Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Susan Randall on the unspoken privileges of growing up upper middle class

Susan Randall discusses class in this episode of "What class are you?"
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Doing what you love is one form of privilege bestowed by growing up upper middle class, according to Susan Randall.

Many people don’t want to talk about class, because class differences are the source of cultural division and tension. In this story, Erica Heilman talks with old friend Susan Randall, a private investigator based in Vergennes, about the luxuries of growing up upper middle class.

"What class are you?" is an occasional series from Vermont Public reporter Erica Heilman. In it, she talks with people from all sorts of backgrounds about money and class and privilege.

Find the other installments of the "What class are you?" series here.

This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Susan Randall: So there have been years that I was like, on the poverty level in Vermont, like I've totally qualified for government cheese in this state. And I've worked my ass off. And now I own a business and I have employees and I, you know, I'm OK.

Erica Heilman: That's Susan Randall. She's a private investigator in Vergennes and an old friend of mine. I interview her a lot, because she is smart and thoughtful and she does not hold punches. For this class series, I asked Susan to talk about where she comes from, and who she comes from. Here's what she said.

Woman with blond hair driving in car wearing sunglasses
Erica Heilman
Vermont Public
Susan Randall wears sunglasses while driving.

Erica Heilman: We're both born upper middle class. And we both had ups and downs in our own adult life. In other words, we're downwardly mobile.

Susan Randall: We had the luxury of being in college and saying, ‘What interests me?’ That's a luxury. ‘You should follow your passions, you know, like art or like, if you'd like to run, you should run!’ This whole notion that you should do what you love. That's a privilege right there. The fact that we didn't have generations of pressure behind us to get out and make money.

I think that what you get when you grow up like us is that you always have a sense that there's a safety net or a cushion. You're not going to end up on the street because there's some family home that you could always go sleep on that couch.

Not everybody has that.

I think I kind of came from this long line of people that valued professions. Doctors and lawyers. But not people that sold things or dealt with billing. Right? They weren't like running a factory. They weren't invoicing. They weren't staying up till two in the morning invoicing. That's for sure. Right? There's an unspoken, you’re to the manor born. There's like a wink wink nudge nudge of privilege and unspoken grace in the way that you conduct yourself. You're not going to be crass. You're not going to talk about money. That's crass. Like when I was starting to be a PI, they were like, ‘When are you going to law school?’ Because we don't — that's like being a cop. That’s scrappy. You're gonna deal with stuff like bodily fluids, people's dirty laundry. Why do you need to go lie down in the gutter to know that that exists? I mean, God.

We should be in the world of ideas and concepts and politics and dinner parties. Even the concept of dinner parties, right? I grew up in a family where there were a lot of dinner parties with a lot of interesting people. There was a lot that you learn as a child, like of the interesting adults at the table that are talking politics and ideas and all these things. Suddenly, when I became an investigator, shortly after I became an investigator I also became a single mom. And I have a 3 and a 5-year-old, and I don't even know how to keep the heat on much the less buy extra food and then have extra bandwidth to have interesting conversation for a bunch of adults. I'm like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ How are you entertaining? Entertaining is a privilege. Entertaining is a luxury. So there was this like radical disconnect for me of like, I don't have any extra. There's no extra bandwidth. There's not an extra minute in the day, there's no extra money in my savings account. And that went on for like a decade.

But it was very revelatory for me to realize that me not going into the professions, right, it made me a different class. And so by like having to deal with the bottom line, and having to figure out how to have a profit margin, and to figure out how to pay insurance, and to understand like, how challenging it is when people are really poor and they don't have any capital and there is no safety net — I got it. I was experiencing it while I was investigating it.

But the legacy treasure that I really am grateful for is that my privilege lets me think that anything is possible. It lets me think that of course I can raise these two children and they're going to be OK. It lets me not just feel like all I'm going to be in grind culture, just making a living. And that is brazen, and that is cocky. And that is privilege.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
Latest Stories