What Do You Do?

Americans introduce themselves by profession as a means of kind of assessing each other’s socioeconomic status right off the bat. We are such a capitalistic, sociologically oriented culture –I’m sorry, a caste oriented culture for lack of a better description– that what we want to do right off the bat is figure out who is worth listening to, who is important enough to merit respect, and who isn’t…We assess each other by visuals but we also assess each others by those non-visuals by that introduction of profession.”

N.K. Jemisin, “N.K. Jemisin’s Master Class in World Building,” The Ezra Klein Show.

My husband listens to podcasts a lot and shared with me this little clip from an Ezra Klein interview with fantasy ficton writer N.K. Jemisin. It affected him quite a bit, because he is a computer engineer working for a recognizable company. When he introduces himself and his job, he automatically gets afforded a level of respect. He’s educated. He’s making an above-average income. His job is secure. His job is considered valuable. While my husband sometimes feels awkward having to explain his job –it’s not the kind of work most people find interesting in detail– he never gets questioned as to why he chose it or whether he is a functioning citizen. And in a way, that bothers him, because he’s aware that when talking to someone who is working a less-paid, less-respected job, an implicit disparity in the respective value of each’s work comes into play and shapes the conversation. Once we met someone new and through the usual ritual of introductory chit-chat exchanged job summaries and found out that this person was working for his family business …of selling used cars. It immediately made the conversation awkward. Like the reveal at the end of a round of cards, engineer trumps used-car salesman, and from that starting point it felt awkward moving forward.

So what card do I carry? What do I do?

I’m a homemaker.

“…So… what do you do?”

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