Columns / Discourse / May 13, 2015

The invisible nature of classism

Racism is not over. Nor is sexism, cissexism, ableism, heteronormativity or any of the other forms of systematic oppression that exist and are frequently mentioned on campus. What seems to separate the issue of classism from these other forms of discrimination is just how “cool” it is to be classist.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that our system of capitalism is set up to punish those with less access to practical resources and wealth. Those with more money can spend more on goods and services, meaning that groups ranging from small businesses to large corporations want you to want to be rich. Advertisements and movies are frequently set around middle to upper class people looking satisfied with their lives and, more particularly, their purchases.

The American message is clear: anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, climb social ladders and make it rich if you simply work hard enough. We are told it is okay to strive for flashy possessions and stockpile wealth through familial generations because anyone who works hard enough is supposed to be able to make a name for themselves.

We must acknowledge that despite the occasional success story, this “American Dream” is just a myth that perpetuates classism.

By pretending that systemic challenges (like those mentioned at the top of this piece, in addition to social class) don’t exist, our culture ends up blaming the poor for not having resources. Welfare recipients are demonized for taking handouts from the government when they should be digging themselves out of poverty, while their wealthy counterparts are praised as “shrewd businesspeople” for taking government subsidies.

The poor have always been an easy group to scapegoat, but when the system itself favors the upper classes in everything from job applications to college admissions to political representation, the lower social classes end up bearing the brunt of classist policies while simultaneously being blamed for their existence.

In a culture that glorifies excess wealth, this pattern also leads to social stratification added by class segregation and the inability to connect with those of a different class.

The big issue with classism is just how prominent it is, especially at places like Knox where it is falsely assumed that students more or less inhabit the same class. Things like judging someone for not having visited foreign countries or not having seen the latest feature film ignore class differences. But like materialism, these instances end up perpetuating classism in the social realm while issues of broader class assumptions (or the ignoring of class differences) end up putting the lower classes in dangerous situations.

We could talk about environmental racism or the inherent patriarchy found in giving preferential treatment to applicants with “legacy status,” but the fact is that classism penetrates to even the smallest enclaves or institutional structures in tangible ways.

Take Knox’s Health Clinic, for example. The limited hours of availability pose but a minor inconvenience to those with the means for a car on campus and only a slightly higher inconvenience to those who have friends with cars and the ability to handle co-pays without batting an eye. Yet, for those who struggle to balance paying for college with keeping food on the table, any significant injury after work hours or during the weekend puts them at the mercy of those with means.

Much like the racial segregation and systematic disenfranchisement of the Civil Rights Movement, classism is in a place where the majority of those with power and privilege do not acknowledge the extent of classism in our society. Considering many are still insistent on our “post-racial” society, it is not surprising that classism has yet to be on the radar of national conversation.

In the end, the most lethal step towards ending classism is to talk about it. Only by exposing ourselves to the experiences of those in different socioeconomic statuses can we fully realize how pervasive the issue is.

By all means, join clubs and fight against the various systems of oppression in society, but it’s time to start incorporating class into these movements and realizing that the struggles of the oppressed increase exponentially when the added layer of classism is taken into account.

Payton Rose
Senior Payton Rose is a political science major with minors in creative writing and Spanish. This is his first year working for The Knox Student as discourse editor. He has written a political column for TKS for two years.

Tags:  capitalism classism economy materialism poor racism rich subsidies welfare

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