You are probably thinking, us? Who is us?
To whom am I referring?
In the south, a common question is, “Who are your people?” It’s really a way of asking where are you from? Where do you live? What connections might we have? On a deeper level it could mean what do you believe? What are your values? What kind of a life to you live?
As a child I often was told “people like us” don’t act like that, or “people like us” don’t go those places, or “people like us” don’t live over there. Once, when I expressed a desire to be a famous person one day, like a movie star, I was immediately shot down and told, “People like us don’t get to be things like that. Maybe you can be a teacher or a nurse.” I was confused. My childhood dreams were dashed. What did it mean to be people like us? Who were people like us?
Of course now I know what it meant. People like us meant blue-collar working class just a step above poor. People like us were not uppity like those who dressed up and went to church on Sundays, volunteered to lead scout troops, visited the shut-ins, and invited the neighbor kids in for home-baked cookies. It would be years before I understood why my mama didn’t go to church most Sundays, volunteer, or bake homemade cookies. While my daddy worked in a warehouse, she was working long rotating shifts in a glass factory, sweating in the heat to provide more for me and my little brother than my several-years-older siblings had ever dreamed of. And she had her own shut-ins – my grandmother, granddaddy, an aunt, and a granny to worry about. There were few other opportunities for folks who never finished high school.
Even further down the road, years and years later, I learned through my genealogy research that people like us at one time had been doctors, teachers, court officials, a mayor, a state representative, and wealthy landowners with plantations and mills. All of those people had vanished in the aftermath of the civil war, ravaged by disease, war, blights, and just plain bad luck. I also learned one of my “people” had been a morphine addict, a moonshiner, a madam, and a murderer.
People like us are different depending on who you are. If you come from a long line of preachers, seminarians, and church leaders, then church people are your people. If you come from a long line of salesmen and women, then those are your people. If you have a family full of cooks and caterers, then those are your people. But nothing says we must be one of those people. Oh, we may get grief from trying to be someone else, not one of them. We may be accused of not meeting our potential, of marrying down (or up), not following the family tradition, being a traitor, or heaven forbid, bringing shame on the family name.
The idea that family background, income, education, attitudes, aspirations, and even appearance can indicate social class in the US was the subject of a PBS Documentary Movie made in 2001, People Like Us: Social Class in America. There are numerous YouTube clips, Pinterest Boards, quote memes, and commentaries about this work. Official website: http://www.cnam.com/people-like-us/.
There’s nothing wrong with being a hard worker, providing for your kids, and living comfortably, but thank the good Lord in heaven I was able to break out of that rut. Oh, I still worked plenty hard. It was hard work completing several college degrees, working, and, along with my husband, making a comfortable life for our family. One thing is for sure though. I never told my boys they were people like us. I never told them they couldn’t be something they wanted to be. On the contrary, I taught them that if they were willing to work hard enough and get an education, they could be whatever they wanted. Because that’s what people like us do.
Further Reading for People Like Us
Who Are Your People? Posted 5th May 2012 by http://aboutcreate.blogspot.com/2012/05/who-are-your-people.html
Who Are Your People? Posted June 1, 2016 by https://perrynoble.com/blog/who-are-your-people
People Like Us: The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/09/people-like-us/302774/
A Few Tunes
People Like Us: Kelly Clarkston: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWbMz_aBlMU
People Like Us: Curtis Stigers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPA77-FgxsI
People Like Us: Talking Heads: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNcjWdHD6GQ
People Like Us: The Mamas and the Papas: