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Class issue? November 9, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

A good article here by Jelani Cobb about representation and the lack of same in newsrooms dominated by white journalists in the US. These aren’t small matters either, in US daily newspapers… ‘In 2017, only 16.6% of journalists at daily newspapers were people of color; in the US population, more than 37% of people are nonwhite.’

But one anecdote he kicks off the piece struck me as much to do with class as with race.

Five years ago, I came across an article in the New York Times about a spate of robberies in the Bronx. It was the kind of story that has been a staple in the metro sections of newspapers since there have been metro sections in newspapers, focusing on the reaction of people living in the neighborhood where robberies took place. But there was a notable wrinkle: Confronted by armed antagonists, the article sighed, many people refused to surrender their belongings, even when they had only a few dollars on them. The article tsk-tsked at community members for tempting fate. A criminologist offered a suggestion that it was “nuts for the victim to refuse”. A few dollars, readers were told, are not worth one’s life.
The article stuck with me in part because I’d once lived nearby that area and understood the realities of crime there. But I also was struck by the ways in which the efforts of a journalist, an editor, an expert, and even neighborhood residents seemed only to further a narrative of liberal condescension, missing crucial facts about life in this place.
Here’s what I knew: people who live in a rough neighborhood and are confronted with a demand for money are forced to make calculations that people in safer, more affluent areas rarely think about. The few dollars in their pockets may represent their only way to get to work; surrendering cash is not only an immediate loss but also one that jeopardizes a future paycheck. More crucially, people who are known to be easily victimized likely will become frequent targets, a reality that may make their neighborhood virtually unlivable. What, to the journalist, seemed inscrutable was, to many residents, reasonable.

Granted it is true that in some contexts race intersects with class, but the reality of middle class and upper middle class people unaware of the realities facing working class people seems to me to be as significant an issue (map the story onto a ‘white’ working class area and it is no great stretch to presume that the advice would be precisely the same, hand over the money with no regard for the impact on the individual).

And so often these are about class as much as race, though given the very specific and grim context of class and race in the US it would be foolish to imagine that racial division hasn’t been used (as indeed we have seen religious division used closer to home) as a wedge between members of the same class.


1. Dermot O Connor - November 9, 2018

Like the recent Owen Jones piece in the Guardian in which he flagged the absence of working class people in UK media, the retrograde movement in the last 20 years as middle and upper middlers pushed out working class voices.

RESULT: a pile on by middle and upper middle class Oxbridge plonkers telling him that he was wrong – proving him right.
(P.S. – said Oxbridge being the beneficiary of massive taxpayer / state support).

Middle classes in US (and UK) use identity politics and racial lens / gender lens so furiously because it makes them the narrative heroes and/or victims of oppression. The second they use a class lens, they become the villains and/or oppressors, and they will never do that.

So it’s a liberal chorus of “check your male privilege” and “check your white privilege” from this lot, but it will never be “check your class privilege”, as that would mean “check MY class privilege”.
Can’t do that. So the blinkers stay on, and will stay on, forever.

The historical racial baggage in the US means that this is almost certain never to change, another reason why I’d very much like to move back to Europe, sooner rather than later. If people think the last 20 years in the US have been bad, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

And the working class in america? Many caught in a trap where they’ve been trained to believe that their enemy is the mexican kid down the street, not the prick in the local merchant of commerce.

From 2005, the ‘redneck socialist’ Joe Bageant. He died a few years ago, I think he got out just in time.

In this article JB focuses on GOP / business types, but the horrible realisation that the liberals are in their own way just as bad, maybe even worse (not having a greed based ideology to hide behind), is something I only came to in the last few years – and shame on me for being so slow.

Anyway, Joe knew the realities of working class life in the US, being a member of that club.


Dickie’s class, the business and owning class, is congenitally incapable of getting the fact that the masses are part of political history too. These owning class people are not mean, or at least not intentionally so, nor are they stupid. They merely live their lives based upon the way they have experienced their lives — as a class that owns the country and rents it back to the rest of us. And they see us as exactly that, a faceless swarm to be exploited and managed profitably. His class’ town bankers owned my daddy’s ass, and I don’t even want to think of the ways Dicko probably owns mine indirectly through local financial institutions.

