Sunday, January 15, 2012

Classism, the Not So New Form of Discrimination

I understand that you work in the grassroots, nonprofit sector but what money can be made there? What good is your degree going to do you when you are out there? Your degree will mean nothing if you don’t’ have the proper job to back the degree Danni.  
- from a conversation with a friend who currently graduated from Law School
After dealing with racism and sexism most of my life, classism had truly been put on the back burner. It was not until I attended a HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) that the issue once again reared its ugly head. I had to wrap my mind around this particular form of discrimination. It was after all painfully evident that some of us came from money (students) and others of didn’t. Some students had the luxury of not worrying about having to survive on a Ramen noodle diet. Others discovered exactly what constituted a staple food diet. As I fulfilled a full time course load (as well as held down a job...and participated in a work study program) my mind began to consider what role classism played in my adult life as well as how classism was affecting the African American community.

Then I got into a rather interesting conversation with a fellow classmate at his newly purchased home (purchased by his parents) before one of his infamous parties. Some of his words still stick with me almost three years later: “I don’t deal with low class people, because everything about them is just that, low class. I mean can a person even appreciate the finer things in life if they haven’t had them? Can they truly enjoy it? No, right? Ya feel me? My parents are high class and high maintenance, so I know how to appreciate the finer things.” (That awkward moment...) I politely looked at him and pondered his foolish words and politely told him that he could take his bourgeois Negro self and jump in front of a semi-truck on I-95.

I had no time to associate with people like him who thought that people who weren't as economically privileged were somehow less than or inferior to persons who were privileged. But his attitude was not one that was out of the ordinary at my school or any where for that matter; not out of the ordinary in our so called “democratic” society, and especially not out of the ordinary within the African American community. Look at Bill Cosby when he addressed NAACP personnel and friends at an event that commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education in 2004. He ripped to shreds the Black lower class and insinuated that the Black lower class is actually hurting the race. (Thank you Mr. Cosby, after all I love to hear any sort of advice coming from a man who endorsed pudding so profusely! What a scholar!)

What after all makes the oppressed feel less oppressed? Elevation above other oppressed minorities. Men over women, young over old, light over dark, and “middle class” over those of a “lower class”. In order to understand classism within the African American communities, classism ought to be seen as a historical social construct. One must take into account that at one time most of the Black elite were fair skinned, identified with European ancestry more than African ancestry and sported their pedigrees in the same manner that they sported new clothes. The Black "crème de la crème" are almost trying to become separatist from the rest of Black society.

Since I was so aggravated by Black classist attitudes I decided to read a book that was referred to me by a friend. After all we both grew up poor and we were both from the country. The book blew my mind and opened a can of worms pertaining to Black classist attitudes. The book was entitled Behind the Mule, Race and Class in African American Politics. The question that I had been asking myself was blatantly identified in one of the chapters. The question was “Do changes within the class structure of African American society lead to a situation in which African Americans of a different strata no longer share sufficiently similar interest?” The answer is of course yes; as long as we continue to divide ourselves then our commonality becomes less common (Dawson, 1995).

Blatantly put "this shit has got to stop." It’s been going on for far too long and those who consider themselves middle class and high class within our community ought to take into account that our middle class and higher classes often times pale in comparison to the dominant culture. True wealth we do not have, and as long as we continue to perpetuate individualistic attitudes that elevate one social strata over another we won’t have true wealth. We’ll just be happy in our mediocre wealth.


Dawson, M. C. (1995). Race, class, and African American polarization. In Behind the mule: Race and class in African-American politics (pp. 15-44). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


ksh302006 said...

Loved this...I used it as a reflection topic in my Understanding Diversity class!

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