E-DEMOCRACY | Class and race in St. Paul

From: John Slade Date: 2:19am, Sep 30

I've sat on this thread for a long time wondering how to respond to it.

Most people on this list know how racism works, generally. People of color know since they get disadvantaged by it. An increasing number of white people recognize it is a problem, and are working to stop it, but even those that deny racism exists in America get the basic outline of it.

But what we have in this discussion is not, primarily, racism; what it is is classism, which people do not understand nearly as well.

We're a classless society, you see. Anyone can rise to the top. We don't have classes, like 'peasant' and 'noble'. Plus if you DO bring up class, you must be some kind of pinko Marxist, and we can't have that.

Saying there's no social class in America is totally bogus. We have a strong class system. You can tell people's class super quickly; there are all sorts of social markers. Now, I'm totally educated middle class. You can tell by the way I write, by my references. My wife's family is working class, and my sister-in-law is on Section 8. We helped her move today from a townhome development in Hudson to a townhome development in Oakdale. She (my sister-in-law) is disabled from a car accident and is a single mom with two kids. She's been on Section 8 for years (since the accident). She has super-nice fancy fingernails, a lot of ear piercings, is overweight and has bad skin, bangles on her cellphone case, and big hair. If you met her, you'd be able to place her as working class.

Some of the white folks on this list who have been complaining about the race discussion are working class. And this is the thing that gets me - working class white people have been one of the biggest bulwarks of the hard right and the Republican agenda, which has been responsible for cutting and gutting the social safety net. There are a lot of folks who are one paycheck from needing Section 8 who are white and a lot who USE Section 8, and food stamps, and government health care.

These folks used to vote for Democrats, particularly after the New Deal (which did a lot to help the poor and working class.) And the modern corporate Democrat really doesn't want to address the issues - the last one to do so explicitly was John Edwards and man, did he get taken down! (By his hubris as well as by the establishment.)

But to get back to the discussion - when people say 'people on Section 8 and renters' you're talking about poor people and the lower end of the working class. Saying there should be a cap on 'those people' means you want a cap on the poor who live in your neighborhood. If you put it in overtly racist terms, saying we can have no more than 10% of our neighborhood be black, (like a Section 8 cap) and no more than 30% on each block be Latino or Asian (a type of rental restriction), you would be in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Race and class totally feed into each other, too. The 'youth gangs' are not only black, they're poor. My sister-in-law, who is white with two white kids, probably gets preferential treatment from the Section 8 landlords she deals with. The last time I got pulled over by a coip (I'd a busted tail-light) I thought - gee, I hope I don't get a ticket, at least I'm white. Maybe I'll get off. And when that cop comes to me, I'm a proper middle class respectful white guy.

Classism is unspoken but encouraged.The Prosperity Gospel preaches that if you are rich, it's cuz God meant you to be rich. The hard-right preaches that government taking taxes is stealing your money and redistribution of wealth is a communist plot. Bashing on poor people has been a constant refrain, and with this latest attempt to cut food stamps, there's overt targeting of poor people. (See http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/24/snap-artemis-wildland-food-stamps)

America has a lot of hatred of the poor and the working class,and idolization of the rich. Donald Trump's career, for example. The Clash said in a rock song - you have the right to food money, providing of course you don't mind a little humiliation, investigation... The welfare system sucks. It's been under starvation since Reagan and need has increased and since it's OK to hate poor people you put them through more hoops, Like urinalysis for benefits (most upper-middle-class jobs don't have UAs) Susan Stewart's story has those same kind of welfare system horror stories.

I totally agree that there should be less poor people living in Payne Phalen and the greater East Side. But the way to make that happen is not to kick poor people out, but to change things so that there are less poor people. We used to have three big factories (and before that a railroad) that provided great jobs with good pay out here. And if we focus on reducing the poor in our neighborhood by reducing the number of poor people in our economy, a whole set of new ideas come up - from raising the minimum wage, to promoting union rights, to local economic development, to gaining control of capital in your neighborhoods. The increasing income inequality, where the 1% get 50% of the recent recovery, where the top 10% own 50% of everything is a sign that there is a class war in the country - of the rich against everyone else. And what they've succeeded in doing somewhat, is demonizing the poor.

Two quick specific points - Ben, when you said you were sure that all of these "idiots" were likely renters, that made me wonder. I agree that rental properties should be better maintained, and there's a ton of crappy landlords, but lots of people rent, and there's a bunch of idiot homeowners too. Suzan, you made a comment about bullying and about white privilege. Bullying is indeed a bad thing. But I've seen as a white guy how my race privileges me and I see racism and I think it's immoral. So I'll challenge people on that kind of stuff. The great thing about white privilege is - and you said you missed that day in class - you don't have to study to get it! It's something that just comes to you being white. You can go to the store and not get expected to be followed around, you can talk and not be expected to be speaking on behalf of all white people, you just get the statistically better chance to get a house, a good mortgage, a better credit score, school tests written for your ethnic group, most of the people on TV news being your race, etc. etc. If you had made that day in class, they probably would have assigned Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: the Invisible Knapsack article (see the attached PDF)

John Slade
as a forum participant


E-Democracy forum posts are republished under license by Creative Commons with Attribution

See the full thread here.