Class Matters Workshops

Download this brochure for more information on Class Matters workshops.

If you're interested in hosting a workshop, please click here for a brochure, or contact me about booking an event.

Order Class Matters

Class Matters book cover

Order Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists by Betsy Leondar-Wright (New Society Publishers, 2005).

Press Coverage of CM

Classist Comments

What's the most classist thing you ever heard someone say?

(I'm not talking about someone like Bill O'Reilly or your right-wing uncle. More specifically, what's the most classist thing you ever heard a liberal or progressive person say?)

Read five interviewees' answers — and my own.

Class and Other Identities

How do you experience class differently because of your race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, or other identity? What class dynamics do you notice within your identity groups?

Here's how a few visitors answered those questions:

And answers from the Class Matters book:

Diversity Training and Classism

Among diversity trainers, a lack of attention to class becomes problematic.

Here's an example. I was called in to a college that had a racial incident, and the campus police had responded in a way that exacerbated the problem. So the police force was mandated to do anti-racist training. A diversity consultant trained these mostly white, mostly male working-class police who were in resistance. It didn't go well, they were labeled racist, and I was called in to clean up the mess afterwards. It's useful in helping people with any diversity issue to build empathic bridges to people different than themselves, by helping them understand their own experience. In the case of the police group, how they had been on the receiving end of unfairness was on class. If I could validate their experience of classism, of how they were treated, and say, "Yes, you have a legitimate beef," they were then more open to understanding how they were creating dynamics hurtful to other people based on race.

So I find it hard to understand how diversity trainers and consultants can be effective without including class, unless they work exclusively with middle-class or higher groups, which is where most diversity training takes place. But if you want to work with ordinary people, and if you want to get diversity training out of the ivory tower, into popular culture, you're not going to be successful unless you include class.

I first participated in classism workshops in Movement for a New Society in the 1970s, where we tackled class not only in the structural sense, but on the interpersonal and group level. So when I went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Social Justice Education Program, I was astounded that these people who knew so much about oppression trainings were doing workshops on sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, ableism, and heterosexism — but not classism. They thought they were doing complete anti-oppression training. When I raised it, I got resistance, partly out of confusion about what I meant by "classism." We started a study group of faculty and graduate students to read some of the classics, like Worlds of Pain and The Hidden Injuries of Class. We got the go-ahead to develop and teach a course, first for undergraduates and then for graduate students, and I've been teaching it now for over 10 years. You [Betsy Leondar-Wright] and I revised the curriculum for a chapter in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice.

I was in a collective of diversity consultants called "Diversity Works" in the 1980s and 1990s, and unlike almost everyone else in the diversity field before or since, we included classism as an oppression and class as part of multiculturalism.

Diversity training on college campuses is problematic without classism because education itself functions as a primary access channel for transitioning across class. Through [the non-profit group] Class Action, I have co-facilitated support groups for students raised poor or working-class who attend the four elite private colleges in Western Massachusetts (Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Amherst, and Hampshire.) If you're white and you come from a poor or working-class background, you show up on these campuses, and you are having your mind blown hundreds of times a day, and your reality is never noticed or validated by anyone.

If you are a student of color at these colleges, your experience of being different and in the minority is recognized. There are support services available. You get to be with peers who are also encountering a difference. For some it's a racial or ethnic difference; for some it's both a racial/ethnic and a class difference. But you are in a support system that says to you, "Look, we know this must be strange for you. You may be the first generation of your family to go to college. Let us help you." But if you are white and you're having a similar experience, there is absolutely no-one who notices or validates that. You can't find other people like yourself very easily. There is acknowledgement that most colleges have a dominant white, Euro-centric culture, but not necessarily an awareness of the dominant middle or higher class culture.

I remember one woman who said, "My mom works at the Dunkin Donuts in Holyoke [a very poor city nearby], and I'm a student at Mt. Holyoke." She couldn't even find the words to describe her disorientation. She was transversing cultural worlds that were miles apart, but since she was white, she looked like the typical Mt. Holyoke student, and no-one knew she was freaking out. The students are dealing with major issues like loyalty and disloyalty to the families they left behind, and not knowing how to act.

So when they go to a diversity training and hear about multicultural this and diversity that, and their experience is never noticed, they feel like, "What about me?"