The -ism that you rarely hear about

We all know the evils of racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, etc. thanks to constant reminders from the groups who suffer from them and the people who benefit from their suffering. But there is a type of stereotyping and prejudice that I rarely see mentioned. You can find it if you search, but it’s not as popular as the others in the top news articles . I’m talking about CLASSISM, the unfair stereotyping of people based on their socioeconomic level, income, housing, cars they drive, schools they attend, clothing, use of government assistance programs, educational level, and other things that we use to guess another person’s net worth and , therefore, net value as a person. Basically classism says that someone is a good or bad person based on if they are rich, poor, middle class , or whatever and that is based on outward status symbols.

I have a somewhat uncommon perspective on classism because of the fact that my parents raised me in the middle class world, I have a degree from a major university, and I am White and married, but due to other circumstances, at various times I’ve had to take advantage of Medicaid, WIC, CHIP, Student Loans and I live without the usual markers of the middle class. The only new vehicle I’ve ever owned was the Mazda GLC my parents bought me when I turned 17. I often buy my clothes and other things at Goodwill. I wear my running shoes way past their expiration date. I pinch pennies and cook every day to make it from paycheck to paycheck. I can’t afford to get my hair or nails done or buy Starbucks.  My kids don’t go to camp or have tutors. We live in a mobile home that needs a new roof and paint. However even if I sometimes feel ‘poor’ when I can’t afford something , I know that I have a good life and much more than many people. But I also know that some people judge my family.

Are you judging me? Are you thinking I have some character flaw or moral failure based on what I just wrote about our standard of living? Maybe I do, but it’s mostly because I have a large family, including a disabled child . We are actually just barely middle class by dollar amount, but due to the number of people we must support on one income, that makes us ‘poor’. You might say I should “Get a job!” , but finding a caregiver for my totally dependent 18 year old daughter is problematic. I would never forgive myself if something happened to her. The point is that there are reasons for our situation just like there are often unknown, valid reasons for other people’s low incomes.

Classism is just that, making assumptions and judgments without  knowing the reasons behind someone’s financial circumstances.

A few common assumptions about lower income people.

  • They are lazy.
  • They are not intelligent.
  • They have bad morals
  • They didn’t try hard enough in school.
  • They are not happy. This one may seem unimportant, but I think people should know that you can have a low income and still enjoy life.
  • They  had poor upbringing.
  • If they only did such and such, they could improve their situation. This one drives me nuts. I wish someone had some real magic solution , but cloning is illegal.

Sure, there are some lazy, uneducated, morally bankrupt, generationally poor people out there, but that is a stereotype that does not apply across the board. A few extremists would say that the poor should not have children, should be sterilized,  or have their children taken away to be raised by people with more money,  not be given assistance ever, be allowed to die of diseases or starvation , or  be put in poor houses or on work farms.

I don’t think most people are that hard-hearted, but I do think that many people assume that ‘successful’ , in other words, wealthy, people are somehow happier or superior in every way. If they didn’t think that wealth was desirable , they would not be striving to join that club. It doesn’t help to tell them about rich people who oppress the poor or commit suicide. Even many Christians are guilty of the pursuit of status and wealth despite what the Bible teaches about how being rich brings a snare and the rich have a hard time getting into heaven!

From the time a child is small he is taught that he should work hard in school so he can get a good job, buy a house, get married, have kids,  and retire comfortably and early. What is a good job? One that pays well, of course! The other jobs are inferior and so are the people that have them, according to classism. We all know jobs that don’t pay well , such as teaching, law enforcement, social work, missionaries, firemen, etc, but those people are somehow considered noble for doing public service for low wages , even though we secretly expect them to work two jobs so they can meet the acceptable standard of living.

But the real question is this: why is classism rarely spoken of? I think it’s because chasing the American Dream requires us to be classist. How else would we be able to justify our treatment of the poor, our stepping on others to climb the corporate ladder, looking the other way at unscrupulous business practices? How else would companies continue to sell new cars, phones, shoes, jewelry, clothing, etc. to the poor on high-interest credit if no one cared about those things and everyone was considered equally worthy of life and happiness and respect? I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have those things and that good people can’t be  wealthy and live in big houses. I’m saying that the fear of being judged unworthy is a powerful motivator and that people will buy certain status symbols, whether they can afford them or not or if it brings them true fulfillment or not. The concept of having ENOUGH is not very popular. Even the trend of minimalism is an expensive way of life ! Those tiny houses are not cheap! In other words , classism SELLS.

