Middle Class Privilege

May 16, 2008

The organization Class Action offers terrific resources on class and classism, and in their recent newsletter Building Bridges, they write of the important discourse sparked by Peggy McIntosh’s piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (which you can easily find via Google, but since many of the copies on the web may be bit casual about copyright, I’m not linking here), even as they note that many of the items on her list are experienced by middle class whites, but not by lower income white people.

The exercise that Will Barratt and his colleagues developed that morphed into that “privilege meme” a few months ago was one take on developing a parallel class privilege list.

In the Building Bridges newsletter, the Class Action people offer another take on a middle class privilege list, They acknowledge that this list is far from definitive, given the many ways that race and gender complicate class privilege.

Thus, they invite others to contribute their own lists at <privilege at classism.org>. I’d invite you to cc me in the comments below.

Middle Class Privileges

  1. The “better people” are in my social class; I know this because they are the ones reported on and valued in the media and in school.
  2. People appear to pay attention to my social class; we set the standard.
  3. When I, or my children, are taught about history, people from my social class are represented in the books.
  4. I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the laziness, poverty, or illiteracy of my class.
  5. The neighborhoods I can move to, where I feel “at home”, typically have better resourced schools.
  6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization”, I am shown that people of my class made it what it is.
  7. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their class.
  8. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my class.
  9. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my class.
  10. I am never asked to speak for all people in my class.
  11. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of poor and working class people who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my class any penalty for such oblivion.
  12. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people in other classes.
  13. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection of my class.
  14. I can worry about classism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
  15. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my class.
  16. If I have low credibility as a leader, I can be sure that my class is not the problem.
  17. I can read recipes and purchase whatever ingredients or appliances they might call for.
  18. I can invite my friends out for an evening and not have to think about whether they can afford it or not.
  19. I don’t need to worry about learning the social norms of others.

What else might you add as a manifestation of middle class privilege?

Class, Race, and Privilege

February 13, 2008

That Privilege Meme simply will not die, moving now among a number of blogs written by people of color, and generating infinitely more complicated discussion about class, gender, and race than were evident in the early rounds rounds of denial, discrediting, and general disdain of the very idea of class privilege.

I’m finding the discussions in this round of the meme to be particularly intriguing, because in every single conference session I’ve done on class, people in the audience (both white and people of color) stand up to argue that if we open the door to talking about class, whites will have an excuse to simply stop talking about race.

I’ve always found this puzzling because in my experience (and I’d love to learn that my experience has been particularly limited), few whites have gotten beyond conflating race with poverty,  and fewer still have any interest in talking about class whatsoever.

I’ve yet to hear anyone in these sessions argue that people of color might, themselves, have considerable interest in talking about class and might, indeed, deepen the broader conversation about class privilege.

In contrast, the conversations on which I’ve eavesdropped this week are rich, frank, and complicated. Sample them here at Racialicious, The Apostate, What Tami Said, Postbourgie, Prometheus 6 and The Luscious Librarian

Are there other conversations about class and race out there this multi-faceted?

And is it possible to imagine having conversations about class, race, and privilege within the same blogs rather than in these very discrete conversations that have unfolded over the last month?

A few days ago, I lamented the absence of more diverse voices among the gigabites of text generated by the Privilege Meme.

I stand humbly corrected by the The Paper Chase and My Private Casbah bloggers, who enrich the discourse with complex dimensions of gender, race, rurality, and geography.

And, indeed, deprivation.

There’s been a refreshingly multi-faceted and thoughtful conversation about the privilege meme, schooling, and class going on over at this Live Journal blog (and I say this not only because they’ve been sending steady traffic here!).

Speaking of that “privilege meme” that’s still buzzing around out there after oh so many days (even a blogger from Atlantic Monthly chimed in today, critiquing the exercise from her perspective as the graduate of a private school attended by “ultra-privileged” classmates for not reflecting her particular experiences)…

The protocol of the meme has been to “bold” the items that apply to you and to then say a bit about your background.

When something like this is done in person –as it was designed to be –a moderator can facilitate discussion among those whose lives have followed different paths and ensure that all voice are heard. A central point of an exercise like this is typically to generate conversation among the people in the room that would not take place otherwise.

But the people in this virtual room who keep batting this thing around seem to be people from very similar backgrounds.

While I’ve seen all sorts of assumptions made about how others live and what they value (and about how easy it would be for parents anywhere to find free museums to take their kids too “if they cared enough”. Have these people ever been outside a city?), I’ve not yet seen, in all of these hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of posts and comments, anyone who has thought to say:

So, most of the things I’m reading on this are written people who “score” relatively highly on this meme.

But I wonder: what does this all look like to people whose backgrounds included very few of these things?

Might it not be bold to even wonder whether one might have it wrong?

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