Dorothy Allison: I went off and won scholarships. I applied for scholarships at church and ladies’ circles. They’re always service organizations run by middle-class women who are generous and kind to the poor. You win those awards by being humble and grateful. Gratitude can eat the heart out of you, because the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that you aren’t as good as the people you’re begging help from. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of the very successful working-class kids who win scholarships drink themselves to death or shoot themselves in the head.
I’ve been thinking a lot about class lately. There are Australian commentators whose constant banging on about being working class — Van Badham, I’m looking at you — stakes a claim to a political and cultural high-ground, a ‘Leftier-than-thou’ stance I’ve never seen taken by anyone actually engaged in the building of class consciousness and solidarity. I can’t claim that, myself, because I was raised in a welfare-class family with middle-class aspirations — more chip than shoulder. Mum’s family saw education as the pathway to middle-class status confirmation; when my parents separated, my Mum’s eldest sister met with my Dad for lunch and expressed the sincere concern that divorce would mean the kids can’t go to Xavier College. And this was true: I was too dumb for Xavier — or perhaps, unwilling to beg sincerely enough. So this quote in particular resonates powerfully with me.