Lastly I’d like to point out that politicians use classism to their advantage, as they do the other -isms. They need to keep people divided and keep the hate and discontent directed at other people instead of the politicians. Keep reminding the voters that they should not be happy with having enough. Point out that other people have more. Point out that it’s someone’s fault that they don’t have more. Subtly continue to enforce the idea that having less than others is bad and  send the hidden message that something is wrong with poor people, at the same time promising to magically fix the unequal distribution of income and never mention the various valid reasons that some people have more than others. I’m not talking about never helping the people who need help and ways that society keeps them down. That’s another topic.  I’m talking about judging them as being lazy and stupid, and judging the rich as being greedy and evil.

But what would people do if they weren’t trying to get richer and buy more stuff? Maybe they’d spend more time being thankful for  and enjoying the stuff they have with people they love? Maybe have time to rest and exercise and eat healthy home-cooked food? Maybe invent and create and spend time making the world a better place. That would be utopia and is not going happen, but it’s fun to think about a world without greed and all the -isms. And a little more self-awareness, gratitude, and  mindfulness is always a good goal. So pay attention and take note and let’s work together to stop classism, along with all the rest of the prejudiced beliefs that only make people miserable.  These -isms have no place in a world of  love.

22 comments

  1. Lots of depth in this one. A few years after I became a believer, we started attending a church with a real cross section of people. We were on government assistance @ the time to have the last two of our kids because we were so financially strapped, we could barely afford postage stamps…like you, I grew up in what I would call your average american middle class family…nothing fancy, but never went hungry…Once we started our family, wife and I went down several notches on the economic ladder.. 🙂 Yep, it took a while before I could honestly say like the apostle Paul, I have learned the secret to being content…..anyway, in our church, there were several families our age, and we were the ones the church was helping out by assisting us with older cars to drive…. I think in my case, 95% of the issues were in my head….didn’t feel judged by others as much as me being angry for our situation…. like you, we chose to be a one income family..to this day, wife’s favorite place to shop is a consignment shop just a few miles from us, and an Amish grocery store that sells things for ten cents on the dollar. why in the world would anyone pay full price when you can get it there.,,,We in america are bombarded by materialism, and I think most of us don’t even realize to what degree. I had a cousin that lived in Eastern Europe for several years as a missionary with the Navigators..when he came home to America, he told me it was hard…sensory overload from all of the stuff..so many choices..yada, yada…And one last final comment…we have two disabled grandchildren in our family.. one is highly nonfunctioning…I don’t know how my daughter does it…but she does…. I’ve said for years, the hardest job on the planet is a stay at home mom. DM

    • Thanks DM. We are blessed to have the choice to live as we do/did. Not everyone does. So many single moms/dads and truly poor in this country. Btw, this post has been sitting in my drafts for a while. I decided to edit and post. Was not sure if it was worth posting. Sometimes I just feel like writing an essay. 🙂

      • I like longer essays on occasion 🙂 Makes me kind of want to do one…. my normal target for words used is around 600, forces me to edit and tighten up my thoughts…but once in a while that is just not enough room for what I want to say.

  2. Man PK, I hear ya. I will say though, it seems that the most “successful” people actually dress down daily. From what I can tell, the successful often end up in a place where they feel as if they no longer need to impress others.

    As a runner, I’m sure your greatest opponent is yourself. This concept I believe is lost on many. It doesn’t matter what someone else does or how they judge. It doesn’t effect those who are trying to push themselves the way you do.

    On the same token, I get the impression that you and your family know are survivors. That you guys know how to make things last and that you guys know how to fix and repair before hiring and outsourcing.

    Classism in my opinion is an argument for the weak minded and the self loathing, the same as the other isms and ics.

    We all question ourselves from time to time and when we are exhausted, we can be at our lowest.

    Don’t let your downtime define you PK. Hold your head high and remember, when you hit the wall, forward momentum is paramount. If you quit due to overwhelming odds, you’ll never forgive yourself.

