Written by a friend who knows.
Classism: What You’re *Really* Saying
Our discussions here on the state of affairs for ‘broke’ people in America has led me to lose my temper. I will not apologize for doing so. I will not excuse myself or my outrage–as it is wholly justified and very important. In many ways, internet forums have become the voice of the people. Though the power may only appear a whisper, “one whisper, added to many, becomes a roar of discontent that cannot be ignored.”
The issue of classism is close to my heart because I have seen my children suffer from its effects. I have witnessed how Americans harm each other–often with no idea they are. It is a negligence of character, a refusal of the classists to comprehend their own beliefs and actions, that is the basis for not only my discontent–but for any person who may have encountered rank and unwarranted bigotry in their time. Whether it’s race, faith, gender, or age bias–unrelenting classism is destroying the American Dream. That, in itself is an ugly prospect, but combined with the suffering this creates for American men, women, and children, it is morally reprehensible.
Every hard-working American is hard-working because of an “I Can” mentality. Those with a defeatist attitude have given up. They no longer try to better their situations. They are no longer interested in partaking within society. I would venture to say, there are very few of them on the internet, let alone fighting against the prejudices inflicted upon them.
There is no correlation between hard-work and a defeatist attitude–they are mutually exclusive. The very nature of working hard indicates hope, indicates a desire and a belief that the hard work will benefit them and their family. It is an “I Can” mentality that is blatantly ignored or dismissed by those who would rather not take responsibility for their thoughts, actions, or beliefs and the harm they create by influencing legislation that hinders the progress from hard-working and broke–to hard working and financially stable.
Have you ever thought, supported, or agreed with any of these statements:
“Poor people are on welfare because it’s easier than working for a living.”
“Poor people are more interested in living off my tax dollars than contributing to society.”
“Poor people need to get a better job.”
“Poor people expect the government to take care of them.”
“Poor people have more children so they can get more government cheese.”
“Poor people need to get educated and off their lazy asses.”
“Poor people believe they are entitled to government aid and have a welfare mentality.”
“Poor people are ignorant and stupid.”
“Poor people choose to be poor.”
“Poor people have a defeatist attitude and are negative.”
Now, imagine if you substitute “Poor People” with any other blanket distinction:
“Black people are on welfare because it’s easier than working for a living.”
“Latinos are more interested in living off my tax dollars than contributing to society.”
“Mexicans need to get a better job.”
“The disabled expect the government to take care of them.”
“Women have more children so they can get more government cheese.”
“Fat people need to get educated and off their lazy asses.”
“Handicapped people believe they are entitled to government aid and have a welfare mentality.”
“Southerners are ignorant and stupid.”
“The elderly choose to be poor.”
“American Indians have a defeatist attitude and are negative.”
If you carefully look at the substitutions I used–you will find that every ‘generality’ describes factions of the ‘poor’ or ‘broke’–whichever term you prefer–in America. Every time you think these things about the “poor” what you’re really saying is all of these different ‘groups’ are guilty of the accusations you are placing on them. Any one of these ‘distinctions’ could be (and often are) combined with another to describe a single individual. Imagine, then, the compounded prejudices and bigotry that must be overcome by the hard-working individuals on their quest to reach financial stability.
Now, lets look at the reality of same list and what is truly being stated:
“Americans are on welfare because it’s easier than working for a living.”
“Americans are more interested in living off my tax dollars than contributing to society.”
“Americans need to get a better job.”
“Americans expect the government to take care of them.”
“Americans have more children so they can get more government cheese.”
“Americans need to get educated and off their lazy asses.”
“Americans believe they are entitled to government aid and have a welfare mentality.”
“Americans are ignorant and stupid.”
“Americans choose to be poor.”
“Americans have a defeatist attitude and are negative.”
In a country that prides itself on patriotism, on exalting the community, standing strong as a united whole, does it make sense to hold, espouse or support the above beliefs? Is any ideology that excludes the majority of its own country men, women and children one which you wish to harbor?
Until this prejudice is recognized, addressed, and confronted, the struggles of those working hard to achieve the ever-dwindling possibility of the “American Dream” will not only have to overcome the real-world obstacles in front of them–but the intangible stigma being forcibly turned into legislation by those working just as hard (and with more resources) to see that happen.
I end with this quotation from someone far more learned, far more eloquent than myself; on the American Dream:
"It wouldn’t take us long to discover the substance of that dream. It is found in those majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, words lifted to cosmic proportions: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." This is a dream. It’s a great dream.
The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say "some men," it says "all men." It doesn’t say "all white men," it says "all men," which includes black men. It does not say "all Gentiles," it says "all men," which includes Jews. It doesn’t say "all Protestants," it says "all men," which includes Catholics. (Yes, sir) It doesn’t even say "all theists and believers," it says "all men," which includes humanists and agnostics.
"Then that dream goes on to say another thing that ultimately distinguishes our nation and our form of government from any totalitarian system in the world. It says that each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from His hands. Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us, and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day, that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.
Now ever since the founding fathers of our nation dreamed this dream in all of its magnificence—to use a big word that the psychiatrists use—America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself. On the one hand we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy, but on the other hand we have sadly practiced the very opposite of those principles.
But now more than ever before, America is challenged to realize its dream, for the shape of the world today does not permit our nation the luxury of an anemic democracy. And the price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction. (Yes it is) For the hour is late. And the clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now before it is too late.
And so it is marvelous and great that we do have a dream, that we have a nation with a dream; and to forever challenge us; to forever give us a sense of urgency; to forever stand in the midst of the "isness" of our terrible injustices; to remind us of the "oughtness" of our noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood.
This morning I would like to deal with some of the challenges that we face today in our nation as a result of the American dream. First, I want to reiterate the fact that we are challenged more than ever before to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality. We are challenged to really believe that all men are created equal. And don’t misunderstand that. It does not mean that all men are created equal in terms of native endowment, in terms of intellectual capacity—it doesn’t mean that. There are certain bright stars in the human firmament in every field. (Yes, sir) It doesn’t mean that every musician is equal to a Beethoven or Handel, a Verdi or a Mozart. It doesn’t mean that every physicist is equal to an Einstein. It does not mean that every literary figure in history is equal to Aeschylus and Euripides, Shakespeare and Chaucer. (Make it plain) It does not mean that every philosopher is equal to Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Hegel. It doesn’t mean that. There are individuals who do excel and rise to the heights of genius in their areas and in their fields. What it does mean is that all men are equal in intrinsic worth. (Yes)
You see, the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the "image of God," is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. (Yes) We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.
This is why we must fight segregation with all of our nonviolent might. (Yes, sir; Make it plain) Segregation is not only inconvenient—that isn’t what makes it wrong. Segregation is not only sociologically untenable—that isn’t what makes it wrong. Segregation is not only politically and economically unsound—that is not what makes it wrong. Ultimately, segregation is morally wrong and sinful. To use the words of a great Jewish philosopher that died a few days ago, Martin Buber, "It’s wrong because it substitutes an ‘I-It’ relationship for the ‘I-Thou’ relationship and relegates persons to the status of things." That’s it. (Yes, sir)"
~Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
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