Class Matters Workshops

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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 ClassMatters.org visitors answered those questions:

And answers from the Class Matters book:

Class and Other Identities

Christians

I am white. I grew up poor among farmers and millworkers in the rural South of the 1930's-40's. I associate mainly with middle and upper middle class people with that kind of upbringing. Even among the most progressive of them, I notice in some a prejudice against working class people, labor unions, and white Southerners. Even as late as the 1970's when I was teaching in a Northern liberal seminary, a bias against Southerners was still in evidence. At that time in the early 1970's I was already the author of four books, one of which was the standard in its field for a quarter of a century. I held degrees from Mercer, Yale, Emory, and Vanderbilt. Yet more than one student who sat in my classes told me later that when they first heard my Southern accent, they were not sure I could be smart enough to teach them anything. I smile victoriously with a wicked pride that Augustine would rightly condemn in remembering that it only took a few days to rid them of that illusion!

I would not presume that I am without class or other types of prejudice. The Other, whoever it is, before we get to know them may seem a little strange to us. I think first-hand experience is the best cure for all of us. The students who doubted my ability because I was from Georgia learned by experience that I was not dumb. That did it. It is always not so easy. Sometimes experience can confirm or seem to confirm at first anyway our preconceived notions. Overcoming suspicion of the Other is not always as easy as it was for my students. I should add that the suspicious students were a tiny, tiny minority, and all white women, it turned out. How many had doubts who never told me, I don't know. I think you have to have a sense of humility and modesty, I would say, realism, about yourself. You have to recognize that you a finite, ignorant, and therefore open to prejudice because of your narrow range of experience. And you have to want to have community with others, to extend your range of concern and care.

As I write, it occurs to me that all my proposed solutions in my case come out of Christian convictions. First, there is the doctrine of original sin (modernized) which teaches that all have faults and shortcomings (have sinned). Second, there is the requirement that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves by recognizing that they are of equal worth in the sight of God, since all are children of God.

— Ken Cauthen

I was born into the white, professional middle class in 1943 and grew up in a small town in Arkansas. African Americans and gays and lesbians were not even on our charts in those days. The white adults in town made every effort to assure that white kids of every class had equal opportunities for leadership, sports, band, and other school activities. I was overtly taught not to consider class in choosing friends and associates. However, our mother put a lot of casual effort into instilling into us a very strong classist attitude:

  • Your grammar has to be perfect; you won't get anywhere in life otherwise.
  • If you chew gum in public you'll look cheap.
  • Don't pierce your ears; you'll look like a slut.
  • Don't use a lot of slang.
  • Marry a professional man who can take care of you.

Interestingly, my father died when I was in junior high, and we lived like working class people after that, except that we all, especially my mother, focused on the major life goal of getting all of us children through college.

Now that I am an adult, I constantly find myself judging or "writing off" people who use bad grammar, dress sloppily, can't jump into an analytical debate, don't appear clean enough, adhere to "emotional" religions, etc. I seem to fight a constant battle with my own mind to remain nonjudgmental toward, and open to learning from, people of a lower class than myself. And I get very nervous, even at this moment, using the word "class." It was something I was taught never to talk about or acknowledge.

Now I am a member of a very diverse Presbyterian church, which was organized more than 40 years ago as a white mission church across the street from one of the first public housing projects in my southern city. When the first black family moved into the project in the 60s, all the white families moved out within a short period of time. A handful of members elected to keep the church where it was, and it has been a racially-mixed congregation ever since. In the last ten years we have experienced a large influx of GLBT members and associates. My belief is that class differences are the toughest for us to deal with, much more than race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

— Sally Thomas