Rich Because Your Parents Are?

The current issue of Fence has an amazing introduction from Rebecca Wolff, the literary magazine and publishing house’s editor and creator. In “Publishing is Personal” (pdf, sorry!) Wolff talks about the power and influence that come with deciding what gets published, and how that privilege is or isn’t linked to her ‘outer resources.’

“The question of whether I, Rebecca Wolff, am personally “rich,” has troubled my identity as a publisher from the start,” she says:

I’m rich, but only by comparison and because I accept the label because it is closer to the truth than to say I’m not. I don’t live like a rich person—I do my own laundry and I clean my own house and I can’t afford much childcare and I must not lose my job or I will lose my health insurance (though this prohibition may soon be lifted). However my parents own seven apartments in Manhattan and a house and some land in Truro and some farmland in Tennessee and when they pass on they will leave me half of whatever remains of this and I will be rich. And before my marriage they purchased every used car I ever drove into the ground. They paid off my student loans the day I graduated. I accrue debt like a regular person but I shake it like a rich person.

And that is my working definition, in this current cultural context, of a rich person: One who has certain assurances. If my bubble bursts I can go home to mom and dad. Thank the lord. I don’t know where I’d be without them. I love them madly for the care they have always taken of me.

I mostly love that I am linking you guys to a pdf of an intro to Fence magazine. Blogging!

Photo: gawd

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7 Comments / Post A Comment

Trilby (#191)

Sh*t happens. My father was a multi-millionaire. He and my mother divorced and he remarried. Yada, yada, when he died, he pretty much screwed me and my brother, the old family, in favor of his new family. And I never saw it coming. Even without divorce in the picture, sometimes people get a little screwy in their old age and THAT’s when they decide to make a will. It sucks. So don’t count your chickens– keep cleaning your house and doing laundry because you never know.

andnowlights (#2,902)

This. My parents have some money. I do not. I am a (kinda) struggling wife of a PhD student and my parents do not help because they think this is an important learning experience/part of life. So I freak out that I spent $100 on clothes at Target’s clearance rack and my parents run into Dick Cheney in Colorado because apparently they own a condo in the same building as he does and met while waiting for their cars at the valet.

I only half-jokingly say the trust doesn’t kick in til they die (which I DO NOT WANT THEM TO DIE EVER because I adore them) but it’s actually true. We pay off our student loans while the husband is still in school, we budget down to the penny, and the only help we get from my parents is that my phone is on a family plan with them.

isabellebleu (#5,572)

Sure, but this begs the question: WHY do rich people go into such agonies over admitting that they are rich? In the end she clearly resolves the question as saying that, yes, she has those assurances, but isn’t that what wealth and privilege is all about? I know everyone likes a Scrooge McDuck cartoon about swimming in dollar bills, but really, wealth, it’s about whether you get to start out at the starting line (or even a little ahead of it) when the gun goes off in life, or whether you’re a thousand yards behind, or stuck at the exchange two bus lines lines away, or (insert assorted metaphor).

garysixpack (#4,263)

@isabellebleu
I won’t admit I’m rich because my in-laws will hit me up for money if I do.

lemur_niemer (#3,125)

@isabellebleu I think it has a lot to do with wanting to fit in and be like everybody else. If a lot of your friends feel broke, and you feel broke, it’s not very much fun to separate yourself from your friends. Also, re: the starting line – everybody wants to be proud of their accomplishments. In a society that (supposedly) values and rewards hard work and equality it’s hard to own up to having a head start. The next logical good-person step after recognizing privilege is accepting responsibility for inequality – and that’s *really* hard.

isabellebleu (#5,572)

@lemur_niemer I think you put it very succinctly. Still, I think that it takes people who *are* in positions of relative power, like Wolff, to be able to cop to things that have not impeded their achievements as an important part of surveying what inequality of opportunity looks like. I don’t think it’s a discredit to any of the meritorious work she’s clearly done! It’s more like saying, yes, it did make it a little easier to scale this rock face without a 600 lb weight attached to the ankle. Scaling a rock face is still impressive!

Ellie (#62)

@isabellebleu This is pretty prosaic but I think it’s because you feel guilty when you are lucky and other people aren’t. Or at least, people with sufficient superego feel lucky. I think that most educated people recognize that a lot of the time, when you have money, education, success etc. a lot of it is because you were fortunate enough to be in a particular situation that enabled you to have that. Maybe you worked for it all yourself technically but you were lucky to be in a situation where your hard work could be effectively applied to generate the money, education or success. I pay my own bills and have a job and enough money that I don’t worry very much about it, but I got my job because of my background, which I was born with. So I feel lucky, and a little guilty that I don’t have to worry about it, but many people who are in very difficult circumstances do, and if that person had been born in my family and in my town, they would be in my nice circumstances too.

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