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Racism, or Classism?

by on May 1, 2019

Racism, or Classism?

By Marco M. Pardi

The distinctions separating the social classes are false; in the last analysis they rest on force.” Albert Einstein. “My Credo” Wisdom. 1956

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

While walking Plato the other day I stopped to talk with a couple of neighbors, a White woman and a White man, who were having a discussion by the curb. Of course, coming in late on a discussion is always questionable but I knew them well and the discussion seemed rather open. One of them had just begun saying, “You know, deep down everyone is racist to some degree.” I cautioned them that Plato, a Korean Jindo, might bite them. That lightened the mood enough for them to engage me in their discussion of the media coverage of the Trump administration’s apparent racism. I will use the terms used in the discussion.

The woman went on to say, “Look at the Blacks who live in this neighborhood. They live in this expensive area rather than live in the Black neighborhoods because they don’t want to live around those ghetto Blacks.” I said, “That’s not racism; that’s classism. You would not want to live around the White people living in the North Georgia mountains, but they are just as White as you are. Remember the movie Deliverance?”

My remark pretty well dampened the conversation. But I later thought more comprehensively about it. I’ve long been sensitive to these issues. When my family moved to the U.S. I was a child. They drilled me daily on American English, telling me that I must lose any accent or suffer discrimination from everyone. But that’s not a race issue, and because my two grandmothers were British I “looked like” any other American kid (most of my life I’ve heard, “You don’t look Italian”). So, I thought, until I said my name I was an acceptable person.

As a young person I did not have opportunities to venture far from our neighborhood but the families on three sides of us were Observant Jewish and I got along with the kids quite well, especially Naomi, the girl next door. They went to public school and then Hebrew school; I went to Catholic school. No big deal.

Members of the family worked, but I do not recall anyone asking why no one in mine seemed to.

Later we moved to a much more exclusive area and I entered a very expensive monastic college preparatory school. It was all boys, from various countries and even different religious backgrounds. Boys were there from the Middle East, South America, Asia and even Canada. There was Old Money, New Money, and probably some ill gotten money. But clearly, everyone there had a family that could afford to put them there. And I never heard any references to race, although there were no Blacks.

But then I got a different and unexpected view. I was on the football and the track & field teams. Our school bus was the common yellow kind, with the name of the academy on the sides. One warm Spring day, as we made our way into a rather rough part of Cleveland to compete against a Catholic high school we paused in traffic on the edge of road and sewer main work. The workers, all of whom were White, looked up from their shoveling and stared at us through the bus windows. Close enough to reach out and touch the bus, two of them spit on the bus. I looked directly into the eyes of one worker and saw, for the first time, genuine hate. I had never felt “in” with any group or demographic. I was a bit puzzled that he apparently thought I was “one of those”. But then, I was on the marked bus. In fact, oddly, I felt a kinship with that worker though I could not possibly explain why. That I vividly remember this over sixty years later must convey something to you, the reader.

Over the years most of us have heard or read glib attempts to lump a group of people into a predetermined box. First comes the conception of the group – “All people who fit these criteria are upper class. Or, All people who fit these criteria are Black.” And on, and on. Ronald Reagan may have set a record for such a performance when he played to American preconceptions with his totally fictitious “Black welfare queen driving a Cadillac in Chicago.” When challenged to identify this person he did his routine “Huh, huh” and laughed it off because he knew many in America believed these people existed even if he couldn’t name a particular one. These same people shrug it off when presented with the statistics which show there are FAR more Whites on welfare than Blacks. What you know is of little importance when held against what you believe.

Just as the handlers who coached Hitler and scripted his speeches (Jews are the cause of Germany’s economic problems) became role models for those handlers who coached Reagan and propped him in front of cameras (Blacks are the cause of America’s economic problems), the handlers and coaches of Trump have helped him make Hispanic migrants the Jews and/or the Blacks of the 21st Century. The time-worn trope, If they are this, then they are that still holds in the minds of many. I encountered it even as a teenager. When some people learned my family was Italian, and wealthy, I heard the refrain, Must be Mafia.

The Wall across the southern border is intended to keep the Hispanics out just as surely as the cordon around the Warsaw Ghetto was intended to keep the Jews in.

Of course, the regime’s early efforts at a complete Muslim ban backfired when someone realized the Saudis could turn off the OPEC oil spigots and sell their oil elsewhere. So the regime looks the other way while the Saudis murder and dismember journalists critical of them. And after an anti-discrimination protester is murdered in Virginia the regime tells us there are very good people on both sides. Very good people.

