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Pre-2008 Posts

Primer on Unlearning Classism

Maggie over at Maggie’s Meta Watershed has a superb post up about class privilege, one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read, and right on time, given some of the discussions here recently about class privilege.  Do yourself a favor and check Maggie out– she rocks!

Some excerpts:


Privilege is sleeping at night knowing that your loved ones are not out stealing to survive. It is going to school with clothes and shoes that were bought for you instead of used clothing from a church or social service agency. Privilege is having food in your cupboards and refrigerator. Privilege is paying for your groceries with dollars, checks, or credit cards, rather than food stamps. Privilege is being able to buy toilet paper, shampoo, deodorant and soap. It is being in a position to pay your rent, rather than being evicted. Privilege is asking for help and getting it with respect. Privilege is participating in extracurricular activities like dance, theater, or music lessons. It is being able to pay electric and heat bills, rather then having them shut off. It knows the right words to say, instead of having others look at you as if you are stupid. Privilege knows what subjects are “appropriate” in crowded rooms, instead of sharing your innermost feelings and having others look at you as if you are an alien. Privilege is feeling like you are wanted and you belong, instead of being told and shown that you aren’t. It is going to a school and not being afraid of playing on the playground. It is walking home from school and not getting beat up. Privilege is seeing your loved ones treated with respect. Privilege is going to the same school for a whole year. Privilege is having garbage service. Privilege is being able to pay for car insurance. Privilege is having a place to call home. Privilege is having heat in your home. Privilege is having gloves for your hands, instead of socks. Privilege is knowing you have people who can help in times of trouble, instead of knowing everyone you know is struggling with the same kinds of trouble.

Part of her post is a group consciousness-raising exercise about class privilege:

(2) If:

While you were growing up, your family received AFDC, WIC, food stamps, general assistance, or unemployment benefits more than once – please take one step backward.

You and/or your family have been to Asia, Europe or Africa for reasons other than being sent for your job or visiting family who still live there– please take one step forward. (if you have made more than two trips, take an extra step)
If neither of these are true for you, remain where you are.

(3) If:

You were raised by a single parent or currently are a single parent – please take one step backward. (take an extra step if you or your parent is/was unmarried or LGBT)

You or your parents have hired people to work in your home– please take one step forward. (not repair or construction work)

If neither of these are true for you, remain where you are.

(4) If:

You have lived in a mobile home, on a family-owned farm, on a subsistence farm, or in government-subsidized housing – please take one step backward.

You have lived in a gated community, an apartment building with a doorman or front-desk security, and/or you or your family own a second home in which you lived part of the year– please take one step forward.

If neither of these are true for you, remain where you are.

(5) If:

You or the people who raised you work for a hourly wage doing manual labor, skilled or unskilled work, pink collar or clerical work to earn a living – please take one step backward.

At least 30% of your annual income comes from sources other than your direct labor – please take one step forward. (not applicable to college students) — If you are not sure how much of your income comes from other sources but you are NOT low income, assume it is over 30%.

If neither of these are true for you, remain where you are.

Read the whole thing.

And thanks for the heads up, Maggie!  I’m so glad you’ve got your own blog now!




11 thoughts on “Primer on Unlearning Classism

  1. it’s just so true, the people who have the most class privilege, actually cannot see it, as evidenced in the exercise.

    Posted by sun rat | September 21, 2007, 8:44 pm
  2. “Privilege is asking for help and getting it with respect.”

    Since this only happens for people who don’t need help — our twisted world only wants to help those who have money and/or are somebody, and since this is never going to happen I don’t ask. And if anyone offers, I’ve learned it’s in my best interests to refuse. Always.

    Very good essay. Thanks.

    Posted by Sis | September 21, 2007, 9:05 pm
  3. What an excellent article! Thank you, Heart, for that link.

    I did the exercise and came out -7. But, I can see that it can only be a crude measure.


    Posted by Mary Sunshine | September 21, 2007, 9:26 pm
  4. I think it is a privilege not to know what class one is in or could possibly be in. It is too painful to remember this stuff and I certainly don’t need an exercise. For example, I did not use socks for gloves because I did not have socks either. Most of this is no longer true, for instance my accesses to food, however the psychological wounds are there, for example, we are still not treated with respect, we are still suspected, and we still know people who are one step from being back to square one and I am still not sure what is the proper code as in what is to be said to who. I had to cursed my landlord’s daughter (adult) out last weekend because she had the audacity to present our neighbor who complained about our dog (who incidentally does not bark enough to be a nuisance) as a fellow landlord. I asked her and him what the fuck does that have to do with the cost of tea in China. He is the person who lives next door to me, because he happens to rent the other side of his duplex to someone else, thus making him a landlord to them has absolutely no fucking bearing on how I see him or handle his bullying complaint. WTF? Honestly. What is the message, people who have stick together and bully people who have not. Yeah, what the fuck ever. Actually, I think they resent needing people to pay them rent. If they were all that they would not need our money. I better not even get started.

