The first is a discussion with activists Suey Park and Dr. David Leonard, on the "problem" of white allies in the movements against racism and white supremacy. I posted some choice excerpts last week, worth checking out.
Please now find excerpts of the second article below. It is a great primer about class privilege. As a young middle-class white activist, involved with Occupy Wall Street, twinkle-fingers, and dreadlocks - I found it to be highly illuminating.
Yet in reality, what I hear from working-class and very low-income activists is very different: many aspects of middle-class culture are baffling, infuriating, intimidating or just plain weird. And while mainstream professional-middle-class (PMC) culture may be familiar from television and from teachers and social workers, PMC activist subcultures can be unfamiliar and thus even more alienating.
Doing community organizing jobs in which I worked with hundreds of grassroots working-class activists, I saw people meet their first vegetarian, their first Buddhist, their first woman with hairy legs, their first white dreadlocks-wearer, and so on, almost always a college-educated PMC activist.
We PMC activists have a tremendous resistance to seeing our own subcultures through a class lens. Whether or not there's an obvious connection with money or status, if cultural clashes happen across class lines, then class dynamics are at work. Of course there are also working-class vegetarians, Buddhists and so on, and when they get culture-shock reactions from other working-class people, it's not a class issue. But whenever there's a big difference in income, assets, education and/or status, then cultural differences become laden with class dynamics.
In professional-middle-class progressive culture, the axis of the world is mainstream versus alternative. The majority of us were raised in non-progressive families; the exceptions, such as "red diaper babies" and children of hippies, grew up aware of their families' outsider status. We grew up surrounded by expectations that we would maximize our income and status by conforming to PMC lifestyles and career tracks. At some point we made a conscious, life-changing decision to take a different course and to put some of our energy to work for a better world. We each place ourselves in a particular place on the mainstream/alternative continuum, contrasting ourselves with those more and less conventional than ourselves. One thing that virtually all of us PMC activists have in common is that we are proud of living a values-based life. It's our best trait — and leads to some of our most classist traits, such as culture-bound elitism. "More-alternative-than- thou" is not a helpful stance to take in building bridges with anyone, and it's especially unhelpful with people with a lot less social privilege than ourselves.
PMC activists often feel like the underdogs in middle-class society. This is not a bad thing; it can help us identify with targeted groups — not just with working-class people, but with people of color if we're white; with women if we're men; with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people if we're straight [and perhaps the author blows open the subconscious impetus behind this entire blog]. But if this underdog feeling leads PMC progressives to think that we are similarly oppressed, we have fallen into a misunderstanding of the nature of systemic oppression.
No matter how unwelcoming your Christian family is towards your wiccan practices, that mistreatment is not actually equivalent to the racism faced by people of color, or the classism experienced by working-class people. The uptight bosses and relatives who make you wear a tie or pantyhose are not actually the equivalent of the employers who pay their employees minimum wage. Bohemian lifestyles and voluntary simplicity have a long, honored history in middle-class culture, and it's time we recognized our counterculture impulses as part of our professional-middle-class identity.
The cultural differences between PMC and working-class activists are not just neutral differences in taste or style, in which each party should give the other equal deference, but power differences between people with different amounts of education, social and cultural capital, and clout in the wider society. In my experience, I'm usually identified as PMC at 20 paces. We might as well accept that working-class people will know who we are; there's no hiding our privilege.
But how can we be ourselves and still build bridges with people who find our differences weird? For the answer to this question and lots more great insights into class and PMC privilege, read the full article here!