I recently took an online quiz designed by Charles Murray to see if I lived in a bubble. From what I can gather, the quiz appears to be targeted primarily at white people to discern the thickness of their “bubble.” High scores = thin bubble and aware of or part of the “ordinary” American white working class. Low scores = thick bubble and unaware of rural or working class America. Low scores include people with higher levels of wealth and similar lifelong experience in an urban or suburban (not rural) setting. You can see part of this phenomena referred to as an echo chamber in other articles.
Charles Murray explains the overall concept in the article, his books, and related readings — noting that his particular focus is on the new upper class (who tend to be white and urban) versus the traditional white working class (who tend to work in factories, the military, or rural areas) to help distinguish between socioeconomic classes that lead to differences in voting patterns, stances on social issues, and pain points. He briefly addresses why his focus is on white people vs. including folks of other races/ethnicities, so know that there are limits to the quiz.
I came in solidly in the middle at a score of 49 to 60 (I’ve taken it a few times, with slightly different answers depending on how I interpreted the questions), which pegs me as a first generation middle-class person with working-class parents or perhaps as a first generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents.
I am actually a first generation upper-middle-class person with parents that were, at different points in their lives, working class or middle class themselves. My mother got her GED after I was born (she was 17) and never attended college, but she worked in offices as in roles that ranged from secretary, HR specialist, sales trainer, to public speaker. The stepfather I grew up with worked in factories and was eventually a manager, although not until a couple years before I moved out. We lived in a trailer, then a small house, and then I moved into an apartment with my own daughter when I was 21 and my daughter was about 18 months old. I am also southern and have lived my whole life in the metro-Chattanooga area, though I have traveled a little.
Things that remind who I have been as well as who I am:
In my house growing up, we would have chili dogs made of boiled Bryan wieners on white Colonial bread with Van Camp chili and a Kraft single for dinner before Wednesday night church. We had to eat something quick because Mom didn’t get home until after 5:00 and church started 6:00. I really didn’t like hot dogs very much, so I would try to eat mostly the chili and cheese on white bread while avoiding the wiener.
Now in our house we only eat Nathan’s (or Sabrett’s, or Thuman’s if we can get them) on actual hot dog buns with Guilden’s or Nathan’s mustard with grilled onions or my own homemade onion relish.
When I looked up how to make relish, I googled chow-chow before I realized most cooking sites don’t seem to know what that is.
I understand intuitively that Baptists and Methodists and southern Republicans support Israel but don’t really know many Jewish people.
Cornbread dressing made with cream of chicken soup from my Aunt Carol’s recipe is required at Thanksgiving, forever.
My first apartment had a Murphy bed, a dorm size refrigerator, woven folding lawn chairs, and a Jenny Lind crib for my daughter.
Two black people went to my high school. One girl was in Special Ed. The other, Nakita, played basketball and most of her family lived in a low-income historically black section of Chattanooga (which we just called “the projects,” and I’m not sure why she attended a school in rural Georgia). Everyone liked her and she was on Homecoming Court, but she put up with a lot of ignorant shit. I think a black male student attended for a while, but he left.
I know the words to most gospel hymns, and Just As I Am and The Old Rugged Cross will always connote altar calls.
My little grandmother, Nanny Louise, tenderized meat, particularly cube steak, by banging it with the side of a saucer on the counter. Her name was Jannie Louise, and she usually misspelled my name as Gewn. I think she almost graduated from eighth grade. Or maybe just fifth grade.
She also made chocolate gravy, which was served with margarine on hot biscuits.
I didn’t meet a vegetarian until college except for that one girl in elementary school who didn’t pledge allegiance because she was Seventh Day Adventist (or maybe Jehovah’s Witness). I was encouraged to avoid her as if she were in a strange cult and hated America.
The song played at my high school graduation was Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
The only person I recall from elementary school who was not white was a Vietnamese girl. She had really beautiful handwriting.
When the elementary schools in my area funneled into the Junior High School, students were put on the “general” or the “college” track based on what elementary school they attended. I was on the general track for most of seventh grade even though I was in the gifted program. I received a paddling in 2nd, 5th, and 7th grade.
My fourth grade teacher told black jokes to the class (yes, they were super racist jokes, and yes, I still remember at least one of them).
When I tell my son I bought roast beef for sandwiches, he asks, “Is it Boar’s Head?”
I have had a conversation about why I moved away from where I grew up. I moved from Rossville, GA to Chattanooga, TN. That’s fewer than 10 miles. My husband’s 25th high school reunion was held in the “ball room” at the East Ridge Comfort Inn.
At the 25th reunion, I spoke to one woman about her ex-husband, whom I had worked with for a while, and I called him misogynistic. She nodded, then said, “And he hates women.”
My husband’s sister does meth (among other things), although I think she has mostly quit now. One of my sisters smokes cigarettes, and she did so while she was pregnant with each of her kids. She is trying to quit.
I consider myself, at best, agnostic, but I am actually being pretty close to atheist. And sometimes I pray anyway. My husband is now atheist, but for the first several years we were married he believed that if I didn’t believe in God and Jesus that I would go to hell.
My son’s favorite foods are fried chicken and raw oysters (not at the same time), and we don’t live in a coastal area.
