Middle Class Privilege

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?

32 thoughts on “Middle Class Privilege

  1. janevangalen May 27, 2008 / 7:01 am

    Thanks for the great additions Tabatha.

    You remind me of one for those of us in higher ed:

    When I speak on behalf of lower-income students in our program and ways that we could make the costs of our program more affordable, I’m engaged and not ignored.

  2. caramelson June 8, 2008 / 8:11 am

    Greetings.

    I enjoyed the article. I also pen a blog called the Young Black Professional guide and have written about this meme a couple of times, most recently <a href=”http://ybpguide.com/2008/05/21/off-white-is-the-new-black/”after the primary voting in West Virginia.

    What’s interesting to me, as an African-American male, is the differences I see despite being in the same class and ‘assuming’ the same privileges you mention and your readers’ have added above.

    Those who are Black and in the middle class, upper middle class have similar sentiments, but society, most times, does not often afford them to us consistently. It often retreats to its bigoted and slanted portrayal of our lowest common denominator and uses that fear against us in random police stops, retelling of our history, and racial makeup in our schools.

    You have an interesting article, but I just wanted to throw additional perspective out there that these memes sometimes do not cross racial lines, despite being in the same class.

    Thanks.

  3. janevangalen June 8, 2008 / 8:20 am

    Carmelson,

    Thanks for stopping by. Someone had sent me over to your blog recently and I have subscribed. When life clears just a bit for me (I can still hope), I’ll get back to posting more and will link more formally.

    I’m very interested in pushing those conversations about the intersections of class and race and gender. In my field, class is conflated almost entirely with race so that even critical texts will frame the discussion about justice and reform in schools as being about the different experiences of “poor children and children of color” and “middle class whites”.

    Enough! It’s just not that simple.

    Jane

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