I have often thought about when that moment came in which my working class sensibility turned into a form of critical class consciousness. For most of my youth, I was defined by ruling-class types and mainstream institutions through my deficits, which amounted to not having the skills and capacities to do anything but become either a cop or firefighter. For many working-class youth, this is standard procedure. We are told that we are too angry when we display passion, and too dumb when we speak in the restricted code. Our bodies for both sexes were the only cultural capital we had to define our sense of agency, either through an expression of solidarity, over determined masculinity, or through a commodified and sexualized notion of the body. The message was always the same. We were incomplete, unfinished, excess and disposable. For many of us that meant a life governed by poor schools and never escaping the wide reach of the criminal legal system.
I came alive and began to own my own agency when I realized that what the ruling-class types (in a variety of institutions, especially school) called my deficits were actually my strengths: a sense of solidarity, compassion, a merging of the mind and the body, learning and willing to take risks, embracing passion, connecting knowledge to power, and being attentive to the injuries of others and embracing a sense of social justice.