Why Class Matters
Class is something we rarely discuss, but it is essential that we talk about and normalize it if we're going to build a successful anti-racist movement.
Below is information from the Class Matters webpage on the Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) political education website.
class identity terms
Class is a social system that divides people based on jobs, wealth, resources, education, influence, and power. Below are the most commonly used class identity terms.
Housing instability, homelessness, substandard housing
Require (and do not always receive public assistance)
Basic needs are unmet
Exploitation, underpaid/unpaid labor; high risk employment
Often wage laborers
Limited access to formal education beyond high school
Rental housing or limited access to ownership
Few options for employment (typically service, manual, care-taking)
Four-year college degree or more
Securely housed in owned home(s), ability to upgrade housing; renters by choice and not necessity
Able to control work, select job fields
Economically secure, but most remain employed
Can expect large inheritance
Access to education as desired, including private or elite schools
Working is optional
Able to access luxuries
While we must be conscious of the ways in which the spectrum of class identity and privilege is not as fixed as the terms above, we need to be conscious of how classism works with and through racism and how we might better consider the connections between class and white supremacy in our anti-racist work.
Class is not just the amount of money someone has in their pocket or the resources they can access. It is a culture. The spaces that we grow, learn, play, work, and struggle in teach us norms, or how to do things on a daily basis. These norms include things like language, how to build relationships, and who has power or influence.
Poor and Working Class people view education as a means to advance one's career.
Middle and Owning Class people view education as means to improve one's status.
Poor and Working Class people value community gains.
Middle and Owning Class people value individual gains.
language and communication
Poor and Working Class people use direct communication and language varies regionally and with experience.
Middle and Owning Class people use indirect communication (conflict avoidance) and value "proper" language.
Poor and Working Class people value experience, loyalty, and character.
Middle and Owning Class people value professionalism, formal accomplishments, and institutional access.
Poor and Working Class people value community, solidarity, multiple generations, and struggle/work.
Middle and Owning Class people value individual advancement, formal recognition, and social status.
Poor and Working Class people have solidarity and mutually-based relationships. Relationships are more likely to span identities, ages, cultures, and beliefs.
Middle and Owning Class people primarily have relationships with similar people and relationships are used to gain status.
It is important to note that the spectrum of Poor and Working Class identity is very broad, and that often as people have more secure Working Class employment, they are pushed to resemble the Middle Class more and more due to the shame working class people are made to feel. When we talk about class culture, we are talking about general things that are often seen in communities. These are not absolutes.
why does class matter in racial justice organizing?
The social construct of race in the United States was created and enforced by Owning Class people in the 1600s to prevent poor white European people from joining African and Native American people in revolts.
Since then, economics have played a long and painful history in the ways that racism has been enforced against People of Color, and how Poor and Working Class white people have been scapegoated for racism.
When many people think of what racism and white supremacy in the United States looks like, they fall back on negative stereotypes of Poor and Working Class white people. In reality, it is Middle Class (to some extent) and Owning Class people that make significant profits from white supremacy.
Poor and Working Class people have the most to gain from change, and they are the ones for whom the system is most broken. They are most likely to fight the hardest in movement work, put their bodies on the line, and take risk. Our movements need to see Poor and Working Class people as gifts and assets, not targets and burdens.
working class values
Working Class values make all of our organizing stronger because:
There is a value on relationships, and how to stay in them even through disagreement.
Elders and children are valued for multi-generational perspectives.
There is an emphasis on follow-through and staying in it for the long haul.
There is not a focus on individual perfection.
There is less expectation for immediate results and more value for "small wins" that lead up to end goals.