Class and Race: Two Sides, Same Coin

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Dennis Sanders

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, MN.  You can follow Dennis through his blogs, The Clockwork Pastor and Big Tent Revue and on Twitter.  Feel free to contact him at dennis.sanders(at)gmail(dot)com.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    One of the ways class and race intersect is that increasingly, blue collar jobs are filled by people of color.

    Notice how there is a lot of talk about “farmers” (white people) but never any talk about “farmworkers” (Hispanic immigrants). The slaughterhouses, meatpacking plants, construction jobs are likely to be performed by people who don’t look anything like the guy on the left in the header photo, but a lot like the people on the right.

    Another is the rise of “pink collar” jobs like health care aides, clerical and service jobs where these too are often held by females of color.

    For the political and media class who write about these issues, those people are invisible, and their needs and agendas are unimportant.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      And those pink collar jobs are often middle class. Perhaps on the low end of that range, but still there. But yes, it’s not the wage, it’s the status of the job. Hand in hand with talk of class is the status we place upon jobs. Doctors and RNs have status, CNAs do not. Engineers have status, drywallers do not. CEOs have status, the clerks who keep the business humming along do not.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon
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        says:

        FollowReport

      • Avatar Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        See Also: The Joads.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels
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        says:

        Status gets assigned to a job in large part depending on who is doing the job.

        When a job category is dominated by those of the low status group, the job itself becomes low status.Report

        • Avatar CJColucci
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          says:

          There was a time when being a secretary to some poobah was a prestigious — and male — job.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels
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            says:

            There is this anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, about how the first telephone operators were all men, when they was considered a highly technical and advanced job, then when it became more focused on being deferential and pleasing to the caller, the job became feminized and fell in status.

            I think of that when I see those AT&T commercials with that cute young girl, where the main feature is that she is pretty, nonthreatening, deferential and endlessly smiling and pleasing.

            This isn’t a coincidence. In the service economy, where the customer is king, the service worker is…a servant.

            The real life Lilys have to grovel not only to the boss, but to anyone who walks in the door.The real young women who fill these jobs are low status since they are stripped of any adult authority and relegated to the position of being helpful children.
            Their work itself is regarded as being barely a step above mowing the lawn or babysitting.

            And so these jobs are both low status and low paying, yet when media types go hunting for a representative of the “working class” people like this are never found, but instead yet another white guy in a hard hat is profiled.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq
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              says:

              That is an apocryphal anecdote. The reason why telephone operators switched from male to females is that females were educated to be deferential and pleasing because of what 19th century people thought was proper decorum. Young women were essentially came socialized for the job and their employers didn’t need to break them in like they did for young men.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    I concur in part and dissent in part. There is a history of using race to divide the class interests. This is undeniable. Race was and is used in the South to prevent union drivers among other things. But there is also an Anglo/Scots-Irish heritage in many parts of the South which was hostile to unionism compared to the North where unionism was largely driven by groups we consider “white ethnic” today.

    But there is a kind of person on the left, often but not always a Jacobin/Rose Twitter/Bernie or Buster, who thinks that you can solve racism by addressing class issues and I am not sure that is true. I think a large part of this view is because they hate the current composition of the Democratic Party’s big tent which consists of minorities of all classes, union members, and often upper-middle class whites with professional jobs aka dreaded Park Slope/Noe Valley/Pearl District liberals*. There is a desire to see progressive party based entirely on the working class.

    I don’t think this can happen. Race is a distinct enough issue that it needs to be addressed on its own and on the merits. The sin of racism and slavery is so deeply entwined in American history that it perverts everything it touches. Nearly everyone in the United States is infected by this on some level including the most radical whose attempts to address racism often lead them to dismiss other forms of prejudice via over correction. See Vicky “I’m an idiot” Osterweil turned a Korean immigrant into a white person in her moronic “defense: of looting because she needed it to fit in her world view.

    *The irony of the Jacobin set is that more often than not (like nearly all the time), they come from the same upper middle-class backgrounds as the people they deplore the most. They also often show no real effort in getting rid of the various privileges of their class and wealth. Walker Bragman, Nathan Robinson, Bhrianna Gray, Meagan Day are all trust funders with expensive educations and often formerly held expensive jobs.Report

  3. Avatar superdestroyer
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    says:

    Nikole Hannah-Jones makes the point that the children blue collar, working class white families usually go to schools with white children of different classes. However, the children of black working class families usually go to school with mostly other blacks.

    I always point out that this is a function of living locations. Working class whites usually do not live in the center of large urban areas. Cities like Boston, NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago have very few white children in the public schools because there are few working class whites that live in those cities. Working class white families in the exurbs or more rural areas that they will live away from blacks but near upper middle class whites.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Excellent essay, Dennis.

    Part of the problem is that while race does need to be addressed, the Robin DiAngelo/Ibram X. Kendi method is not going to work.

    I’d love for class to be addressed, but if class is addressed with as much deftness as race has been, we’ll end up in more or less the same place within weeks.

