Culture and Growing Up

When Your Age Isn’t Your Age, Growing Up Fast

David Brooks in a recent New York Times column talked about the way upper middle-class parents raise their children as opposed to the way working-class parents raise their kids. In toady’s world the life of the upper-class kid is full of scheduled piano and music lessons, organized tutoring and non-school learning, and organized sports activities. The upper-class kid has an active life and goes to bed exhausted at night after a day that is completely regimented often organized by a mother who is more Mike Ditka than June Cleaver.

Working-class kids, in the argument of Brooks, are raised by their parents in a more freewheeling way. The parents believe that life is going to be tough so the kids should have fun while they are still young and their will be plenty of time for work later. The kids are allowed to ride their bikes by themselves and just hang-out with kids in the neighborhood and have unorganized fun. They are also involved in sports; but do not have their parents send them to all the specialized camps and the like ( but the working-class, and the poor, still dominate American pro sports despite not having the benefits of these camps and special treatment).

In his argument, where Brooks is saying that culture often matters more than economics in determining the outcomes of peoples lives, a notion that I agree with and one that is rooted in the prophetic tradition and the Quran ( “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change the condition of themselves”) . So the upper-middle class are raised to inherit the position of their parents, and even more, and the working-class are raised to do the same.

Critics argue that Brooks is not taking into account the fact that working-class don’t have the money that upper-class parents do so that it is ridiculous to even critique them for not sending the kids to expensive basketball camps or to cello lessons with a Cambodian master and Brooks recognizes this. He points out that some cultures, such as the Chinese and Jews, tend to do well no matter where they are in the world and there has to be a reason for this and that is culture and I do not see how anyone can argue with this.

At a time when the masses in Brazil, Argentine, Paraguay, Uruguay and other Latin American counties were mired in poverty German immigrants came to those nations and within a few years advanced further economically than their neighbors and created successful and prosperous enclaves of German culture.

Jewish immigrants from Europe came to Palestine and did with the land, and economics of the area, more than any Arab state has been able to do in the region in centuries in just a few years. When in the middle-east I looked at the poverty and misery of the Palestinians and felt bad; but when I went to Jordan and Egypt I asked who was occupying them because they were doing just as bad if not worse? Similarly the Iranians, who have the history of a great civilization, have advanced farther scientifically, economically and culturally then their neighbors (other than the Jed Clampett oil states)

In Nigeria, and amongst the Nigerian diaspora, members of the Ibo tribe tend to do well no matter where they are and be economically more prosperous than their neighbors even though they do not control the power of the state and in Nigeria, where the Hausa tribe has dominated government, they are the poorest. In other parts of Africa Indians and Lebanese have been able to come and dominate local economies not based on conspiracy theories; but based on a tight-knit culture that produces achievers ( although limited).

If you go to Malaysia and Indonesia there is a bitter hatred for the Chinese; but without the Chinese living in those nations their economies would completly collapse and why is it that a few million Chinese can dominate hundreds of millions of Malays and Indonesians? It is culture.

In America, go to the African-American and Latino communities, and you will find that the businesses in those communities are ran by Arabs, Koreans, and generally people not of those groups. Many times, despite having economic resources, the communities do not have the culture that it takes to even handle the small-business of their own community ( and this is not because banks will not give them money or they give loans to Arabs and Koreans).

Culture matters. It is why my ancestors the Irish and other groups like the the Scots and the Scots-Irish, Italians, Poles and Slavs came to America and made up the great working-class and middle-class of this nation while the English, French, Germans, Scandinavians and Jews would come to dominate the upper-class.

It is not genetic, it is cultural; because some people in all of these groups prosper and some fail and an example of culture is this. The families that I grew up with believed that it was a great thing of their kids went to college, any college. If the kid went to the local community college it was considered a good achievement. Other families just thought it was good enough for the dad to get his son on at the plant or with a good union job when the kid got out of high school or following the family tradition into the military. Those were the goals that those families set-up for the kids as they were growing-up and those are all fine goals and they will lead to a decent and rewarding life and it is these people who form the backbone of society.

Other families I know had no goals and the families could care less about their kids education and would repeatedly tell them that when they turned 18 they were on their own. These families didn’t make sure their kids did their homework, much less help them or get them a tutor, and these kids tended to be dropouts or just barely got by in school. Of course many of these kids became criminals or teenage mothers and the like or addicted to drugs at a young age and I went to school with many who did not live to see their twentieth birthday because they were murdered or otherwise taken-out. These kids were also raised to be what their parents were; for the girls that would be multiple baby-mammas living on welfare in section 8 or public housing collecting a government check, and for the guys being thugs who spend their lives in and out of jail making fast money until they get killed or a life sentence.

The upper-class kid is expected to be an achiever and to do well on all levels. It is not good enough t go to the state college or the local public university; these kids have to go to expensive private universities. They are raised with a sense of entitlement that they will lives of ease and everything will be handed to them on a silver platter ( and that is why so many are in therapy or on drugs because they cant figure out why life isn’t working like that) and when they get out of school they then will gradually climb the economic stairs to affluency.

It is in the early twenties that all three of these groups are the same age but at vastly different stages in their lives. The working-class kid at say, 24, is working a 40 hour week, and probably putting in overtime, and may be married with kids already and is saving up to by his own home if he doesn’t have it already. He doesn’t go out and party all that much, maybe on the weekends every now and than or to sporting events, but after a hard day of work ( probably physical hard work) he comes home and drinks a few beers, watches the game, kisses the wife and babies and then goes to sleep. He is not care-free and he has financial and economic worries, he may be behind on the bills, and his job may be outsourced to China or El Salvador, so he goes to bed with a lot of shit on his mind. Many of his friends are not doing as well as he is so at least he can be thankful for what he has.

The poor male kid at age 24 has probably already been convicted of a felony or two, has done some time, is ineligible for many good jobs, has a baby or two and is behind on his child support, has had many friends murdered and sent to prison an has a shady living arrangement. If he has avoided a life of crime he is travelling on the bus an hour or two each way to work a shitty dead-end job. The female already has 1 kid, maybe 2,3 or 4, looks like she is 40 and does not go out and party anymore but when she wants to have fun sits at home and smokes a blunt while watching a DVD with friends.

At 24 the upper-class kid is out of college and has just got back from backpacking Europe and maybe Asia and Latin America. He is living in an apartment in the city with roommates and working a bullshit job just to make money to party. He eats out everyday, never cooks, parties every night, dates different women casually on both ends, and has a carefree existence and has no worries. When he wants to get serious he has a degree from a prestigious university and connections, for now he is partying at 24 like the working class and poor kids did at 15 and 16 and while they are working hard, or doing hard time, he is having the time of his life and is a yuppie living in the city.

So 24 isn’t 24 for everyone, for many 24 is like 44 and for others it is like 14.


One thought on “Culture and Growing Up

  1. umar, i think you are grossly oversimplifying it! it’s not as simple as “culture” because culture itself is a complicated concept with many different sides to it. you started off interestingly enough but ended on a pointless note.

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