It’s not only the rich who carry out classism

Should the one percent be exclusively blamed for creating our stratified society?

Occupy Wall Street came, and to some degree, has gone. Like many professional middle class progressive movements, its main focus has been on inequality between the owning class and everyone else. However, is the 1 percent owning class completely guilty for the stratification of our society and is the upper middle class below them completely innocent?

For reasons described below, I have never been a strong supporter of Occupy Wall Street. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely enraged at the increasing economic inequality between the wealthy and the 99% that has gripped our country. I have blogged extensively on this site about the ways in which the Ivy League Caste System has created a country in which one’s career paths are often limited by the college acceptance at age 17. However, it would be naïve to present the gulf between the 1 percent and the 99 percent as the only problem in regards to creating inequality or act as if the professional middle class or even settled working class are simply helpless victims.

In her excellent book, “Fear of Falling” (now out of print), Barbara Ehrenreich describes the historical path the professional middle class took. According to Ehrenreich,the professional middle class created a system of barriers not only to protect itself from ruthless capitalism from above, but also the from poorer people who lack specific credentials. In this book, she also explores the ways in which the professional middle class projected evils of society such as the Vietnam War onto the working class.

The Republican professional middle class often associates government dependence with low income minorities despite the fact that their gated communities receive tax credits for construction. The Democratic professional middle class associates racism with “Those darn Rednecks.” Yet, how many real black

friends does the average Democratic professional middle class white person actually have?

OWS, which was composed of mostly professional middle class people associated inequality and America’s system of class stratification with the one percent who are very rich. Yes, members of the 99 percent have a right to be angry at the class privledges that the one percent receive and we should and will continue to speak out against such injustice. HOWEVER……..

Although, much oppression occurs in a top down manner, many upper middle class, middle class, and settled working Class people do engage in oppression of those under them INDEPENDENTLY of an owning class presence. For example:

1. Some power displays, hierarchism, and social injustice sometimes occurs in nonprofits or schools run by authoritarian PMC people, even if there is no owning class person on site. Yes, middle class academics have a right to be upset at the tremendous funding cuts of academia and the corporate take-over of our schools. But where was Occupy Wall Street when those who were lucky enough to be full professors experienced tremendous privilege at the expense of sub-minimum wage adjuncts? Where was Occupy Wall Street when some Middle class educational profesionals based on their mediocre mindset, need for power, and innate sense of superiority made cold hearted decisions such as placing students on restrictive special education tracks and forced parents to medicate children who were different just to keep them quiet. Some of these children experienced nightmares, irreversible brain damage, and stunted growth.

Professional Middle Class members of the health care profession have a right to decry the ways in which health care has been taken over by profit chasing HMO’s and pharmaceutical companies. Yet where were these liberal physicians when female nurses and minority assistants shouldered such a huge burden of the actual work? Many mental health professionals speak out againist the lack of funding for mental health treatment, yet where were they when people who violated middle class conventions were locked away for their own good?

2. While in the business world, some oppression is definitely owning class based (for example, Mitt Romney’s laying off people from jobs), other business oppression such as workplace bullying or a manager squashing ideas based on insecurity can be behavior that exists directly from free will of a middle class manager. Yes, it was horrible when Mitt Romney or Carl Icahn arrived on the scene and layed off tons of workers and middle managers. However, some of these managers were privileged parasites in their own way, having “do nothing” cushy positions for which they received very comfortable salaries at the expense of workers.

No matter how socially conscious or ruthless a wealthy CEO or entrepreneur is, they should not be responsible for every act of workplace bullying, unfair treatment, and managerial monopoly of privilege that goes on in every department. Sometimes it is culture created by the CEO, yet much of what is unhealthy about working in a corporate environment can be indigenous to the mid-level corporate office culture. When criticizing business culture a very balanced approach is needed.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson no doubt has definitely spoken out against the racial oppression that African Americans receive at the hands of our society. Yet, he has also criticized black on black crime recognizing that white society cannot be blamed completely for every nine year old child gunned down during a drug war crossfire. He, along with other great black leaders like Malcolm X, while fighting oppression of African Americans engaged in occasional warranted criticism of the black community.

In the same vein, is it really fair to blame the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s of the world for every middle manager who gives free promotions to employees they find sexually attractive, and denies employees who are not buddies career advancement? Is it the failings of the Rockefeller family when a corporate employee who is the wrong age, race, or sexual orientation is the victim of peer bullying that leads to physical and psychological breakdowns? If upper middle class movements like OWS want to be truly about liberation, they should balance fighting the plutocratic power structure with criticism of the corporate and professional middle class when it is warranted. Imagine what we could accomplish as progressives, if we focused not just on inequality between one rung of the class/race ladder (the 1%) and another (all the rest), but on dismantling the entire caste ladder.