But the regime’s efforts to dance away from the White Nationalist ethos it blatantly supports are confusing on the surface. Are they based on some concept of race? Religion? Economic status? “Class”? Or are they somehow conflating all four? The belief that Jews secretly control the entire economic structure of the world banking system is still prevalent within the regime’s “base”. I still hear people say, I Jew’d them down when talking about a deal they made. When stationed in South Florida I heard the wealthier neighborhoods described as, Where the rich New York Jews live. The Jewish families I grew up around were hard working and, if they were hoarding ill gotten wealth I never knew of it.

Americans still confuse social class with monetary wealth. And this ignites discomfort when a person who is this, turns out to not be that….a person who is Black or Hispanic or Muslim turns out not to be on welfare, or mowing your lawn, or running a convenience store. How dare they? Must be that damned Affirmative Action.

The term Tribalism is now commonly used to describe the mosaic of American society. Although that comes somewhat close, that’s a mischaracterization of what tribes are and how they function. Instead, the “Melting Pot” of yore has become a rolling boil of disparate parts, each quickly glancing at and judging other parts as they swirl toward overflowing. Election cycles are contests of who can stir these parts into supporting their rise to the top. And each part hears only the tropes it already believes and see only the “truths” it was convinced of beforehand.

Because this society has such a garbled and confused view of ethnicity, “race”, religion, and “social class” I think it is pointless to label someone a racist or a classist or whatever. Any such label is bound to miss the entirety by a wide margin. If there is any label which comes close to comprehensive, perhaps it is bigot. But where does that leave us? How can we know that the person using the label bigot is not, therefore, a bigot?

The use of labels has always been with us, but it has escalated under a president who tosses them out like beads at Mardi Gras. Of course, they have their place. On a college campus where I enjoyed the various vegetation I noticed on a Monday that every tree and shrub suddenly had a label on it, apparently placed by the Botany department. Half joking, I said to someone from that department, “Gee, all this time I thought they were just plants.”

But we are clearly at a point where few if any are laughing. Labels are flying like bullets in an amateur gunfight. I’ve been in settings where someone appears on the evening news presenting a serious and cogent position on an important issue and someone in the room says, “You know they’re gay, don’t you?” What the hell does that have to do with anything?

What would our days be like if we saw plants instead of (enter Genus/species here), and people instead of (enter “race”, ethnicity, religion, class here) ?

It is within our power to resist the force which impels us to conveniently apply labels. Do you think you could do it?

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12 Comments
  1. Marco,

    All humans, no matter who they are or how/when/where they were raised, have unconscious biases whether they realize this or not. Unconscious bias is often a more appropriate term for prejudice or bigotry, because much of the time it isn’t purposeful. We may be completely unaware of our own.

    In a recent customer service position I served an individual I might have assumed was a “redneck” simply because of the way he was dressed. There can be more assumptions after that, such as thinking someone dressed a certain way be a Trump supporter!

    The Ego would like us to claim we have no biases, but education is the key. Times are changing, with a growing need need to be more sensitive to others. As for race, in my mind there is only one – the human race. However, in certain circles I would never attempt to take away “race” from others. This can be offensive as well.

    I no longer assume gender pronouns on others. If unsure, we should ask. Someone might “look” like “he, him, his,” or “she, her, hers,” when in fact a non-binary person might be “they, them, theirs.”

    Dana

    • Thank you so much, Dana. I quite agree. Bias is a fact of life and unique to each of us. Had I gone through life with an identical twin I could not presume he would feel the same as me about things.

      You rightly point out that unconscious bias is more commonly appropriate than frank racism or bigotry. I guess I was reacting to the current social atmosphere at its worst – or, I hope this is its worst. But I’m still troubled by those who seem to want to “lead” with some categorical identity and not simply with who they are as persons.

      Thank you for bringing clarity.

  2. This comes at the end of my third reading of this offering; it has given me much to think about. I am among the least prejudiced people you will ever meet, and yet I find myself sometimes startled by someone stepping outside of a cultural bias I was not aware I had. Where I do karaoke, there is a black man whose song choices are invariably country music. Someone commented that he “looked like” he should be doing rap. A white woman (who dresses like a male) does rap, but also sings.

