Friday, November 06, 2009

Is Class Our Dirty Little Secret?

Yesterday I caught the tail end of Talk of the Nation on NPR and they were having a conversation about Race. Specifically, they were trying to figure out, one year into Obama's presidency, if the national conversation about Race had changed. Are we more able to talk about race? Does race really matter? In the year 2030, when America reportedly will be more brown than white, will anyone even remember what racism is/was? If you want to hear the discussion, you can listen to it here.

What I found the most interesting about the conversation, though, was not the debate over whether or not younger Americans are less race conscious than their elders, but rather the discussion of class which only came up at the end of the show. Class is what truly divides us as a people, one of the guests said, yet we don't want to touch that Big White elephant in the room.

And I want to know why?

Why are we so hesitant to admit that class divides us even more than race? Even more, why do we condemn those who try to bring up the "Class card?" If I say that I have nothing in common with the Black underclass except the color of my skin, that I have more in common with a White middle-class suburbanite than a poor Black woman living in the inner city, why am I a race traitor? Or filled with self-hatred or in denial. In the words of Bill Cosby, "Come on people!"

Really, it is our similar class status that brings us together here on the Meltingpot, isn't it? Many of us grew up with common circumstances, had shared experiences at school, going to college, traveling...all of which comes from being in the same economic class, not because our skin tones are all the same.

Now obviously there is a sense of shared culture that is undeniable amongst certain groups. Language, for example, will bind Hispanic people in this country despite class status, but even though Maria in the barrio speaks Spanish, I don't think that makes her a prime candidate to be best friends with Angela who lives in a posh suburb in Seattle. They may share a language, but what the hell are they going to talk about?

I don't think I need to argue the point that class divides us more than race. I think it's obvious (but please correct me if you think I'm wrong.). But what I do want to know is why can't we talk about it? Why isn't it our biggest issue here in the United States like it is in many European countries? I have a couple of theories, one being that it is about power. If Black people, for example, admit that we're not one big monolithic group, that Our Kind of People are not exactly paling around with the Boyz in the Hood, we loose power because we loose numbers. And God forbid if we in the higher classes start criticizing our own, then somehow we're giving The Man permission to do the same. Going back to Bill Cosby, he has been lambasted for taking poor Black people to task recently for their self-annihilating behavior. And he's Bill Cosby!

So for us ethnic folk in the United States, maybe it is a power thing or a shame game. We don't want to bring shame to the lower classes of our own group because then people will just assume we're all like that. It's that annoying "judge the whole group by the actions of a few theory." (Yuck!) Of course White people don't have that problem because poor White people don't exist. I'm kidding of course, but poor White people never seem to have a face and since White people are still in the majority in this country, somehow we don't assume that when we witness a poor White person behaving badly, that all White people act the same way.

So, whew, I am clearly on a rampage here today. Thank God it's Friday. So, let me know, why do you think the national conversation about class is so quiet? Would it make a difference in public policy and/or daily life if we publicly admitted that we have class issues in this country? And really, I don't advocate for getting rid of classism, it's just another -ism that is part of the human condition, but if we admitted that there were class differences that divide us, wouldn't we just run things a little differently? Maybe better? With better results? I'm just saying...Tell me what you think.

I'm listening.



ONE MORE THING--One Less Racist in Public Office

Keith Bardwell, the justice of the peace in Louisiana who refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple, has resigned. But he's still being sued by the couple. For an update, you can read this article. Just thought you should know.


glamah16 said...

Class has always been a huge factor in my life in my own race matters. I find there has always been a division and skepticism with other blacks I know and work with because of my background. Even in my own family. Im happy you brought this up. I try to be open , but others may percieve it as an issue. And people unfortunaletly dont like what they they cant relate to.But thats their issue, not mine.

Anonymous said...

Dang, I was just thinking about this today. I think a lot of people confuse class with race. If you are white you are upper class and if you are brown you are lower class. Folks are finally realizing that this is a falsehood, but the sterotype still prevails in both black and white communities. I think some minorities don't talk about race out of fear. Fear of being preceived as less than,uppity or an a sellout. I seriously believe its less of an issue of race and more an issue of the 'have' and the 'have-not's.

Great topic!!

Anonymous said...

I have long thought of class a bigger issue than race. often racism is just an issue of class dressed in different skin. (however literal in this case) The moment you mention class in his country, you are labeled a commie.

The idea of money has always made me uncomfortable. When I am around those with less, I want to play down what I have and around those with more I feel....well the need to explain myself. Meaning, I don't put value in things, but look at my passport. I've ran out of pages!

But with the passport example, I remember arriving in Philly and having to explain my job and family income and how I could afford to travel so much. UNCOMFORTABLE.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Tyler Perry is making a TON of money dealing with class issues in his movies.

I agree with you and think class is something Americans don't like to talk about. I think it's because we like to think we're a "classless" culture.

That is not true. While it may not be as defined as it is in countries like the UK or India, class is a BIG deal in the States.

Anyone who has spent anytime in DC can see that. I grew up in the 'burbs so it wasn't until I moved to DC did I see intra-racism. The gap between African-Americans on the "Gold Coast" and parts of Anacostia was so wide, words cannot explain it.

Heather said...

Yes, I really believe that class *is* our dirty little secret. Speaking of books [ ;) ], my book (The American Dream and the Power of Wealth) says a lot about what I think of class (and race--- because the two are, after all, in many ways, inextricably linked).

KayB said...

Great discussion.
I'm in France for the second time and it's been impressed on me how class-conscious Europe and France in general still is. I think that's because here, at least in France, it is still harder to break out of the social class you were born into. Even if you work somewhere great, live somewhere nice, people can judge you by your accent and how you speak the language. In the U.S. class is an important dividing factor, but it's still easier to transcend classes or to have social mobility. I struggled with this when I was younger and couldn't understand why I didn't have many African-American friends in school-it's because although we shared the same skin colour, our experiences were vastly different because I was arbitrarily born into a middle-class family...

LT said...

You said it. I agree.

I know that uppity, sell-out shit annoys the hell out of me.

You bring up a really good point in how we individually grapple with class. How we change our own behavior because we understand that class matters.

Fascinating. (nodding head and saying mmmmm...)

This is your area of expertise, isn't it? So can we ever expect to be able to talk about class openly in this country?

Thanks for the insight. I struggled the same way growing up in suburban Wisconsin.

And for everyone,
As we admit we have class issues, I wonder if we could be honest about class issues, could we then honestly proclaim our class. Could I admit that I enjoy be bourgie and Black without fear of repercussions? Isn't it interesting that we are supposed to proudly claim our ethnic identity but keep our class a secret?

Grace said...

I'd have to say I feel race is more divisive. I am a black hispanic female from Miami and know plenty of hispanic families who'd rather see their children marry someone on the lower end of the economic scale than someone of African descent. (happened in my own family!) However, it could just be Miami.