sorry i am not an academic, but what is wrong with the term classism? I am kind of ignorant.
(Made rebloggable by request)
Why apologize? I would say, on the flip, that it’s a problem if terminological/analytical questions are seen as strictly academic concerns. Anyway, here’s a quickly written response that I’ll probably regret later: I don’t believe that there’s anything inherently wrong with the term “classism” at all, and I think it’s often used with intentions I share. My reservations stem from the way it gets used. I think when many folks use the word classism it’s because they want to gesture to the fact that poor and working class people are oppressed. It gets used, typically, as one term in a list of other ones that describe intersecting axes of power and dynamics of oppression—i.e. racism, sexism, classism. But terms like “________ism,” when used to highlight social dynamics of oppression, tend to approach oppression in a way that makes it explainable on the basis of discrimination. The problem with making class oppression explainable by way of discrimination is that, as a group, poor and working class people aren’t poor and working class because they’re discriminated against.
You can stop discriminating against poor people, that is, without changing the fact that we live in a society in which a very small collective have a whole lot more wealth than the great majority of others. Hell, if you want to get creative, you can even send a couple high-SAT-testing poor people to college so that they can mobilize toward the middle class and thereby make a system that makes so many people so poor have the appearance of fairness, even benevolence. So for folks concerned about inequality, the analyses of discrimination that are necessary for anti-racism and anti-sexism to make sense, don’t quite draw the same blood when we’re thinking about class, as what makes people poor and working class has somewhat more directly to do with the distribution of wealth and the division of labor. Let me make that statement so that I can complicate it below.
This isn’t to say that discrimination, or its less legalistic structural counterpart, domination, are less relevant or consequential; it’s more to point out one of the ways in which the languages that norm of anti-racism and anti-sexism aren’t adequate to thinking about class, even though we need those languages in order to understand class in the first place. One way of becoming black in the in the U.S., for instance, is becoming habituated to the everyday texture of this kind of discrimination: knowing that the color of your skin opens onto a whole world of meaning, one that allows everyone from the police (and the George Zimmermans of the world that are their reserve ranks) to potential employers, from friends to passers-by on the street, to attach negative meaning to your body.
The sum effect of the ways that racial discrimination makes meaning is nothing short of lethal in character, though some deaths are faster than others. And as I’ve been trying to emphasize, class mobility means that these effects are unevenly distributed among black folks in complicated ways that are rarely remarked upon, in part because some of us who are very well organized have a class interest in not doing so. That class interest expresses itself in the desire to make black oppression=racism in such a way that class and, more often than not, gender, disappear. The problem here is that “racism” becomes too elastic and therefore ends up explaining so much that it crowds out other useful ways of analyzing the social. The term classism may be one of the effects of that elasticity, where racism becomes the model for explaining other forms of oppression.
But not having a job and needing one to survive, or having a job that underpays you, or not being able to get sick or injured without going into life-altering debt, or having to take work that puts you at the risk of life-altering sickness or injury in order to survive, or having a job and then being relied upon/expected every day to go home and cook, clean, and/or care for people in ways that aren’t even recognized or valued as work, or bearing and/or raising children and having the work, skill, attention, and care involved in those processes dismissed or erased, or having the kind of job that forces you to have two other jobs to scrape by, or having to take out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans in order to go to school and just maybe get a job, etc., etc.: these are not exactly, not quite, and certainly not fully explainable by recourse to discrimination. They are absolutely the outcomes of various kinds of discrimination and histories of other kinds of discrimination, domination, relations of force, no doubt.
And one of the ways in which we come to accept living in a society in which these outcomes are so pervasive has to do with the ways poverty is and has been racialized and (often) feminized, and the ways in which domestic work is and has been racialized and feminized. They mark ways in which capitalism both uses and generates various forms of social discrimination, in order to further extract value from them. And that form of value extraction is a form of exploitation that is structural in nature; that is, it doesn’t operate primarily by way of discrimination, but rather by and through inequality. Which means that it can’t be dismantled, in the final instance by changing access to institutions or by changing laws, but that it fundamentally relates to the questions of how wealth is distributed socially, and how we organize the wealth that we produce as a society in a just way.
The problem with classism I’m trying to highlight here, then, is that the way it gets used is too modeled on certain assumptions about racism to allow certain kinds of inequality and exploitation to become visible, even as those forms of inequality of exploitation are fundamentally inseparable from racism and sexism.
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