Today, I want to spend a moment talking about Trayon Christian, the 19 year old engineering student from Queens who bought a $350 Ferragamo belt at Barneys. Almost immediately, he was stopped for questioning by the police.
Al Sharpton has already met with the CEO of Barneys, and critics are questioning Jay Z for his ongoing business partnership with the store.
But there’s an aspect of this story that I think bears mentioning. The comment sections on every online post about this story are plagued with people judging Trayon for spending that much money on a belt.
But Trayon bought this belt using hard-earned money from his work study job at the New York City College of Technology. For perspective, I’ve done work-study and you only make around $8 an hour, if that. Those were a lot of hours Trayon worked to buy that belt.
You can argue that it wasn’t the best use of his cash. But the desire for expensive belts or purses or red-soled shoes as social wealth indicators is nothing new.
It’s something most of us have experienced at some point or another. Nowadays, social mobility for young people seems more threatened than ever.
I’d argue that Trayon probably felt a sense of validation that if he worked hard and saved his money, he could attain a piece of this symbolic capital for himself.
No matter how ridiculous others might find his purchase to be, he was nonetheless reminded almost immediately of his social position by others. He was also reminded, in fact, that to some, that position is perceived as pretty much static and almost unchangeable.
This country prides itself on promoting rags to riches stories like those of Jay Z himself. So why do we still perpetuate these unspoken rules of social class?