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.