The business/owning class has always been institutionalized as the state and the custodians of the entire American social and political process. History as we learn it in school is the owning class’ version as they see it. Despite what we were taught, America’s very Constitution is mainly a property rights document, and those with the most property are naturally ascendant at all times in this country. Generation after generation of this was bound to lead to dangerous hubris such as Bush’s “ownership society,” in which everyone has their own mobile home, credit card debt and a Dell…not to mention the reestablishment of debtor’s prisons and poor houses through “bankruptcy reform” and “Social Security reform.” How could it not have?

“Hi ho, hi ho! It’s off to work we go” at the local Tyson’s processing franchise to merrily stab turkeys for minimum wage alongside the El Salvadoran who keeps glancing over his shoulder for the INS which will never come because the fix is in with the owner. When is anybody going to figure out what a nest of self-serving sleazeballs the so-called small business establishment is in this country? When is anybody going to call these bastards on it?

…No need to waste money on a woman named Raynetta, who successfully raised six kids of her own and is trying to start a daycare center over in our cullid neighborhood. Or make a loan to Bobby Copenhaver out there on the edge of town in redneck modular home hell who believes he could operate a pretty damned good body shop if he only had startup cash — they are not players. So the neocon business class politicians tell Raynetta the liberals are going to make all her grandchildren wear condoms to school and tell Bobby an urban coalition (“Urban” being the code word for African-American) is going to take his daddy’s heirloom gun away from him. Works every time. Just like the “all unions are crooked” and the “liberals will take away your guns” line worked on my dad.

More JB articles linked at the bottom of that page.

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CL - November 9, 2018

‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of property’

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2. Fergal - November 10, 2018

Can somebody give me an overview of ‘white’ privilege and ‘male’ privilege?
Is it coming from US campuses?


WorldbyStorm - November 10, 2018

I think it is, and driven by the very specific racial (and perhaps gender) contexts in the US. I have some sympathy but without class at the base it doesn’t entirely convince me as having sufficient explanatory power, let alone a means of negotiating forward.


WorldbyStorm - November 10, 2018

Sorry, that’s not an explanation! I don’t know if I’m best placed to discuss it. Privilege seems too amorphous a term – I think there is white privilege and male privilege but I think the sheer complexity of the issue makes applying that difficult (that said I have a basic approach in various contexts as a male which is that I tend to STFU and listen to what women and others have to say because there’s too many men who talk on the left!).


Fergal - November 10, 2018

Cheers WbS!


Fergal - November 10, 2018

I see your points.. seems to negate any possible collective action and is not class based?
How does white privilege sound to a homeless man on the tube?
How does white privilege sound to a rich capitalist in Lagos?
Anyway.. thoughts are just very sketchy here as not sure what it really means!!


makedoanmend - November 10, 2018

Don’t know – not easy – bloody difficult. But…

If one is black, one could draw some conclusions about white folk who call the police because a black man has parked a car in “their” neighborhood and the police respond; knows that more black people per capita end up in US privatised gulags; knows that a cop is more likely to draw a gun on them than a white person with fatal consequences; knows that the likelihood of their average lifetime earnings as a group will be lower than some other ethnicities.

In fact, rising in class is often the only way a black person can escape the routine – but that is also not guaranteed. It just helps – especially in not being killed so automatically.

It might be hard to define privilege in positivist terms since there are always exceptions to the definition but in its negative implications it becomes more concrete.

(I’m sure women could also draw conclusions from their experiences.)

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WorldbyStorm - November 10, 2018

Yes that’s a great outline or another would be that if we think of any working class male there is likely a working class woman in an even worse job with less privilege ( or perhaps autonomy is a better term ) than a given working class male etc. I don’t want to discount the racial aspect because In the US in particular that does lend a very specific element but I think cross racial and cross gender solidarity founded on class as well as appreciating racial and class dimensions are crucial .


3. Pasionario - November 10, 2018

Journalism is in such a mess these days that there are very few new jobs, and they tend to pay poorly.

That means the people who get them first tend to do unpaid internships and freelance for a pittance as well as having extensive social connections. Expensive post-graduate qualifications are increasingly a prerequisite too. So there’s no mystery why the media are stacked with bourgeois writers.

I recently read Seymour Hersh’s memoir Reporter, where he describes getting his first job almost by accident when someone rang him up about an application he’d submitted on a whim and forgotten about. He was working in a shop at the time. That kind of story is now inconceivable, as is David Carr’s tale of going from being a drug dealer to leading journalist. And, by the way, who better to report on crime than an ex-criminal?

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