In select cities in America, there’s a workout subscription program called ClassPass where, for a monthly fee, you have access to various fitness classes around town. It’s like Netflix for workout classes (or whatever tech subscription whatever you want to plug in for an analogy).
I’ve entertained getting ClassPass once or twice but I mostly hate group workout classes (With the exception of yoga!) and think the money would go to waste. It’s also so money oriented, as all workouts are, and I get caught up in the name – ClassPass – as if it’s some sort of display of frivolous riches you have, that this sort of vulnerable bodily display is to also assess your socioeconomic ranking.
(Which, in some ways, it is since attending workout classes is certainly related to class and social standings since a $20+ hour long workout something with a group is hardly an everyday luxury of most people. You gotta have money to get yelled out and sweaty with a group of strangers, you know?)
There’s a temptation with ClassPass though, that you can drop in and out of whatever fitness trend and pretend that you are a hunky crossfit human one day or a dainty pilates person another day. I’ve almost done it so many times but ultimately look at my bank account only for it to stare back at me and go “lol: go for a run.” There’s definitely a double consciousness happening, the haves within you competing with your have nots.
It’s always been this way, in a sense. This isn’t a unique feeling. Anyone who attended a fancy college but wasn’t from a fancy family or who worked in a flashy industry and had to pretend to be flashy knows this. It’s part looking a certain way and part acting a certain way. Like ClassPass, it’s not only being able to get into the classes themselves but to also be able to complete the workout in a socially acceptable manner instead of outing yourself as a total physical outsider.
This idea weighed me down for years, as if everything I wore or did had some sort of annotation, a give of my past, that I was only pretending to be fancy when the reality is that I only think I can “pass.” Such is the life of being a person whose socioeconomic status has evolved from that of their modest beginnings. Such is “class-passing.”
The Guardian has a very good story about class-passing at very extreme levels, where arguably rich people from decidedly not-rich backgrounds discuss what “passing” for rich has been like and how it helped them escape their pasts to get their futures. It’s a story that represents an almost bygone idea of the American dream, that hard work instead of benefits you’re born with can get you ahead.
The story traces four very different New Yorkers – a lawyer, a startup CEO, a commercial real estate agent, an advertising executive – to see how they went from poor to not poor. It examines the costs of “pretending” as a means of getting ahead. They’re all very, very interesting and had me nodding multiple times recalling my own “do this to get there” moves to escape modesty.
For example: this story of the startup CEO, who was offered a full scholarship to Howard and a partial scholarship to Duke. He went with Duke. Here’s why.
He ended up picking Duke, his mind swayed by a conversation with the father of one of his white friends.
“Her dad was a lawyer and he told me, you know, I’m 55 years old and I come to an event like this with all these other rich, white guys, and they still ask me where I went to undergrad. I live next door to them. I have as much money as them. And they still ask me because it still matters to them.” Because he didn’t go to a prestigious school, the man told Baird, he’s always treated as somewhat inferior, no matter how much money makes.
“Now, you’re black,” his friend’s dad said. “If you go to Howard you will never have a shot at getting the inside track. You have to go to Duke.”
This almost cuts me in half it’s so acutely “my story.” I had a full scholarship to a school that was decent but certainly not “a name.” Because I’ve always been somewhat materialistic, I knew the school I went to wouldn’t mean anything in my career. So, I transferred, for a greater academic challenge and for a “name.” I ultimately got into Georgetown and received a pretty great scholarship since the school offered it on a need basis. What did I do? I went there. In my mind then (and now), it was like getting a very expensive article of clothing very much on sale so that you could appear rich even if you weren’t. That decision is still paying off, literally and figuratively, as the school’s name cache has opened doors while I still am paying off the education, the name.
Another example: the Hispanic ad executive who spoke differently from the kids at the prep school she went to on scholarship.
In private, she was training herself to speak differently. “Not to say cawfee, for example, and not to do any of the things that I think were perceived as being people-of color-things. Like rolling your eyes or doing those kind of side-to-side head movements. I always thought, that’s not me, I’m not that person. I belong here, I’m gonna behave like everybody else behaves.”
The fact that her parents would never be like the other kids’ parents, however, was sometimes frustrating. “I remember having a moment where I yelled at my mom because she wouldn’t learn English. I remember saying, ‘This is America, you have to speak English!’ I was so brutal to her.”
Yeeps: that last part. I had a very similar mini-something happen when I was a child with my mother because, at my Catholic school in Kentucky, the language was strictly English. But at home? A mixture of Spanish and English. To this day, I am told a story about being in kindergarten or first grade where we were at a family gathering and my mother was speaking to me in Spanish. “No,” I screamed at her. “We speak school.” That, in a way, was the end of learning Spanish.
It’s fucked up, class-passing. It’s part evolution, part growth, but very much many parts of loss. This is nothing new. This has been written about in literature for centuries. It’s a trope. Today, it seems like stories of advancing in class are so rare – Almost unreal! – because of a president like Trump but, hey, they still happen. Even in small ways (like my own experience), they happen.
Perhaps that’s why I haven’t done ClassPass. Not just for the name but because there’s always this feeling that there is that one frivolous bill like a workout class that will suddenly send you back to the beginning of the Monopoly™ board, to grovel on the street until you become successful all because you wanted to take a neon lit spin class. Perhaps that feeling will shake off of my spiritual husk one day but – all these years later, all these years into adulthood – it remains.