I am not claiming that what I am about to write is scientific in any manner. It is simply a matter of observation by myself. In the past year I have canvassed for several different political causes. I have walked numerous neighborhoods of all different classes. I have talked to hundreds if not thousands of people.
What I can’t stop thinking about is how different classes of people, rich, poor, working class, and middle class, react to a stranger at their door. Although there are all different kinds of people across all classes, it does seem that middle class people seem the most open to strangers. Working class would come in second. Meanwhile poor people and rich people are often highly skeptical when someone knocks on their door unannounced.
It may have something to do with myself. I grew up middle class. Those are the people that I feel most in common with in my outlook, even if I myself make money that is definitely more working class. I have also worked plenty of blue collar jobs. So what I am saying is there is the possibility for unrecognized bias on my part, but I don’t think this is the case. I am talking more about initial reaction, before we have even really had time to talk.
Another point that I want to make is that I’m not dressed up. I have to walk miles while I do this stuff, often in Texas it is quite hot. This winter has been a strange one, with cold and rain that we usually don’t see. Either way, you want to be dressed to be with comfort in mind when you are out there. Usually I just have on a t-shirt, and either shorts or jeans. I imagine I look either working class or middle class, so people may simply be reacting to the way I am presenting myself, before I even open my mouth. However, I again don’t believe this to be the case, I just don’t want to rule it out.
I am a white male that is 5’10”, 200lbs, and occasionally have a beard. Although I have become more friendly since I moved to the South, and I always make it a point to say thanks and to smile at people, I know that I am not as outwardly warm as many Southerners, or at least I have been told so. When I worked for AT&T my bosses would often tell me I needed to be warmer on the phone, though I knew that I was trying really hard! Since moving to the South I have adopted y’all as I like that it is easiest way to talk to people and sound inclusive. I also like that it is short and simple. It is also neither masculine or feminine, so you can include everyone in a group without saying “you guys” or “you girls” or whatever when talking to a group. I am just trying to lay out what people are getting when I come to the door.
If there was a certain type of person that was intimidated when a large male comes to the door who doesn’t seem like a member of their tribe, I would understand. But I have plenty of middle class women open doors, who are home alone with their kids, before a lot of people are home on their block. If people were perceiving myself as a threat, I would assume that a small pregnant woman with a two or three year old would not open their door to me, but this happens time and time again. Meanwhile people in groups or males larger then myself will view me with a skeptical nature.
Again this seems to happen the most, people looking sideways at me, if the home appears to be really rich or really poor. No other factor appears apparent. Yesterday I was walking in a neighborhood that is going through gentrification, in which there were people of all classes. Sometimes it was block by block, and sometimes it was home by home. You would see a million dollar home next to a house that looked like it was falling down. You would also see blocks of safe looking suburban homes and blocks of houses that look like they were boarded up after a hurricane.
Race did not seem to be apparent in peoples reaction to me. A middle class black person would generally behave more in line with a middle class white person, than with a poor black person. Again, this does not mean that stereotypes always apply. There were different experiences with people of all classes and colors. The only discernible difference was that again poor people and rich people seemed to be less trusting of strangers than middle or working class people.
I also want to add that I was asking people questions about what they wanted to see in their city, and was not pushing a specific political agenda. I have done that in the past, but this time I was simply collecting data. One of the questions I asked people was what they wanted to see built in a certain portion of the city. This was giving all people a chance to have a voice in their city.
There are many conclusions that I could draw from this. However, I would rather not do that at this time, because I don’t believe I could accurately draw any conclusions. However, I want to know why this is so. There are so many questions. Has America treated poor people so badly that they are no longer trusting of people? Do poor people feel so disenfranchised that even when they are given a voice, they don’t feel that it is worth it to participate? On the other hand, why are rich people in this country, who seemingly have everything, also not willing to trust people? Why are they not willing to participate, to voice their thoughts and concerns about their city in this fashion? I am not assuming that all of the people I talked to don’t participate in our democracy. They may participate in other ways that don’t involve a stranger asking them questions. They may have ways that are particular to their neighborhood, their upbringing, etc. But all of this is very interesting to me, and also troubling. Why are the people that have the most to lose and the most to gain in this country, the people that are the hardest to communicate with when canvassing?