    I’d like to believe we are all the same, but it just isn’t so. Are we all equal? Probably not, but what makes one person somehow better than another? Despite what some may believe, the quality of a human being has nothing to do with race, religion, nationality, or socio-economic factors. Granted, those with a better education or more money may live a better lifestyle, but I am not convinced they are inherently better people. I’ve known wealthy people who pinch every penny, and homeless people who share all they have with others; to flip that would be equally true. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here, except that we are all about as equal as life will let us be.

    Do sub-cultures still exist? And is it okay to call them that? I’ve known people who reject their cultural background, and those who embrace it. Is it okay to say I love the Irish in me, even if it is just a part of who I am? Everyone should have the right to be proud of where they came from and who they became; I know I am. Rose

    • Thank you, Rose. It is a confusing issue, and that’s probably why it is dismissed so superficially. Your comment about subcultures reminded me of an episode where I was assigned to orient some new Ph.D. Anthropologists into our agency. In discussing population issues I used the concept subculture, and was greeted with very vocal disapproval. I was stunned, and wondered where these kids got their degrees. Then I began to wonder if, being out of academia for many years, I had not known the term has fallen into disfavor. Returning to academia a few years later, I found it had not. Which still leaves me wondering about the “education” these people had received.

      I’ve always thought of myself as a concept person, not a categorical person. In my career choices that served me well. But you are right; sometimes we can be taken by surprise.

  3. Hi Marco, I love to have the time to enjoy your posts, take it in and try and reply by showing my feelings the best way I can here, that’s why I like to wait until I have this time, so I apologise for the late response.

    I really enjoyed this piece as, I too, have thought the same thoughts about the rasism/classism situation in people’s thinking including myself. So many factors come into play here with how we feel about this. Obviously, how you have been brought up has a big bearing, but isn’t the whole picture, as as an adult we can make our own decisions. I’d like to think we have moved ahead by not putting people immediately into a box, I feel these days people generally take people for who they are as individuals, whatever that entails being kind, aggressive, thoughtful, etc in saying that an individual’s self esteem, I believe, can really impact their take on this, as this either gives the individual the ability to look at a bigger picture and question their thinking or be full of hate and continue believing this line of thinking.

    On a broader perspective, it also filters from the top down, being politics, workplaces, families etc, I’d like to think we have moved forward here from generations ago.

    Your last question about “applying labels” I know I am guilty of this at times, but genuinely try to be aware of myself doing this, I guess in these current times, it’s unrealistic to expect it to never crop up in some way, but I do believe humans are progressing in the right direction.

    Keep up your brilliant writing Marco, you are an inspiration to me x

    • Thank you, Julie. So glad you have the time to engage as you do. In writing this I was tempted to include my puzzlement over equal importance placed on Integration and on Days, Weeks, even Months celebrating some particular ethnic or other such group. Do we want to integrate and get on with life, or do we want to display the differences? I don’t get it. I’ve been on college campuses when they had Diversity Day, showcasing all the various ethnic, cultural, sexual orientation, etc. groups on campus at once. One could go from booth to booth in a kind of tourism, always feeling that one should not ignore that group or spend too much time with this group. It reminded me of people who say they were in “Eye-Rack”. No they weren’t; they were in an American bubble. Or they would have learned at least how to pronounce “Ee-Rrock”

      • I can relate to what you said about Diversity day as we also have a version of these at Universities and schools here, your comment made me laugh and I get your point, it’s all about celebrating and enjoying the differences within each of these groups, which is really lovely. What i struggle with is when these groups come to a country and completely stay together, make no effort to assimilate (spelling?) including only speaking their own language- I think that is sad for them and the people of the country they have come to. Diversity becomes problematic when they bring certain beliefs with them that the country they are in has laws against – this just creates problems everywhere – I see this effect where I work 😢

      • I completely agree, Julie. While working the Miami area during the crack cocaine epidemic I several times entered homes where Santeria (a Caribbean variant of voodoo) was practiced. These people snatched pets and “sacrificed” them in horrific ways. But there was the conflict of “religious freedom” versus cruelty to animals. I was all in favor of a painless end to the people, but had to keep it holstered.

  4. Oh that is so aweful and confronting Marco, you have experienced so much in your life, I really appreciate you sharing your personal stories and life experiences with us all here.

  5. Thank you, Julie. I am so glad we have developed a communication. It helps me more than you might guess.

    If your significant others and acquaintances would like to join in, I would be honored by the opportunity to engage them.

    • Julie permalink

      I have actually given your blog details to a few friends i thought would enjoy your blog – a few have read a bit i think, they might comment at some point.

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