Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Classist Comments

Responses to the Survey on Classism

People responded to the question: “What’s the most classist comment you have ever heard?”

I was once part of organizing a radical book fair. It was held in a hall at a local university. At the end of the day several folks started to leave, despite the fact that the hall was a complete mess. When challenged to help clean up, one of them replied "Isn't that for the janitors to do?" Sigh.  —Matthew King

My mother is a passionate liberal Democrat. Her long-time housekeeper, a Mexican immigrant Pentecostal, voted for Bush on moral grounds. My mother says of her, "These people just don't understand!"  —Polly Cleveland

"Of course I am going to be patronizing to workers, I'm educated."
—Stephen Dempsey

I have heard two different feminist governing boards, when deciding how to set fees for an event, say, "Everyone can afford five dollars. If they are not willing to spend five dollars, then they don't care enough about the event."  —Bette Tallen

A faculty friend of mine and I use to talk about classes I taught on issues of hunger and homelessness. The faculty person, who came from working class roots, said "Those homeless people like being homeless; they choose to be that way, and they like living under the bridge". My mouth instantly dropped! - [Name withheld]

When I was a cashier at a food co-op, I hated it when members would say, "Have a great week-end," assuming that I had 2-day weekends off! — Lori Wyman

An upper-class activist was complaining to me about some women from a public housing project. My acquaintance was a member of a group that was trying to form an alliance with the public housing women in order to determine the needs of the housing community that they might be able to work together on. They had the right idea of joining together to form an alliance where everyone could contribute and learn. But the upper-class woman had organized a meeting to be held in her home, and she complained when nobody from the project showed up; she thought they were irresponsible not to show up and not to call. Her home was in the fanciest part of town and, in addition, there were hardly any bus routes leading to it.  —Sally Thomas

This is an excerpt from an email promoting an annual conference of progressives. It struck me as unaware (to say the least) and went downhill from there:  "A word about pricing and payment. This year we have set the price at the bare minimum to make sure that everybody who is motivated to participate can. On the other hand, we have also decided that anybody who does not feel committed enough to pay is not committed enough to participate. The price is $100 per day and there is no free lunch (no Santa Claus either, its a tough world out there), no discounts, and work-exchange by invitation only. We encourage you to sign up early as we want to make sure everyone in our community who wants to attend can, but the event is designed to sell out at this price."                —Terry Masters

Here's one that was said directly to me, about me. The people who said it are two long-time peace activists whom I greatly respect and have fondness for. That's part of the reason I was so surprised to hear it from them.  As a progressive non-profit director frequently surrounded by other directors who come from more affluent means, I talk often about my background as a person who grew up in a single parent family, living in a mobile home or tiny cottage when I was a kid, and sometimes on welfare and food stamps.  When I shared this on one occasion the first response from the peace activists — I really do like them a lot still — was that they didn't know that about me and were surprised because "I speak so well."  As an anti-racist activist I challenge statements like that when they are said by fellow white people about people of color. When it was said to me, about me, I had nothing to say, I was just surprised.  —Bill Vandenberg

When I was about 21 years old, I worked as a live-in nanny for a wealthy white family. I was working under the table and living in their home. I was "hired" because the mother had golf tournaments to attend, and she needed childcare. That year while her husband was doing taxes on April 15th, she threw her arms up in disgust and said, "I just can't believe it! We have to pay $50,000 to the federal government ALONE! We'll be supporting over 500 Boston families this year!"  I was astounded that 1) she felt it was okay to share this information with me so casually, and 2) that they made so much money in the first place, and 3) that she thought supporting poor families was a bad thing! I don't know if people who are wealthy their entire lives have any clue whatsoever about poor people, or if they just don't care how their privilege appears to other people.                        —Sonia Belliveau

I was in college — an elite college where class stuff went down everyday. But one of the most classist things I ever heard was from a woman working to provide internships for college women with school alumni. I had won an internship in N. Dakota and had received a scholarship from the Dean to get airfare to go to fulfill my internship, but they wanted to issue it on a reimbursement basis. I didn't have money or a credit card, nor the safety net of my parents. When I tried to explain this to the woman, she simply told me: Well, ask a friend if you can buy it on their credit card. I didn't end up going, because none of my friends had credit cards with $500 limits either. I was so angry that this woman called herself a liberal working on behalf of young women's development.  —Ana

While being detained for 37 hours for demonstrating at the Republican National Convention in NYC this past August I heard a whole category of classist comments from my fellow arrestees.  A number of these — mostly college students I supposed — entertained themselves with jibes and putdowns of police officers (sometimes within these officers' hearing, sometimes not). The putdowns, among other ways, took the form of mimicking the police in a dumb-sounding accent.  My fellow prisoners seemed oblivious to the privilege of their lives compared to the lack of privilege of those they mocked.  —Ed Kinane

Recently I was facilitating a discussion for an organization that was trying to decide how much severance pay to give a staff person leaving because the organization couldn't afford to keep them full-time. Someone said, "Let's give them a huge party and show them we love them, and they'll remember that a lot longer than any money we give them."  —Paul Kivel

Most of the Homeowners Associations wanted in an icky way to "color up" with racial diversity. They were happy to have people of color at the table as long as they were in the minority and didn't get to make any decisions. At one meeting, this one white homeowner was complaining about "why Latinos won't come to our meetings" and she suggested that maybe people should bring their maids! It was too gross!   —Roxana Tynan

There was a fund-raising event that cost $50 and I heard comments about how "anyone can afford that."  —Pam McMichael

Several times I've heard social welfare professionals say about poor mothers, "We have to speak for them because they can't speak for themselves."
—Theresa Funiciello

There was one guy I worked with, he thought he was the smartest organizer, and he would say things to me, like "Can you turn out 500 people for this meeting and then we'll go and do the negotiations for them?" He thought of working class people as props and their voices as sound bites.  I've heard people patronize, tokenize and fethishize, like "Let's hear from the welfare recipient now! Isn't she smart?"  —Gilda Haas

A new friend said, "My neighbor wanted to put up a 15-foot fence that would block my view. He's real redneck, low-life trailer trash." I told her I was offended by that, and we had a big argument that lasted all day.  —Betsy Leondar-Wright

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