Growing up in Arkansas, one of my favorite summer activities was going to Travelers baseball games. My friends and I spent hours in the sun sharing peanuts and singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” We still talk about watching the acrobatic Darwin Perez stretch out to turn a double play and witnessing Mike Trout slam triples shortly before being considered for American League MVP.
This summer, I reunited with one of those friends at a Travelers game. We ended up sitting behind a middle-aged man wearing cargo shorts, a ball cap and a thick, blue-collared shirt. He inferred from our conversation that we had grown up in Arkansas and began talking with us. We discussed our home state for the duration of the game, from the standing icon of the old Travelers scoreboard to the redesign plans for North Little Rock High School. We talked about the possibility of a public transit system that would run through the state. Our new friend displayed a wealth of knowledge on Arkansas, talking about the pockets of industry, the fields of agriculture, and high school and college athletic programs throughout the state. It was one of the most enlightening conversations I had had about Arkansas, and I know my state pretty well.
The distinction between white and blue collar jobs developed in the early 20th century. The industrial revolution of Carnegie and Rockefeller in the 1800s created a multitude of physical labor jobs, and their companies created more and more office positions. While office workers wore white shirts without fear, the laborers adopted thick denim shirts that wouldn’t dirty so easily. The distinction continued to grow. Anyone in manual labor was considered “blue-collar” — construction workers, drillers, miners, mechanics. Essentially everyone else was “white-collar” — lawyers, politicians, cashiers, doctors. Eventually, the collar became a symbol. The white collar represented the intellectual. The blue collar represented the industrious. The perceived gap has continued to widen. Now, the white collar represents the intelligent. The blue collar represents the uneducated.
Our friend at the baseball park wore an ironically appropriate shirt. He was a trucker, and he had been for more than 30 years. He spent decades traveling all throughout the state. Having spent his life working as a labor employee, he was the definition of blue collar. But he spent that timelearning about what he loved: Arkansas. As he drove across the state, he observed the trends and demographics throughout. He studied where the big businesses were. He knew where the successful high schools were. He knew which colleges had new football coaches, and which colleges had coaches who had been there for decades. He used his time as a blue collar worker to educate himself about his state. He knew more stories and true statistics than most politicians.
In his thick, blue-collared shirt, this man reminded me that we aren’t defined by status. It was proof that a job doesn’t determine what a man is. This antiquated notion that a blue collar worker is an unintelligent man doesn’t hold true. Don’t assume that every construction worker on the road or every trucker at a gas station is just an uneducated man doing what he can to scrape by. He’s a hard worker, and he may be able to teach you something. At the very least, he’ll have some great stories.