January 20, 2010

Classism: beyond being nice to poor people

Filed under:Videogames — Lake Desire @ 11:28 pm

As I moved from being politically progressive to a radical leftist, I began to question how I could fight “classism” by going beyond advocating being nice to poor people but actually challenging what causes poverty in the first place. My friend JOMO recently wrote a post called Queer Liberation is Class Struggle that articulates many of my problems with middle class activists challenging “classism” without challenging capitalism. She calls for analysis of oppression that goes deeper than simple “intersections” that compartmentalize our identities. She powerfully argues that queer liberation is invested in class struggle.

Here’s a few of my favorite passages:

The erasure of class in the intersectionality theory is most clearly expressed through the replacement of class oppression with the defanged term, “classism.” Rather than advocating for class struggle of the working class and the poor taking over the means of production and the running of society, the “classism” analysis is an attempt to raise the consciousness of the rich, to be NICE, FRIENDLY, SENSITIVE to their poorer brethren. Under “classism” ideology, working and poor folks become the rich man’s burden, not an agent for change in our own right. In fact, the organizing that arises from such an ideology is as condescending and patronizing toward working class and poor folk as the snobbishness it aims to criticize.

On the criminalization of non-nuclear, non-heteronormative families:

Yet under capitalism, these [non-nuclear] families are illegitimate. Single mother households, or households with people with disabilities, or extended families with elderly and young dependents, or communities that take in non-blood relatives as their own, struggle to survive off of welfare checks or minimal paychecks. These families do not readily and predictably churn out the future, obedient disciplined workers that will deliver their bodies to capitalism, in exchange for a pittance of a wage. Our rejection of capitalist discipline is written off, as our cultural inadequacies. Perceiving our labor as unwanted and untrustworthy, capitalists reject us from the economy and ship us off to prisons, nursing homes, mental institutions or into the informal economy of the streets, still managing in the process, to extract some profit for themselves through our oppression.

Criticism of non-profits as a “solution”:

Middle class ideology cannot liberate us because it reiterates capitalist attacks on our chosen, non-heteronormative families. It will teach us to reject the families we have, and to settle for the more nuclear, more hetero, the more “responsible” family. Yet another non profit will offer us job training programs for the worst, cheapest, most demeaning service sector jobs and expect us to be thankful. Clinton’s welfare act did just that and masqueraded itself as a well-meaning “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” program. This is couched in terms of us learning “life skills,” learning to be responsible citizens under a capitalist system, to unlearn our rebellion. Yet there is no understanding that many of us disdain these programs and these jobs, not because we are lazy, but because class oppression at the workplace, in the service sector is not a desirable alternative. That we would find a minimum wage job ruled by an increasingly heavy- handed managements, demeaning and undesirable, is then blamed on us: We are undeserving, lazy and untrustworthy.

On working class men’s investment in liberation:

The fraternity of male supremacy also institutionalizes this division to prevent male workers from questioning their own oppressions — there is always someone worse off. Through the process of slavery and white supremacy, the U.S. ruling class realized that it could keep white workers under its thumb by giving them better wages and other benefits denied to Black workers. It encouraged them to reflect on the fact that, as miserable as they may be, at least they’re not Black. Similarly, too many male workers congratulate themselves for not being sexualized, objectified and devalued as women workers under the capitalist system. There is always someone worse off. Under this binary, gender benders, trans workers cannot find a stable liberated place. To the male supremacists, the transwomen have betrayed their gender, and transmen desecrate the male gender. By their crossing, both render the division undesirable, indefensible and transgressible.



  1. “Middle class ideology cannot liberate us because it reiterates capitalist attacks on our chosen, non-heteronormative families.” This is perfectly true and it is the effective power which resides in the hands of the middle class that will continue to hold back progress for many years to come.

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  4. I LOVE the intensity of the thoughts your friend was conveying and more so how it was delivered it. Indeed, however radical leftist in nature this write-up is, its word play is very creative. If you don’t mind, I would like to bookmark your site, and you friend JOMO’s site as well. It would be interesting to read more of this.

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