Snobbery and Solidarity at... Walmart?

I have to tell you a couple of things.  First: I shop at Walmart.  

*horror * 

I know, I'm a terrible liberal.  And I don't actually shop there often, but the reality is, it's convenient and sometimes very fiscally-justifiable.

So does laziness and/or cheapness justify supporting a giant, multinational corporation that does all it can to avoid paying health benefits and living wages?  No, probably not.  But that's a harder question to  answer if you belong to the dwindling lower-middle class, and it's important that we (the often-too-self-assured but also dwindling middle/upper-middle-class) don't lose sight of the pressures and anxieties placed on folks barely living paycheck to paycheck.

Second: I've noticed something when I walk through the Walmart aisles.  You can spot folks who think they're "above" shopping at Walmart.  They make more money than the average Walmart shopper.  They wear clothes and hairstyles and - most importantly - facial expressions that tell the world: "I don't actually belong here."  It's semi-apologetic, actually.  "I don't belong in this place, but the day got out-of-hand, and I just had to stop by to pick something up... you understand?"  And more important for me (or damning), is that these folks predictably and consistently make eye contact with me.  Sometimes a head nod.  Sometimes a pleading sympathetic look.  "We're the same: we don't belong here - you understand?"  So that's how I appear?  Am I visibly recognizable as a snob?  Well, it's usually after work the I stop by at Walmart, so I'm wearing a tie and slacks... sometimes a jacket.  I might as well scream the things I observe on the faces of a few others: "I'M BETTER THAN THIS!  I SHOULDN'T BE HERE!"
THIS what I'm talking about:

But what could feel like a relief while shopping at Walmart - the validation of seeing someone else from one's own "safe" socio-economic level - has come to feel like conviction.  

It's not hard to observe the stratification of shopping options and experiences within the American consumer's periphery.  You can shop at Walmart or Save-A-Lot of Grocery Outlet, or you can shop at Whole Foods or Market of Choice.  That's not a differentiation between good and evil.  Lots of local farms and organic, ethical producers are supported by the upper echelons of the shopping experience by Whole Foods and others like them.  Thank God there are places where humanely-raised beef and vegan baking options are both available.  But there is something experiential in those stores that is set apart from discount grocers.  The "poor" won't ever find a fireplace and bonded leather seating in their grocer's espresso bar/waiting area.  The "lower middle class" won't get to taste wine and cheese as they explore locally-grown fresh produce.  

So what's the answer?

I don't have one.

But I am convinced we have to do some heart-work.  We have to stop trying to differentiate ourselves from expansive, affordable big box stores.  Walmart isn't "evil" because it's "low class" and "cheap."  But Walmart does need to adjust its labor practices.  Aesthetics be damned.  The next time you have the opportunity, I'd encourage you to take a walk through your local Walmart and think very carefully about the emotions you're feeling.  Are you more worried about the medical benefits of the greeter at the door, or about getting seen by your neighbor, who might tell someone you've been shopping at Walmart?

Matthew 9:11 
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat SHOP with tax collectors and sinners?”

No comments:

Popular Posts