What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Blue Collar State of Mind

So one thing that I did want to bring attention to with my new job is my inherent regression into ethnography.  I am working as a delivery boy.  This is of course not commensurate with my place in society - as an educated white man.  When I am out and about as a "white man" of seemingly respectable capacity, I am treated a certain way.  This became incredibly evident to me throughout my involvement with Occupy and the daily awareness of my place of power in the socio-economic system.  In those circles I am constantly reminded of it every day.  This is why it was so eye-opening - and dare I say refreshing - to be treated as just another blue collar worker once I donned my delivery apron and hat.

There are of course two aspects to this.  There is the way random people and the people you are delivering to treat you, and the way you are treated by other workers such as doormen.  No one really wants to be talked down to, or have assumptions made about them that aren't nice, but we all know this is bound to happen though.  The interesting thing for me is that knocking on doors as a delivery person immediately places you in a category that I am not in otherwise given the general demographic makeup of the delivery profession.  For example there was a woman the other day in a penthouse apartment that when I knocked on the door was very deliberately trying to not let me see in her apartment.  She came out and closed the door behind her, overtly showing an apprehension to me and what I might see on quick glimpse in corner penthouse apartment on the 40 something floor.  Now obviously there is a large amount of speculation here as to her motives.  But having been in the situation and reading it, I can only say that this was the way I felt and my interpretation given the visual and verbal cues I received, and coupled with my own place in society and thoughts.  Yet still, I felt that she did not want me to see in her apartment and also an apprehension towards me.  But hey, for all I know she had a cat in there or a naked man!  lol.

Anyway, my point is that if I was someone living in the building, or someone (eg. the person I am when I don't have my delivery hat on) that was not presumptively of lower income, but stereotypically of higher need/propensity to be "casing" the place, would she have acted to skeptically and with such reprehension?  My suspicion - however prejudiced it may be - is no she probably would not have.  Apprehensive of a stranger yes I'm sure, but if I came with a suit on and a handshake, versus an apron and an eye towards a tip, responses would be different.

Regardless though, this incident was not so much my main point as the way I am treated by other workers.  At pretty much every door thus far people have been friendly and good to me, offering both smiles and often enough tips.  But the big thing for me is the acceptance as a worker that I receive.  When I walk around my neighborhood - which is predominantly black - I am a white guy.  To the average person I am just another gentrifier.  I have to open my mouth and hope that my words sell me and allow me entry into "their club".  And my words do around here, hence my relationship with my bar and others.  However, always at first glimpse I am what I look like.

This is the same throughout the rest of my life.  When I walk into a high rise/rent building in midtown Manhattan when I'm not working, I look like I "should" live there (and yes, these people are pre-ju-dice). Door men treat me a certain way with lots of yes sirs.  And when I walk in to a upscale supermarket like where I now work I am treated the same, like just another wealthy enough white shopper.  But the minute I don that delivery apron and name tag, its like I am transformed into just another guy.  A guy that can be joked with, cursed with, and that other workers of similar stature can let their guard down with.

For me this is truly refreshing.  I do not feel comfortable in wealthier settings or with people of means and "proper" decor   I am much happier sitting around talking with people living real lives, with real struggles, that can just let themselves be free of some of those decorum things.  When I went to Binghamton and was sitting at a table of graduate students I had to be "educated", "intelligent", "on".  With "regular" people I can just be me.  I don't have to sell myself, I don't have to exude skill, competence  or confidence.  I can just relax.

The amazing thing about this is that as regular Tim Weldon I have to prove myself and work to get to this level of dialog with people, but as a delivery boy, I seem to innately already be there.  I can talk how I want, am talked to how they want, and talk about whatever any one of us wants.  There is also an inherent understanding and seeming bond through the unspoken struggle with power that is innately understood amongst "workers".  Statements about the people living there, the way they treat people, the way we are treated.  Mechanics, doormen, shop workers, janitors, whatever.  It is an ease of mentality and a welcome place of respite from the rest of the world that somehow thinks that because I am a white man that I should both be a certain way and be treated a certain way.  I like being a delivery boy, it lets me - if even just for a moment - be me with the people most like me.  

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