Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Classism on the Left

I consider myself to be a progressive secular humanist. Broadly speaking my politics come from the political left. As an educator I take my pedagogic cues from radical and progressive pedagogues such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Johathan Kozol, and Maria Montessori. In high school I was part of a local punk/ska scene dedicated to anti-racism and inclusivity. In college I organized against the Iraq War and the Bush presidency, and in grad. school I marched with Occupy Portland. That is to say, most people would call be a liberal. Most of my immediate social circle is liberal and I live in a liberal city. I live in a gigantic echo chamber, and most of the time I enjoy the liberal cacophony.

Like all groups of people we liberals are not monolithic. For example, despite my politics, I am supportive of GMO technologies, skeptical of direct democracy, and supportive of the use and further development of nuclear power. All of that being said, I believe that there are core values that are fundamental to being a liberal. Among those is a belief in social justice and equity. Unfortunately, although many liberals speak the language of inclusivity, there is a minority who do not include low income white people in their egalitarian vision.

Please let me explain what this is not. This is not an argument against the concept of white privilege, it very much does exist. Low income white people still face far fewer obstacles in life than upper income black people. However, white privilege does not protect one from classism, it just makes it sting less. White people still have an easier time pulling themselves out of poverty than any other group of people. But that does not mean they are not marginalized when they are in the depths of poverty.

That being said, I have a message for my secular, progressive, and liberal comrades: when you call people white trash or rednecks you are being classist. When you share 'People of Wal Mart' posts on Facebook you are being classist. When you attend 'White Trash' parties or dress as a 'redneck' on Haloween you are being classist. When you cast aspersions on people for eating ramen and Big  Macs instead of organic food, or for liking NASCAR and country music, you are being classist. When you do these things you are marginalizing and dehumanizing poor white people. Not only that, but you are also trivializing very real, very difficult lived experiences of people. When you laugh at 'The People of Walmart' for being obese and wearing clothing that is way to small you are laughing at the fact that they don't have regular access to cheap, healthy food, and that they cannot afford new clothing that fits better. When you attend a 'White Trash' party you are making a costume out of a culture. You get to play poor for a few hours, then go home to your luxury condo. When you belittle people for their food choices you are ignoring the broader socio-political context that leads to food deserts.

In a thread on Facebook earlier today I saw one person call out another for using a homophobic term, and in the very next comment associated such terms with "rednecks/frat boys." To be fair, when I called this person out they quickly recognized this inconsistency and thanked me for pointing it out. I could go through a whole list of examples of such calssism I've witnessed on the left, but that would be redundant.

Not all liberals are classist, but there is a substantial calssist minority among the left. Classism hurts the left, especially since many of us on the left seek to make society more inclusive and equitable. If we are to create a more just, open, and equitable society we need to include everyone. We can not exclude people because of superficial signs of social class. Just because someone lives in a trailer park does not mean they are racist. Drinking Bud Light and watching football does not make someone homophobic.

We are living in a moment where the many liberal ideas are becoming more and more mainstream. With things like the ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the rolling back of same sex marriage bans, and increasing environmental activism we can see that the left is slowly but surely dragging our country kicking and screaming into the 21st century and out of the dark ages. Let us not fall into the same depths of group think, othering, and confirmation bias that we so often warn others to avoid lest we lose our grip on this precarious moment in history.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this, though I would point out that everyone has access to cheap high quality food. obtaining it just requires skills, work and community organization. Most places where obtaining good quality food is a problem would also benefit from more community organization

    Rob Porter.