Illustration by Kate Greenblatt
We always hear about “the bubble.” It’s a phrase that’s constantly thrown around in reference to Berkeley. Ever since the protests at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, we’ve set a national example of liberal-mindedness. We pride ourselves on our seemingly advanced, enlightened state of mind. The older generation in Berkeley especially loves to fixate on how open, liberal, and free our city is. But as we, the younger generation, are beginning to open our eyes, we’re noticing that Berkeley is as ugly as the rest of the country, we just know how to hide it. Other than the constant underlying racism present in Berkeley, we also have a huge, nagging prejudice against the lower class. Elitism is an issue all over the world, and not only is Berkeley not an exception, it’s the gold standard.
Over the past couple of decades, there’s been increasing stress among parents to devote as much time and energy to their kids as possible. It seems like upper class Berkeley parents focus so much on this devotion that they forget that free time and energy is a luxury to most. I think a lot of the time, working class parents are left with a weird, undeserved feeling of inadequacy when they miss out on school events, sports games, and performances that they simply cannot attend. Working class parents care just as much about their kids, they just have to be there for them in a different way. The idea that being able to go to school events is a mark of a good parent reveals the elitism ingrained in Berkeley.
Berkeley’s obsession with health is another way that classism is made obvious. There’s a stigma in Berkeley surrounding people who don’t make environmentally or health conscious decisions when it comes to diet. It’s not at all rare to hear someone humble brag about how long it’s been since they’ve eaten fast food, completely oblivious to the fact that eating healthily is a privilege in America. There’s even a hierarchy of grocery stores in Berkeley, with Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl at the top – they’re the healthiest and, unsurprisingly, the most expensive. People in Berkeley are rarely outright disrespectful in their elitism, but rather pass subtle judgements on people who can’t achieve their lifestyle.
All of America is elitist on some level, and while Berkeley usually does a decent job of disguising it, there’s one glaringly obvious example of how Berkeley really feels about the lower class, and that’s how we treat homeless people. With the exception of a handful of kindhearted people, the vast majority will thoughtlessly step over a person in need. Not only do we often intentionally ignore homeless people, we’ve justified this behavior by dismissing them as drug addicts or mentally ill people. Regardless of why someone lives on the street, they are just as worthy of time, energy, and care as anybody else.
Elitism is undeniably tied to the core ideals of America. Most people hold onto some version of the “American Dream,” whether or not they want to admit it. It’s hard to not hold onto it. The idea that anyone can make it is drilled into us all the time. Almost every kid is told that they can be anything they want to be. The result of a society full of dreamers is that everyone looks up to the upper class, assuming that one day they’ll join their ranks, and everyone looks down to the lower class, assuming that they’ll be completely detached from that life.
All of America is elitist, and even though we like to ignore it the “Berkeley bubble” is part of America. The ugliest part of elitism in Berkeley is that we make such an effort to hide it. Hopefully, as the fabric of our country changes, people will become more understanding.