    Your only real competition is yourself.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. This really isn’t about me or my family. It’s more of an observation that the lower income classes are often judged by what they own, instead of what kind of people they are. And that this way of thinking seems to be acceptable in our country. Unlike the other stereotypes. I don’t mean it as a way for people to excuse their actual faults or that the poor actually are held back by this way of thinking. People can be happy or unhappy in any social class, and have good morals or no morals.

  3. I definitely agree that classism exists. Something probably everyone feels but no one talks about. Equates to talking about money. Which most of us are raised to know is impolite.
    I grew up poor and the thing I think is most important is to remember there is dignity in an honest living. Be it executive, laborer or caregiver.

  4. When my friend Kim disguised herself as a homeless person (“Undercover Bag Lady”), she began to see patterns regarding which people treated her well and which ones were either unpleasant or ignored her altogether. She found herself making her own assumptions. It would seem the Lord nailed her one Sunday when she was sitting next to a very well-dressed, wealthy-looking woman and assumed she would get snubbed after the service. Imagine her surprise (and humbling) when the lady turned to her, smiled, and said, “My family is going out to lunch. Would you like to join us?” ❤

    • Great point! The rich are often judged as snobby, uncaring or other bad things. In reality, they build hospitals, colleges, parks, start charities, and are just regular people for the most part. I think the media also plays a part in that stereotype.

      • Amen! As a board member of a Christian school, it was my job to research foundations to see if we could get a grant. I went to the library and found a huge book listing all the foundations, where they give their funds, and how much. I was amazed at the amount of money that the wealthy pour into the things you listed, and more.
        Maybe we should ALL refrain from judging one another.

  5. Good perspective and points. You are right, of course.

    Related to classism, I have always been bothered by disparity. I wish for a more equal distribution -not in terms of welfare, necessarily, but I do think there is too large a gap between the super-rich and …well, everyone.

    • What worries me is the amount of power those super-rich have over our whole country’s economy. Too much. Did you see that Mark Z/ Facebook guy is trying to start his own cryptocurrency , supposedly to make the world a better place? He has investors who have so much money that they can back it up . That’s called too much money.

  6. Holy cow does classism exist! Like you, I grew up comfortably middle class with the belief that unless you go to college, you weren’t going to amount to much. As an adult, I now understand where these beliefs came from and why they were pushed onto us. However, it would have been so much better for my mental state of mind if that pressure hadn’t been there. However, that’s not the point of my comment, lol. My husband and I are definitely considered poor. And we have met with SO much judgement…and not just from strangers. My family has judged my husband from day 1 because he didn’t go to college. They didn’t know the why, or what of any of the circumstances, but oh man did they (and continue to) judge him. He works hard. He works VERY hard. He pulled his family’s exceedingly small business out of bankruptcy after his father’s passing by working his butt off. He didn’t get any reward for it, he hasn’t had a raise in over seven years and has not gotten much verbal gratitude either. Despite my personal feelings about this 🙂 my point is, he isn’t lazy, he never has been. He is the most responsible, conscientious, and GENEROUS person I have ever met. (Working on a post about this concept, lol) We gladly accept free hand-me downs from whoever offers them. I pinch pennies whenever and wherever I can. I cook from scratch. We mend our clothes. Our cars are in and out of the repair shop. We live in a mobile home as well and it’s getting on in years. I could keep going, but it’s become a book already and I’m not complaining. The point is, people judge you based on what you wear, what car you drive, what income they THINK you make and how they THINK you spend it, etc. I will also readily admit that I DO the same thing! I absolutely pass judgement on people based on what I think I know about them. The stereotypes exist because there are people who fit them. However, we don’t all fit the stereotypes. We are all different and our circumstances are all different. We didn’t “bring this on ourselves”. There were a lot of extenuating circumstances. And also like you, I could go and get a “real job”. I have a college degree. But we don’t value what some value. Do I sometimes wish things were different and “easier”? Of course, but then, who doesn’t? The real trick is learning to be content. We don’t have “everything”, yet we actually have all we need and more. God always follows through. He always catches us and picks us up when we feel like we are going to fall. And if we could all learn to just see people for who they really are, we might just learn a thing or two. Phew, that was my book. Sorry about that! God Bless!!! 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your story! Things can be tough sometimes, right, but I also think we are blessed to live this way in dependence on God . Your husband sounds like a GOOD man! Way more valuable than a big salary! And bless you for all that you sacrifice and do for your family . God sees! ❤️

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