Common Classist Beliefs

Common Classist Beliefs

Our early and continual socialization into our class positions makes it challenging to break free from the hegemony of dominant narratives. We speak back to some of the most challenging of those narratives here:

“Immigrants are stealing our jobs.” Immigrants do not and cannot

steal jobs. Rather, immigrants tend to cluster in the very vocations and jobs that locally born people don’t want to do. These immigrants are hired by companies who chose to hire them, and who benefit from their cheap (or exploited) labor. The work they do is typically the most grueling, demeaning, and dangerous work that others have refused to do (or that unionized workers have collectively bargained against doing under unsafe conditions). If immigrant workers are undocumented, they cannot complain about working conditions or unjust practices. This benefits the corporation, not the workers. The companies who exploit immigrant labor are whom we should be concerned with, not those being exploited. The discourse of “immigrants stealing jobs” puts attention on to the actions of the vulnerable, and away from the actions of the powerful.

“Poor people should stop having so many babies.” This claim rests on

the assumption that women have complete control over their bodies and receive no pressure from society to be sexual, much less pressure or even force from men to engage in unprotected sex. Further, many of the forms of birth control available to women can be dangerous, faulty, expensive, and difficult to access. Perhaps the simplest, cheapest, and safest form of birth control beyond abstinence (which again assumes women are the sole decisionmakers in whether or not they have sex) is the use of condoms. But condom use depends on men being willing to use them. The claim that the poor should stop having babies is particularly interesting in the face of


ever increasing curtailment of women’s reproductive rights and options. These limitations go so far as to decrease funding for organizations that give birth control or family planning information. For example, in 2017 the U.S. president has reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule of 1984, a policy that blocks federal funding to international nongovernmental organizations that provide abortions, family planning services, or information about family planning. This expansion includes global health assistance programs across all departments and agencies. This means that the Global Gag Rule will now not only apply to organizations that receive family planning funding, but also to foreign NGOs that receive funding to work on a broad range of health programs including HIV/AIDS, the Zika virus, malaria, tuberculosis, nutrition, and maternal and child health (Starrs, 2017). It is important to note that most of the arguments for limiting women’s reproductive rights are rooted in religion, despite a professed separation of church and state. It is also important to notice how class is at play in who we believe should not have too many children, who is valorized for being a stay-at-home mom, and who is vilified for staying home while raising children. Social class plays a powerful role in these judgments.

“It’s easy when you get a government handout every month.” It is a

common stereotype that Indigenous people get “free money” from the government and that peoples of Color (and African Americans in particular) are the beneficiaries of welfare and other “handout” programs. Further, it is a common stereotype that these groups cheat these programs. When considering this belief, we need to look at several interrelated dynamics: historical oppression, what programs are actually available, and who uses them.

When we think of historical oppression toward Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States and African Americans in the United States, we might consider the following in terms of stolen goods (Coates, 2015). It is by no means an exhaustive list:

African Americans: kidnapping; 246 years of enslavement and brutality; the rape of Black women; torture; separation of families; selling of children; forbidden to speak their own language or practice their religion; forced Christian conversion; medical experimentation; slave codes and Black codes; mandatory segregation; lynching, murder and mob violence; imprisonment and forced labor; disempowering Black entrepreneurs; bans on marriage and imprisonment for interracial couples; redlining to profit banks and


real estate brokers; documented discrimination in employment, biased laws and policing practices; White flight; cultural erasures and attacks; subprime mortgages; racist media representation; mass incarceration; and educational inequality. Indigenous Peoples: stolen land; intentional spreading of disease; cultural and physical genocide; death marches; rape; forced onto reservations; forced into residential schools; sexual exploitation; separation of families; forbidden to speak their language or practice their ceremonies; torture; forced conversions to Christianity; racist representations in media, literature, and textbooks; broken treaties; cultural mockery through such practices as racist sports team names and Halloween costumes; cultural appropriation; omitted history; educational inequality; mass incarceration; environmental destruction; corporate pollution and resource extraction from Indigenous lands; destruction of ancestral territories and sacred burial grounds; stolen artifacts and the display of stolen bones in museums; cultural erasure; profiting from an international tourism industry on the “cowboys and Indians” White settler colonial story.

The wealth of these two countries absolutely depended—and continues to depend—upon what was stolen from these groups. There is widespread misinformation about what government-assistance supports are actually in place and who uses them. For example, many people think that citizens who receive welfare benefits live lives of luxury and that Black people in particular abuse the welfare system. Yet, in fact, to qualify for welfare— officially know as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)— you need to have income below half the poverty line; in some states, the income limit is much lower. Even then, states have no legal obligation to provide TANF. The amount that the federal government allocates to states for TANF has not changed since 1996 (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2015). There are three times the number of children (3.2 million) than adults (1.1 million) receiving monthly TANF benefits. The highest amount of cash assistance from TANF in any state is $400.00 per month. States can set their own time limits, and no state allows for more than 60 months (5 years) on TANF for an adult. In addition to how temporary, meager, and tenuous TANF support is, the percentage of people using TANF is roughly the same by race (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2012). As this book goes to press, the Republican controlled House of Representatives in the United States has submitted a budget that would drastically cut welfare benefits even further than they currently are.


“This is socialist propaganda (a.k.a. ‘commie crap’).” There are

many political perspectives various people have taken on the issues of inequality addressed in this book. These perspectives can be thought of as ranging on a continuum from nature to nurture. Nature arguments claim that inequality is natural or biological and thus will always be with us (positivism). Nurture arguments claim that inequality is constructed by society and thus can be changed (constructivism). While this book takes a constructivist stance, we recognize the difficulty of ever fully separating nature from nurture. Thus the question we offer when developing your own perspective is: “Who or what does this narrative serve?” Assuming that the person raising this dismissal recognizes that people do in fact occupy different class positions but is dismissing the explanation that this is due to classism (rather than to personal merit), we would ask: “Whose interests are served by the ideology of meritocracy? The owning class? The middle class? The working class?”

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