5 Responses

  1. right

    Jay, I don’t know you but this is one of the few times even on on this site when I can finally relate to what someone is saying when it’s about social stratification. I’m obligated to add that I have nothing against OWS or middle class people because if I don’t it might seem like I’m biased towards a very narrow mindset.The fact that responsibility for the socio-economic stratification in our society is not entirely the duty of the rich or poor to accept going forward and the reality in which that fact is grossly underrepresented in progressive discussion, needs to be brought up more often. Point 1 is almost never discussed outside of the perspective of the people taking part in its perpetuation-that’s not my opinion, it’s not anecdotal, just look at any media or even academic papers to find any support of point 1 and it’ll be competitively inhibited by sheer volume(dwarfed by credibility given the class level or media might of the people/institutions who contribute to it). The only evidence of an attempt to articulate this issue, outside of this site and relatively sparse academic papers available to the public as full text, is on “shock value” blogs that seem like they’re meant purely for entertainment if not to get a reactionary response. Personally, I wish there were more posts like yours on this site.
    Point 2 is all too often overlooked in favor of a corporate boogyman because it’s easier to deflect personal responsibility on someone that is elected elitist who themselves may not fit the background typified as elitist, which I personally think isn’t even close to what an elitist actually is(which is not always a bad thing) and more accurately typifies an incompetent idiot by the majority of people scapegoating.

    One example of an obstacle to class mobility maintained by people who are not rich or poor is the subject discussed on this site by Gorski under ‘classism in k-12 education’ entitled “Remember when it was the poster board?…” I really wish you guys would revisit this subject, there is way too much bias towards a behavioral root to the problem Gorski brings up and ignoring it only amplifies the class advantage based conditioning taking place that is forcing people who have no personal experience to base their conclusions on erroneous cherry picked data or self serving ed tech company “research”.

    Please excuse this sloppy inarticulate, non-peer reviewed response, but I have to begin to end it now and with an important, albeit desperate, question in a desert of perspective homogeneity.
    For the love of scientific rigor,God, Bhudda, Krishna, chemical chance, Allah, Pythagoras- whatever you hold sacred for Pete’s sake, are there any people with degrees out there in the STEM fields who are not in full support of online homework on the grounds of effectiveness, academic honesty and or class equity in non-private education? I’ve heard nothing but the other perspective from educators.The internet is one big back slapping proponent of that perspective, it’s not unreasonable to ask for experience based clarification backed up by the facts that do actually exist. When I have access to the internet and a few spare moments to think critically about the issue with the rare find of experience outside the dominate group on an implicitly class biased medium, I’d just like to see a little discourse on the issue from people who have the degrees that enable them to avoid being written of as a joke looking for excuses if they disagree with the dominate preference.

  2. Cari Gulbrandsen
    Cari Gulbrandsen

    Hi Jay.

    Many of your points struck a chord with me and I agree that the folks in between the wealthiest and the poorest citizens are not exactly working together to create a civilized, humanistic society. It seems to be “push, shove and pass it on”. My sense is that so many people are clamoring to achieve or be somehow affiliated with “higher class” and their desperation results in abusive or oppressive behavior. There is a lot of stepping on and over others to reach for the prizes associated with being “higher class”. It is pretty obvious, especially during the recession, that material wealth can shift rapidly, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from wielding power and superiority and making it their mission to put other people in their place. All of this is made worse by the cultural context that you described.

    Most of my own learning about classism has happened in the workplace, so I really appreciate your examples about the workplace. I notice that bullying ensues when some folks become insistent that their subjectively defined higher class status be recognized by everyone they encounter. I have found a lot of good articles about workplace bullying in the nursing literature, and many authors talk about the power struggles that are at the heart of bullying scenarios. I suspect class is a contributing factor in the power struggles.

    When I first started out in the workforce, I was shocked by the oppressive behavior (including classism) I saw or experienced and often felt immobilized in the midst of it. Ignoring the antics was easier said than done. Minding my own business didn’t work either because that meant looking the other way when other people were being victimized.

    I know that it isn’t financially viable for most of us to leave our workplaces in disgust. I would like to share what has worked for me, which has been to find alternate kinder environments to take refuge in some of the time. This can have a balancing effect over time. I think there is a growing movement, a positive counterculture and more people are working together to create humanistic social groups. We may not have much of a choice about showing up at work, but we can choose who we spend the remaining hours of the week with. I have found that social justice oriented interest groups and organizations and the social connections within them can buffer the ill effects of more oppressive settings.

