comes from the assumption that if you wear a suit, you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, got it all handed to you, never had to work. Or maybe it comes from looking at the world through a lens where aspiring to something can't be trusted, "that guy who used to work down here with us, now he wants to work up there in the bosses' office, he gonna screw us over now."
However you get to it, it makes me laugh when I hear people who probably have never really lived a blue collar life talk about how wonderful it is. I guess they think it would be just glorious to roll off to the plant every morning and do ten hours with sweat dripping off you, and get up again the next day and do it again, and again, and again, for years. And work all the overtime you can get because you need to, every chance you get. I'd bet these mushy-headed people who talk about what's "genuine" don't really know much about it. They are some kind of "artisans" who make decorative geegaws for people's garden fences, or coffee tables made from old barn wood, and they think of themselves as the "workers of the world" or something. They don't know that most people who have busted their asses in real blue collar jobs, in factories and shipyards and quarries, they want something different for their kids. They want them to get an education and not have to bust their asses.
So the next time you hear somebody talking about the real authentic genuine people who do the blue collar jobs, check his fingernails and see if you think he knows what he's talking about.