Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Classism

A major problem that liberal religion faces is Classism. Far more than internalized racism and oppression, which I admit are still pertinent issues, classism taints the perception and perspective of many people. I include myself among the throngs.

Wikipedia defines Classism as any form of prejudice or oppression against people as a result of their actual or perceived social class (especially in the form of lower or higher socioeconomic status). It is similar to social elitism.

For more, click here.

I admit that I am guilty of classism, as are many educated people. The irony of my own personal prejudice is that my roots are decidedly humble. I have to remind myself every day that my own parents came from working-class roots.

My paternal grandfather had a sixth-grade education. My paternal grandmother had an eighth- grade education. Both of them worked long hours, six days a week, in often laborious and unhealthy servitude. They both worked over forty years in a textile mill. My father was the first person in his family to secure both a high school diploma and college degree. This is why he is one of my heroes.

My maternal grandfather and grandmother owned their own business, but it was no less humble. They drilled water wells. Well drilling is one of the dirtiest, most thankless jobs ever. It requires a large amount of physical strength as well as acumen. Neither my Grandfather nor my Grandfather went to college, but they made a point to insist that their four children go to college. And they did.

My father, through his own hard work, rose above his station and lived the American dream, raising myself and my two sisters as respectable middle-class. So it's deeply hypocritical of me to be so harshly critical and judgmental of the salt-of-the-earth types that make up the backbone of this country. I've analyzed why I have this bias, and I suppose I can trace it back to my Mother who filled my head full of prejudicial notions of superiority. When I travel to more working-class regions of the country, I feel decidedly ill at ease. I can't say that I feel superior to working class citizens, but I am acutely aware of their own prejudices, which are more often than not products of ignorance.

I've never figured out an adequate way to address my own discomfort but I feel that keeping myself accountable is the best possible defense. I believe it's up to every individual to call themselves out and I am deeply uncomfortable when any organization, religious or otherwise, takes it upon themselves to take the tough love approach. I learned the hard way that people only change when they themselves take the time and effort to do so.

This is a big reason I left the Unitarian church. I felt that if their current model of Anti-Oppression and Anti-Racism, which I disagreed with strongly on principle, was to succeed then it needed to seriously address Classism before it even touched on racism and oppression. After all, nothing would put we religious liberals and educated folk on the spot faster than confronting our own classism. And it's an exercise that black and white, gay and straight, male and female, could all come to terms with. Instead of the left eating itself alive, I propose that the left make a serious effort for all its members to take a long hard look that goes beyond the current M.O.

Addendum: consider these lyrics.

Pulp- "Common People"

She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge
She studied sculpture at Saint Martin's College
That's where I caught her eye.

She told me that her Dad was loaded

I said "In that case I'll have a rum and coca-cola"

She said "fine"
And in thirty seconds time she said,

"I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people like you"

Well what else could I do?

I said "I'll see what I can do"

I took her to a supermarket
I don't know why
But I had to start it somewhere

So it started there.

I said "Pretend you've got no money"

But she just laughed
And said "oh you're so funny".

I said "yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here".

Are you sure you want to live like common people?
You want to see whatever common people see?

You want to sleep with common people,
You want to sleep with common people like me?

But she didn't understand,
She just smiled and held my hand.

Rent a flat above a shop,
Cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool,
Pretend you never went to school.

But still you'll never get it right
'cos when you're laid in bed at night

Watching roaches climb the wall
If you called your Dad he could stop it all.

You'll never live like common people
You'll never do whatever common people do

You'll never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view,

And dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do.

Sing along with the common people,
Sing along and it might just get you thru'

Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they're laughing at you

And the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.

Like a dog lying in a corner,
They will bite you and never warn you

Look out, they'll tear your insides out
'cos everybody hates a tourist

Especially one who thinks
It's all such a laugh

And the chip stains' grease
Will come out in the bath

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life

With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go

You are amazed that they exist
And they burn so bright

Whilst you can only wonder why
Rent a flat above a shop

Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool

Pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right

'cause when you're laid in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the wall

If you called your dad he could stop it all

You'll never live like common people
You'll never do whatever common people do
You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view
And then dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do


Jane said...

Great lyrics. I've been collecting songs on social class passing, but had missed this one. Thanks.

I'm curious: You refer to being very aware of the prejudices of working class people? Can you explain anything more about this?


Comrade Kevin said...

I mean in particular their homophobia, racism, fear, and often close-minded attitudes based in ignorance. And in particular their attitudes that liberalism is something that is absolute anathema to them--particularly the idea that liberals don't share their concerns and look down their nose at them. And that liberals are akin to child molesters...liberal has taken on such a negative connotation amongst the working classes.

Jane said...

Do you know Renny Christopher's work? She's done a lot of great writing about growing up in a working-class family, and sexuality and gender attitudes now that she's middle-class, about classism (based in ignorance, fear, and closed-mindedness among the middle-class...). She's an excellent writer who really pushes many of these issues.

There was a really interesting study that came out last year (sorry, my brain won't come up with the reference, but I blogged about it). When only among "their own", college students said incredibly racist things, even while they came across as tolerant and enlightened in classes and in their academic work.

I wonder sometimes if the supposed "flaws" of the working class aren't just less well-hidden than those of the more privileged.

And then there's the whole southern/northern/west coast thing and differences in social attitudes that are at least partly geographic.


Education and Class

Comrade Kevin said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I think there's a bit of each of us who is racist and holds hurtful beliefs, but we in the middle class hide it better than the working class.

Furthermore, I'm reminded of what Malcolm X said: I have more respect for the southern racist than the northern racist. At least he will call me nigger to my face.