    I mean, remember the arguments we used to have about “Privilege”? Man, that stuff got co-opted within *SECONDS*. It stopped being a criticism appropriate for kids who had their college paid for by a trust fund and started being used for kids who got in on scholarship. Hey! Check your privilege, Charlotte Clymer yelled at Briahna Joy Gray.

    And now we’re off to the races.

    When it’s something that addresses making lives better, it’s a good thing.
    When it’s something that addressed jockeying for position, it’s a bad thing.

    And the people in charge of leading the discussion at the highest levels seem to be the ones who got very, very good at jockeying for position.Report

  5. Avatar Pinky
    Ignored
    says:

    “When we think of African Americans class distinction is never really thought about.”

    That’s an interesting sentence.

    First of all, it’s been my experience that most people don’t care about race or class, but about behaviour. They may generalize behavioural patterns to races to classes, but the root of any animosity is the behaviour. At least that tends to be true in America. That’s important because this isn’t a nation of a people, but a nation of an idea. I guess you could take it further and say that the real root of tension is the ideas that underlie behaviours, but that’s a tension that doesn’t have to erupt into animosity unless it becomes visible.

    I don’t think Americans see class at all, but groupings of people with similar behaviours. The most important statement about class in the US in the past 30 years was Chris Rock’s observation about two types of black people. That was an observation about classes in the sense of common group action. It’s nearly identical to things that Conan O’Brien has said about growing up Irish. As this article notes, the patterns of bad behaviour have nothing to do with race, except as certain underlying employment issues have hit different races at different times.

    For what it’s worth, Dennis – I doubt that more than 10% of all people see you as black without reference to behavioural group. Conservative whites might want to suck up to you a little bit out of guilt, and liberal whites might want to suck up to you a little bit out of guilt, but otherwise people are only interested in whether you’ll make the lives of those around you better or worse.Report

  6. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    Good piece Dennis. The importance of talking about both class and race seems to have befuddled every overarching label/group. Lord knows it has divided the broader left for decades. Even this year Bernie/D’s were arguing over whether to focus or talk about one or the other. It’s always been both but talking about more then one factor with two simplistic ends seems beyond so many.

    If there is anything to effectively do about it D’s/liberals should focus policy that will help the general working class letting the positive effects help across groups. Don’t focus on which small division it will help since that is bringing out the nasty tribal thing our hate mongers love to monger over.Report

  7. Avatar George Turner
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    says:

    Mexico focuses on both class and race, and recognizes how deeply they’re intertwined. It seems to make discrimination more logical, consistent, and pervasive.Report

  8. Avatar Swami
    Ignored
    says:

    Thanks for writing this. I spend a lot of time disagreeing with all the progressives on this site. It is refreshing to have a chance to disagree just as vehemently with a conservative.

    “We have become two nations — the rich and the poor…”

    This is not true. According to the 2014 NYT editorial (with graphics!) over their working lives,”56 percent will find themselves in the top 10 percent, and a whopping 73 percent will spend a year in the top 20 percent of the income distribution.” IOW, income class is dynamic and changes, with most people getting to the upper class for at least part of their working life.

    “So, why should an African American like me care about how we treat the white working-class?”. Ummm… how about because they are fellow human beings and because we believe we judge people by their character rather than their color? You may not have meant it that way, but your comment comes across as totally racist.

    “The killings of George Floyd… reminds us that people can still judge people by the color of their skin.”

    I am not aware there has been any evidence that race had anything to do with this. Other than what people projected onto the event afterward.

    May I make a suggestion? How about NOT trying to segment human beings into categories and then pursue tribal, zero sum, is vs them, solutions? Of course if you did this, you may not be a conservative any more.

    Reminds me what is wrong with the GOP though. Thanks.Report

    • Avatar Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      Yes. The *interpretation* of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor reminds us that people can still judge people by the color of their skin.Report

  9. Avatar Marchmaine
    Ignored
    says:

    Nice article. I’ve joked that while the Refomicons were definitely on to *something* their ideas were still too wonky and ultimately dependent upon tax credits and excel charts calculating an EIC for families to motivate any sort of movement. Then came Trump.

    Similar to what I’ve said in the other thread about Unions… once the Republican party decides to stop digging, there’s some good earth in your post for them to start working on filling in the holes. I have no idea if they will.

    I’ll admit I’m suspicious of Rubio as I don’t think he’s got backing from people who will allow him to do anything more than co-opt some rhetoric. He doesn’t have the heft or juice to go his own way. Mitt will end his days as Senator to Utah; as well he should.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F.
    Ignored
    says:

    This is a thought-provoking piece. I guess one difference between the two is public discussions of class tend to take place in the way the one you are describing has. To wit, person numer 1 from an upper middle class background with an ivy league education who now works at a think tank argues about working class needs with person number 2 from an upper middle class background with an ivy league education who now works as a columnist for the NYTimes.

    And it’s hard to imagine say an all-white panel discussion on the black experience in America that wouldn’t be called out. But we end up debating whether Ross Douthat or Tucker Carlson or Donald Trump speaks more to the experience of the laboring class!

    So thank you for your perspective on this.Report

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