  3. Arthur

    Jay, yes Occupy Wall Street Movement is not perfect. No movement is. It is also quite new on the scene and it operates in a relatively democratic manner. Hence, it has to go through some extensive growing pains. The points you raised are good ones and hopefully you will bring them directly to the members of Occupy Wall Street, being that they are democratic, your voice will be heard. During Hurricane Sandy OWS was involved in extensive relief efforts that were hardly covered by the media. Right now OWS is going through a sort of an incubation period and may very well burst forth in a different form or morph into something else. OWS in a sense is a resurgence of the Spirit of the Sixties that itself never left but morphed into other forms like those who followed the Grateful Dead. Movements never die they fade and transform and live another day.

  4. Jay, I’ve been asking similar questions myself. Where was Occupy Wall Street when the majority of America’s self-centered middle class clamored for (and got) Welfare Reform, thrusting MILLIONS of this nation’s poorest and most disprivileged and marginalized women and girls straight into the waiting arms of pimps and traffickers, condemning this nation’s poorest women to shorter life expectancy rates than 3rd World countries? The average life span of a woman/girl who has been sex trafficked is 7 years. Most die before age 30—either from untreated HIV/AIDS or male violence (from middle class johns or brutal “gorilla” pimps).

    In my fifth book, Without Apology, I addressed the fate of millions of America’s economically disappeared women who were literally thrown to the wolves with the middle class-driven draconian social policies of Welfare Reform. Where was Occupy Wall Street when the domestic sex trafficking scourge burgeoned from the elimination of what paltry safety net AFDC used to provide, in tandem with the problem of a real lack of opportunities for the most disprivileged women struggling in abject poverty who never got to have any opportunities at all?

    Sex trafficked women and girls from the poverty class are the underclass of the underclass and have had no support from OWS at all (or any other middle class dominated social justice movement). In fact, poor American women who are victims of sex trafficking are not even covered under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and can’t get any of the help that is available to foreign-born sex trafficking victims.

    Many aggrieved middle classers just deluged Huffington Post with endless posts about why the elimination of SNAP benefits is necessary, that condemning this nation’s poorest women and children to “choose” either “sex work” (which is neither “sex” nor “work” as the architects of the Palermo Protocols would agree) or death by starvation and homelessness is a must in the name of “personal responsibility”— because middle class “victims” resented their tax dollars being used to subsidize food assistance, income support and proper medical and dental care for the least privileged and poorest Americans (94% whom are women) whom they never accepted into their workplaces nor welcomed anywhere else.

    Those bleating about inequality as they sound the battlecry of “Save the middle class!” didn’t care when poor women and girls—who are literally dying for lack of opportunities, safety, and justice in the US—were thrown away into the prostitute class for middle class men to fuck to death in order to get their sexual “needs” met. Somehow, inequality and class justice wasn’t a concern then. The same disgruntled middle class who begrudge paying for poor women and children to get their basic human needs met, who are crying about how badly the rich have cheated them, certainly had no qualms about inequality when it came to poor marginalized women and girls being forced into prostitution.

    Where was OWS for poor sex trafficked women and kids? Reading “Lolita” in their tents while lionizing Julian Assange and promoting the rape culture and defending the status quo of middle class men’s “right” to buy poor, marginalized, disprivileged women and under-aged girls as disposable sex goods. Class justice my ass.

    Jacqueline S. Homan,
    Author, freelance writer, researcher and adult survivor of child sex trafficking from the poverty class

  5. Michael-David Sasson

    The workplaces you list, Jay, seem to exist in a parallel universe to the one I inhabit at work. Where I work –at a nominally public university no less–, owning class presence and power shapes and influences everything including stresses that magnify and encourage complicit, harmful and mean-spirited behavior by managers and co-workers.

    Yes, a culture of solidarity is weak and incomplete in the US and figuring out how to hold us all to account for negative behaviors will be required to build our team and to have a chance at victor(ies), at class justice in truth. But focusing fire on the 1% is one useful piece of that.

    In my workplace, I’ve noticed that we are sometimes able to take leaps in organization and potential power when we can frame the fight for decency/safety/etc as one in which central campus or statewide authorities are messing with all of us including dept. managers and sometimes even faculty (although they are a harder nut to crack).

    This isn’t just because these folks have access to resources and relationships that can be helpful but also because many front-line employees don’t like to be in conflict with immediate supervisors and managers with whom they might have a personal relationship that they enjoy (and/or are afraid to risk).

    In my limited interactions with occupy Oakland the class character was a little more complicated also than you describe including significant participation of homeless folks and working class folks (unionized and not) as well as the people you identify.

    Anyway, thanks for moving the conversation.

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