03 September 2018
No Discrimination without Consideration
Throughout “Blue-Collar Brilliance”, an insightful article by Mike Rose, there is an ongoing contrast between blue and white-collar jobs, and more importantly between the common thoughts and assumptions about the two. Rose gives us an inside look at the lifestyle of blue-collar jobs, through the lives of his mother and uncle. Rose has convinced me that in many cases, blue-collar jobs are unfairly looked down upon, mainly because of a misunderstanding of what is involved in this type of work. I believe he clearly points out some of the common misconceptions about blue-collar work.
One of the biggest flaws in many people’s ideas of blue-collar work is only appreciating the physical work involved. This is shutting out the entire mental side of such work, which makes up more than we often realize. In Rose’s words, “Our cultural iconography promotes the muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no brightness behind the eyes, no image that links hand and brain.” (2). Throughout this article, Rose opens our eyes to the mental side of blue-collar work, which turns out to be quite large.
Another common mistake is to assume that the intelligence involved in blue-collar work is fairly static. However, Rose learned from both his mother and his uncle that this is not the case. When describing the time when his mother served as a waitress, he says, “She took pride in being among the public, she’d say. There isn’t a day that goes by in the restaurant that you don’t learn something.” (Rose 2). This kind of learning is found in blue-collar occupations throughout the world, from the carpenter’s workshop to the restaurant on the street corner.
One reason this learning occurs stems from the fact that humans are very algorithmic. When dropped into a complex situation, we as humans immediately begin to develop more and more efficient processes and organizations to make our work easier and more productive. Rose gives us an example of how this learning came into his mother’s work. He recalls, “My mother learned to work smart, as she put it, to make every move count” (Rose 1). He explains how she would organize her tasks to promote maximum efficiency, enabling her to handle the incredible amount of work she was dealing with.
Not only does this improve efficiency, but the kind of learning found in a blue-collar job can even give one the skills and knowledge to later enter into a white-collar job. One example of this can be found in the life of Jimmy Carter. We all know him for his white-collar job as President of the United States, but behind that was years of work as a farmer and soldier, in which he learned skills in management and work ethic. Without this background, he wouldn’t have been prepared for his job as president. This shows that the knowledge gained in blue-collar jobs is the same knowledge being used by people in white-collar jobs, yet somehow white-collar workers are still seen as smarter.
Another thing we don’t always realize about blue-collar work is the amount of problem-solving that happens on a day-to-day basis. The reason we don’t realize this is that it is a different kind of problem-solving than that seen commonly in white-collar jobs. In blue-collar jobs, the solving of the problem is the end goal in itself. As Rose puts it, “The big difference between the psychologist’s laboratory and the workplace is that in the former the problems are isolated and in the latter they are embedded in the real-time flow of work with all its messiness and social complexity.” (4). I have very recently had experience with this kind of problem-solving, which has helped me to appreciate more fully the intelligence it requires. My family was working on a remodel of the teacher’s lounge at a local school, and we came across a problem when putting together a cabinet. The instructions were incorrect, so we had to figure out the correct configuration on our own, After an hour or so we were able to do this, and we ended up finishing it on time, but the intellectual effort involved was exhausting.
It’s not the work itself I’m campaigning for. The reason I believe it is so important to get our ideas of blue and white-collar jobs correct is because it affects the way we view the workers themselves. As Rose noted, “Generalizations about intelligence, work, and social class deeply affect our assumptions about ourselves and each other, guiding the ways we use our minds to learn, build knowledge, solve problems, and make our way through the world” (2). If we think of blue-collar work as “dumb”, that will carry over to our ideas of the people doing it. The problem is that many of these ideas are terribly wrong.
Why do we make these assumptions? Why do we find ourselves thinking this way, even when he haven’t had any true experience to suggest that these ideas are correct? I would argue that, in short, it is because our culture is one of laziness. We want everything to be what we wish, how we wish, and when we wish it. Because of this attitude, when it comes to the seemingly small things such as our thoughts about blue-collar jobs, we decide to let our decision be made by the people around us – our society and culture – without looking into the truth value of these claims. Our thoughts about blue and white-collar jobs seem so unimportant to us, so we don’t bother doing the work of finding the truth about it.
After realizing all these misconceptions of blue-collar work, I have come to understand the importance of looking closely into a matter before making a decision on it. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Read it first, and therein find the truth of the matter. We need to put away from ourselves the lazy nature of our culture, take up the truth, and stand for it. If we do this, we can avoid issues such as this unfair belittling of blue-collar jobs. I now cry in true 1773 patriotic fashion, “No discrimination without consideration!”
Rose, Mike. “Blue-Collar Brilliance.” The American Scholar, 1 June 2009,