Knowledge Worker

My name is Jareau Wade, and I am a knowledge worker.

I am one of 38 million Americans whom, Carnegie Mellon professor, Richard Florida claims is a member of the Creative Class. You might also know me as a white-collar worker.

My job consists mainly of sitting, thinking, and communicating – things many people do for leisure – yet, as a knowledge worker, I am considered a vital part of the economy and can command a good salary and high quality of life in exchange for my ability to excite neurons and move electrons. Indeed life as a knowledge worker is good.

But it saddens me that my position as a knowledge worker also brings a level of status and ideas of success that many of my hard working ancestors were denied because they were considered only working class and it embarrasses me that I spend a day in front of the computer, sitting on my ass, and then leave work complaining about how exhausted I am.

I do not mean to belittle my work or the work of knowledge workers in general. I DO work hard and I DO think my work has a positive effect on the lives of other people, but sometimes I think about where I come from and I am humbled by the amount of hard work (physically, mentally, & emotionally) my ancestors had to work just to survive.

I come from a long line of men and women who wore blue collars, no collars, and sometimes chains around their necks. I am a decedent of African-American slaves, who picked cotton and tobacco in the Alabama and South Carolina sun. I am a decedent of Scottish coal miners who suffered black lung and rarely saw the light of day. One of my grandfathers worked for GM, making industrial tools and sucking in fumes for decades. My other grandfather worked for a railroad company in Pennsylvania and built his family’s home by hand. My father worked 5 jobs at one time after starting a family in Arizona and before that once worked construction in the biting cold of Boston. My mother ruined her bones and joints by sewing industrial scale and commercial quantity handbags for years. I am a decedent of men and women who made things with their hands and developed the world we know today.

I cannot help but feel humbled and even a bit ashamed by my kind of hard work. Even today, living in Accra, Ghana, I see men and women everyday who use their body to do hard physical labor for little pay. They endure equatorial heat and tropical humidity so they can live hand to mouth and I sit behind a laptop in an air conditioned room and earn a comfortable salary (at least I can use company time to write about my guilt).

I hope my ancestors are proud of me.


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