Thursday, August 01, 2013

Why the word "classism" gives me the creeps.

I know that I used the word "classism" in the title of a recent post.  I inadvertently left out the ironic quotation marks around it.  So sorry.  The word gives me the creeps because I hear the word used as though "classism" is another form of prejudice and oppression -- another addition to the long list of "isms" that starts with racism and ends, for now, with something like "lookism".   Along the way, there are few "-phobias" thrown in for variety, like "homo-", "trans-" and "fat-"  And if anyone suggests substituting the word "workerphobia" for "classism", I will lose my lunch.

Somehow including "class" in this list of traits that people use to oppress others strikes me as trivializing it.

I get the idea that people think that UU churches need some sort of 'welcoming congregation' program to make themselves less classist.

And I also get the idea that people view "classism" as somehow a parallel problem to "racism."  Focusing on "classism" then becomes the "more progressive" alternative since it includes the working class and poor whites in our concerns.

When we try to understand the interplay of race and class, we are dealing with the most vexatious problem in US History.  We are dealing with the most important strategic question for all efforts at fundamental change in the country.  I would even argue that eventually all progressive movements in the USA have foundered because they could not get this relationship sorted out.

The problem is objective:  There are multiple working classes in the United States of different races.  (Sometimes you hear well-meaning liberals say that "the working class was divided by the ruling class along racial lines" -- it was never one working class ever.)  Their interests dovetail and differ and often, compete.  And this is true whether you are talking about service workers, or factory workers, or technical workers, or academics.

It creeps me out to think that UU congregations think that they can make some institutional adjustments to the ways that they do things and that will reduce this thing "classism" in our institutions.  All to be more inclusive, and to make our little communities more beloved.

When I say that we should fight classism, I am being ironic.

I really mean to say:  we should be more class conscious, more self-aware of our personal and institutional roles in the functioning of the economy, which is based on exploitation.

I also really mean to say:  we should be more committed to taking up the issues of the most exploited workers who are fighting for a better life: the undocumented, the fast food workers, the retail workers, the hotel workers, minimum wage workers, the uninsured, the people faced with the loss of food stamps, the Detroit pensioners.


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