    Posted by E. K. "Kitty" Glendower | September 21, 2007, 9:56 pm
  5. Wow, Heart, thanks SO much for the plug. Yes, it’s one of the burning issues right now (I mean, when is it ever not?), and the intersection of race and class is woefully misunderstood.

    About the exercise you quoted above: For much of the thinking behind it, I am extremely indebted to the book Out of the Class Closet: Lesbians Speak, edited by Julia Penelope, which I credit there but also want to credit here. The women who contributed to that book were uniformly brilliant and doing work I’ve yet to see elsewhere.

    I developed this exercise because I was deeply involved with a woman one generation down from me, the generation that learned feminism from women’s studies and often tends to not be able to hold more than one notion of oppression in the front of their brain at a time unless they are working class, women of color, or some other multiply-affected group. I was exhausted from trying to point out to her the class gap that existed between us: Me raised poor, heading back into dire poverty, and her raised with wealth and privilege and existing off trust fund money but lying to our Lesbian community about it.

    She and I were both attending a goddess festival, and I created the exercise to do at a workshop there. I didn’t know if she’d come to the workshop or not, but she did. By the end of the exercise, she and I were physically as far apart as we could get, graphically demonstrating the opposite ends of the class spectrum that we occupied. Her face had drained of color, and the young, smart activist she had brought with her as support was openly weeping.

    She did come to me and say “I get it now.” Then, two weeks later, she ended our relationship. Which turned out to be good for me. But you know, when we embrace whole truths, we have to embrace chaos and have faith in whatever is in store down the road for us.

    Posted by Maggie Jochild | September 22, 2007, 12:19 am
  6. Maggie, thanks for your comment, which is so rich, as all of your writings are. I’m so glad to know you, if only on the internet!

    I haven’t carefully read the entire post I linked to here, but I will this weekend. What I did read was *so good* and I learned *so much* reading it! I *loved* what the one writer said about working class people! That these are people who create, who make everything we use and take for granted every single day, that sometimes they have to be in training and apprentice programs for four years and that the work they do is often quite complex and very difficult, and yet they view themselves not as the “thinker” class but as dumb. One consciousness-raising part of reading that for me was, I have always been horrifically judgmental of parents who tell their children they are “dumb,” who call their kids “dummies,” even joking. I absolutely cringe when I hear a parent say this kind of thing and I always have. And yet how interesting to consider that this is the way parents are “preparing” their children for the role they expect their kids to have as adults. I grew up middle class/upper middle class and hence a member of the “thinker” class. In my family it was absolutely verboten to EVER say anybody in the family was “dumb” or to call anyone “stupid.” These were like bad words. Well, the ramifications of all of this! I could go on and on! But your article was the kind of exercise I *live* for, so rich and interesting and I am going to get Julia Penelope’s book! I met that amazing shero of mine at the Hullaballoo, and I told her I loved her and I do. I have several of her books, but not the one on class. Must. Get.

    Kitty, I’m paying attention. I recognize the sound of your voice, it’s the way people sound when they have consistently had their realities erased.


    Posted by womensspace | September 22, 2007, 3:42 am
  7. I hear that in your voice, too, Sis.

    Posted by womensspace | September 22, 2007, 3:45 am
  8. Thanks for sharing this. Interesting exercise too. One thing I would add is for gated communities, don’t assume only wealthier people live in them. Here, it seems the more wealthy people live in them as well as the most poor, because turning low-income rental housing especially that subsidized by the federal government into a lockdown facility seems to be the trend. If anyone violates a list of “regulations”, they can lose access to Section 8 housing.

    Gates are meant to keep people in sometimes as much as they are meant to keep people out.

    Posted by Radfem | September 23, 2007, 6:11 pm
  9. Yikes, Radfem, I didn’t know about this. (Been a long time I lived in the projects.) But I’m cynically not surprised, given the overt militarism of our current government and all its agencies. Thanks — I’ll add that in to the exercise.

    Posted by Maggie Jochild | September 23, 2007, 11:53 pm
  10. Unfortunately, I read that exercise as something that would prompt classist stigma… were I in that classroom, I’d be standing a way behind others, silently wishing that the instructor wouldn’t ask particular questions. Which she wouldn’t… they didn’t even make it to the list.

    Meh. Such a depressing issue.

    Posted by hexy | September 25, 2007, 2:08 am
  11. Heterosexual women have the disadvantage of having their class “attached” to the man they marry or their “family background.” Adult women who measure class purely in economic terms without the artificial support of what I call heterosexual women’s welfare payments (i.e. marriage to a man) will be stuck later on.

    Good overall excersize, however. Poverty learned in childhood sticks with people longer. We haven’t addressed childhood deprivation. And feminism still doesn’t want to support women being successful and economically sophisticated.

    Feminism needs to get more real about money and women’s ability to access it without getting all crazy about it.

    Posted by Satsuma | January 13, 2008, 4:06 am

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