Recently, I’ve been getting into this band called “The Indelicates.” When I say “getting into,” I mean playing their music over and over until my roommate wishes I would listen to anything else, and dropping all my birthday money on ordering their CDs, because though an mp3 copy is cheaper, it’s not a physical copy and the price for the CDs was listed in pounds, not dollars, so of course I had to buy from the charming English people. When googling them, I found an interview, in which they spoke about why they love America:
“Britain is a truly repulsive, class-ridden, pseudo-meritocracy that offers nothing but rigged trials and smothering gauntlets that enable the quite clever children of quite clever parents to exercise dominion over museums about themselves. We’ll keep looking west for as long as looking backwards remains so dispiriting.”
Really? “Class-ridden pseudo-meritocracy” as ways in which Britain differs from the United States? Of course I’ve never been to England (unfortunately) so I can’t draw a comparison, but I can tell you that class is a vital part of the American culture as well, though I’m sure not in the same ways.
In America, we don’t have thousands of years of entrenched aristocratic tradition. In fact, the founders of the United States specifically wanted to do away with aristocracy, because they believed all white land-holding males were created equal. And although accumulated family wealth and connections always creates an aristocracy of sorts, Americans are extremely tenacious about believing that anyone can reach the top if they try. That’s why social inequality has to be constantly reinforced through money. And it is, in every way. It’s legal in 29 states to fire someone for being gay, in 34 states to fire someone for being transgender. Women still only make about 78 cents (or less depending on where you live) to every dollar men make for equal work. And as for exploitive labor practices targeting people of non-European descent, we’re equal opportunity exploiters! Undocumented immigrants at home and anyone living somewhere without good labor regulations abroad are targets for the worst sorts of economic exploitation, while US citizens who are non-white are drastically over-represented in labor and service industry jobs which tend to be low-paying, low-power positions with little opportunity for advancement. Each of these factors is part of the larger caste system, reinforcing itself, entrenching prejudice ever deeper in society each day of our lives until it can seem an impossible task to uproot the system. Changing the law is a good place to start, but if you think changing the law is difficult, wait until you try changing habits of economic flow. Because the people who have the power now also have amassed a great deal of money which means they’re going to keep the power for a long time, either until money ceases to be power or until their money is taken away (and they also have the power to somehow keep themselves and their companies from being taxed; every time I see pictures of the crumbling infrastructure of my home city, Detroit, I think of offshore accounts and get very, very angry).
Economic disadvantage is in no way the only indicator or contributor to class. There are myriad other factors constantly reinforcing our class system, and there are portions of stratification that can never be broken down simply by achieving economic equality. Still, discussing money is a good way to start talking about class. And we cannot, with any kind of honesty, try to talk about money in America without talking about class. Rhetoric about poverty without any consideration of how that poverty is enforced through our class system is disingenuous and unlikely to solve anything (as just one example, it is no mistake that such a high percentage of the homeless are suffering from serious mental illness, or that such large numbers of LGBTQ youth are homeless. It is no mistake and it is tragic).
Every major revolution has had to do with class. Whether political or cultural, class has been an integral factor, all the time. When anyone starts asking for their basic rights and freedoms, they’ll use the phrase “second-class citizen” to describe the experience of not having those basic rights and freedoms. And it’s true. There’s a stratified social caste system based on a conglomeration of civil rights and liberties (awarded based on race, gender, sexuality, citizenship status, and so forth) and also money. Which is why I predict once we get sufficiently far into rights & liberties side of the revolution of our class system, we’ll realize our economic system has to be changed drastically in order for the revolution to continue moving forward.
If you care about race, if you care about LGBTQ rights, if you care about feminism, if you care about immigration reform (and when I say reform I mean the system needs to be set up to let in as many people as want to come because dammit this is America, this whole country was built by immigrants), you need to realize what role class plays in your cause. You need to think about class within America and you also need to think about the global class system, in which the major Western powers wreaked untold destruction during the colonial era which is now reinforced through cultural imperialism and the exploitation of other nations for the good of our economic markets (and that colonial/imperial clusterfuck has extraordinarily disadvantaged indigenous people within the borders of America as well).
If you don’t care about class, it’s probably because you don’t think the system affects you negatively. You probably benefit from it in many ways. And if you’re not willing to see class as a problem because it doesn’t seem to affect you negatively, that means you’re just into your cause for whatever good it can do you. By all means, work on whatever problems are closest to you, but don’t leave the bigger picture out of your calculations. Don’t ever lose sight of the hierarchies, the authority, the class system that reinforces every injustice and oppression. No matter where you are in the world, it’s there, and it needs to be challenged.