My son’s best friend is black, and his friends are fairly evenly distributed to include black, white, and a smattering of other races. My daughter is Latina, and most of her friends are white.
I still get confused by the terms “race” vs. “ethnicity.”
My husband is white and Cuban, and almost all of my family had trouble pronouncing his last name for years after we were married.
My dentist (when I had one, before I changed to ACA BCBS’s bronze plan) plays Fox News or Ellen while I get my teeth cleaned. His nickname, as memorialized on his SUV license plate, is Dr. Bubba. And I think he’s really nice.
I was baptized in my church’s baptismal when I was 7 years old. I was married in that same church when I was 22 years old.
My best friend, a pretty nurse from rural Alabama, pronounces “can’t” like “cain’t,” she prefers mid-century modern furniture, and she is occasionally vegan.
At grad school in Vermont for creative writing, people knew I was a southern person as soon as I spoke. In high school, local undergraduate school, and at work, people assumed I was from somewhere else, probably the northeast.
The first artist I listened to when I got an iPod for Christmas eight years ago was Leonard Cohen. My favorite musicians growing up in the 80s were the Eagles, Kenny Rogers, and Billy Joel.
I have opinions about the Oxford comma.
When I was about 12, my uncle stayed with us for a week in our trailer and stole my knit bag filled with my savings of about $100 and my mom’s handgun, which he allegedly used to hold up either a liquor or convenience store. My family couldn’t afford to replace my savings all at once.
When I was young, I didn’t know women could be doctors. I had only ever seen male doctors, and when I met a female pediatrician I told a grade school friend about it, but he didn’t believe me.
My mother has never considered herself a feminist and prefers to be with men who pay for dinner and open doors for her. She once sued her company for sexual discrimination after being passed over for promotions for less qualified men who asked her, the only woman in their HR meetings, to get them coffee or take notes.
Times Square intimidates and overwhelms me, but energizes my husband. Rural Tennessee with its Confederate flags and dirt roads intimidate my husband, but I love the trees.
I met my husband in high school, a year after he had moved to north Georgia from Newark, NJ. We went to my senior prom together, and then we broke up when I went away to college outside of Atlanta.
Although I had an academic scholarship for 2/3 of tuition, my stepfather had to take a second job doing electrical wiring because they had bad credit and didn’t quality for PLUS loans.
I was put on academic probation the first semester, and I found out I was knocked up on the day after New Year’s that winter break.
My college roommate for that one semester was a black woman named Tiffany, and when she would straighten her hair with a curling iron it gave off a strong smell. One of my friends at the time remarked, “They’ll do anything to look like us.” That friend was blonde, and she had just gotten a perm.
Tiffany liked white guys, and this one is particular that she liked thought it was funny to ask her if she liked watermelon and other such nonsense. She played along and still appeared to like him, but they never got together.
I used food stamps, welfare, Pell Grants, and loans to pay for tuition and living expenses while in college at the local university after my daughter was born. I never considered not going to college, but I can’t say why. My closest friends in high school all went to college, but lots of people didn’t.
Bologna (pronounced “baloney”) sandwiches can be prepared one of two ways: cold, with mayo on white bread, or grilled, with four cuts in the bologna so that it won’t bubble up when cooked in a pan. The fried bologna cross is topped with a Kraft single until it becomes melty, and it is served on white bread. Mayo optional.
My grandfather, Papa Mullins, who went by Jack but whose name was Austin, called bologna “Sand Mountain Ham.” Sand Mountain is a rural Alabama mountain known for its scenic views of Lookout Mountain, Lookout Valley, and backwoods racism.
I know the difference between city ham and country ham. I used to prefer city ham, but now I prefer country ham on the rare occasions that I eat ham at all.
Sociable brand crackers with cheez squeezed from a can used to be a good snack.
I hate Miracle Whip, and so does everyone I know.
I used to think that Frigidaire simply meant refrigerator.
When local acquaintances find out I like to read, they offer to share romance novels, Nicholas Sparks, or Mary Higgins Clark mysteries.
My hairdresser has vampire fangs tattooed on her ankle because she likes vampire novels, especially sexy ones. She said she got the tattoo really cheap. She also carries a handgun under her shirt while doing hair. Her hair is very blonde and kind of terrible.
My mother-in-law and her sister died from accidental prescription opioid overdoses, but people say their hearts gave out.
My paternal grandmother, also called Nanny, was named Nellie Novella Jenkins. She always bought me an Easter dress with a shawl.
When we lived in the trailer growing up, we couldn’t afford a hairdryer for a while, so I dried my hair over the heating vent in the floor in the winter so that I didn’t leave the house with wet hair.
When ordering out at nice restaurants, I am always drawn to lamb or duck, medium rare.
When I worked at the big corporation, my best work friend and I would go out on annual bonus day for martinis, soft pretzels, and Sephora shopping.
The first place I tried sushi was in a building that used to be a Taco Bell. It was the same building where I first had tacos, which I ate top down (cheese layer, lettuce layer, then meat layer) for several years until observing someone eat them from the side. I remember seeing a man eat a burrito at that same Taco Bell and thinking he had forgotten to remove the wrapper.
In high school, I was called a “n***er lover” because I insisted it was ridiculous to say that black students were the only reason a neighboring school had installed metal detectors.
My favorite way to eat hashbrowns at Waffle House is scattered and covered.