What about race?
Since our nation’s founding, people of color have been systematically oppressed, stereotyped, segregated, and targeted by violence and imprisonment by white-dominated institutions. And racism continues to be one of the most pressing problems that we face today in the United States.
Why talk about classism and racism together?
Of course, our primary focus at Class Action is to expose the destructive nature of – and end — classism. Yet we have always known that racism and classism are not separate, unrelated problems, and have delved in to the issue of race whenever we talk about class. It can be misleading and counterproductive to treat the two issues as unrelated.
When racism is the single focus, we may overlook the millions of working-class and poor white people who face classism. In fact, the majority of Americans below the poverty line are white. But when only class is the focus, we overlook the particular obstacles in the paths of Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous peoples.
All of us are born into a system we didn’t create, initially unaware of our families’ status. We are gradually socialized into the upside or the downside of class, race, gender, and other hierarchies, as the diagram below illustrates. But as we become aware of the social meaning of our identities, we can choose whether to accept or resist systems of domination. Experiences such as Class Action workshops can raise our awareness of inequities, and can give us tools to reduce injustice of all kinds.
How are race and class connected?
The intersection of class and race is complex. The same systems that brought slavery to the New World also planted the early seeds of the unequal classes we see today. Wealthy landowners and slaveowners deliberately set up different rules for poor whites than for African slaves and Indigenous peoples in order to prevent joint rebellions. That same choice of whether to take the “racial bribe” of white advantages or to band together with people of color for the common good still faces white Americans today.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, some immigrant groups, who are now considered white, faced significant prejudice and discrimination, yet only the biases against people of color were encoded into laws. To undo today’s extreme class inequality is impossible without dismantling institutionalized racism – and vice versa.
On the organizational level, nonprofits and institutions can most effectively become fairer and more inclusive by working through their gender, race and class dynamics. Hiring practices need to factor in race, gender, sexual identity and class to advance working-class and poor people of all races. The same is true when deciding on promotions.
Is class more important than race?
Class Action does not see class as the one “ism” that ranks higher than any other. We emphasize class simply because it is the system of inequality that is most often ignored when people talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. We think it’s never helpful to argue about which oppression is worse than another.
Class Action enthusiastically supports the recent wave of protest and advocacy about racial injustice. But if class and classism are omitted from the much-needed national conversation on race, that omission will slow our progress towards racial justice.
What is Class Action doing to address racism?
Since our founding, Class Action has focused on bringing the intersection of race and class into all of our popular education workshops. We examine our current systems as well as the ups and downs of inequality in throughout the history of the United States, and spotlight some specific reasons that widened the racial wealth divide.
We have developed a Color of Class workshop (led by facilitators of color for people of color to explore classism). We are currently revising our Race and Class Intersections workshop to include the national dialogue sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement. We are also exploring different approaches to anti-racism education geared specifically towards participants from low-income and working class communities.
Interest in learning more about the racial wealth divide? Check out The Color of Wealth in our bookstore.