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A few months ago I began struggling with the prevalent notion that… - where working class & poor women kick ass. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
where working class & poor women kick ass.

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[Jun. 27th, 2006|12:09 pm]
where working class & poor women kick ass.

A few months ago I began struggling with the prevalent notion that white working class folks are somehow more racist than our middleclass white counterparts. I don't have an issue with the words "cracker" or "poor white trash"--I'm poor & white--but it bothered me that people generally project white racism onto poor whites. I don't question we benefit from skin privilege, I don't question we're racist--I just began questioning the generalized stereotype that we are somehow more racist than our middleclass counterparts. I questioned the way poor racism was illuminated & discussed & middleclass racism somehow invisible-ized. I resented it because it made it seem even less likely that poor whites & poor people of colour could organize or work toward common goals (already a virtual impossibility given the racism poor people of colour encounter when working with poor white allies).

So I started doing online searches involving phrases like "working class values" & "ethics" "working class". What I wanted to find out was: is there such a thing as a working class ethic. Are there specifically working class/low-income moral beliefs? Do our communities develop & sustain values that are shared by the majority of their members, & are these ethics being passed on to others, researched & documented, & written about online.

In my research, I stumbled into the footsteps of a lot of folks who have apparently treaded this territory before me. It's inspiring to find articles like these as signposts along the way. It's inspiring to see phrases like "working class intellectual traditions". It's inspiring to see studies that document common experiences & attitudes among working class folks who are white & who are people of colour. It's exciting to see working class culture respected & documented.

Anyway. Here's the first article I read & re-read. I'll comment more on it below. I'll provide a warning: it's a little long-ish & northamerican-centric.It focusses predominantly on the experience of white workingclass men. Differences among working class white folks & working class people of colour are sometimes elided & sometimes not. It does & doesn't gloss over white working class racism.

It also has some really valuable & hopeful insights, I think, into working class history, culture, politics & values.

"Manual labor was shown as a dignified occupation and those who did it as capable of living a rich and rewarding life. Within the growing trade-union movement, trade unionism was seen not as a device for insuring individual economic security but as a great moral and social crusade. As Silvio Burigo's local union paper proclaimed, "This great influx of workers into the unions of America is one of the great inspirations of our time.... It is emancipation before our eyes." In national politics blue-collar workers were respected as the heart of the "Roosevelt coalition," an alliance that also included racial and ethnic minorities, middle-class liberals and significant sections of the rural population in a coalition for social progress and reform." from Who Lost The Working Class.

Comments & thoughts appreciated.

xposted to johnnydtractive, womenandpoverty

From: johnnydtractive
2006-06-27 04:59 pm (UTC)
I was reminded of this essay a few days ago because of headlines about John Edwards' decision to make poverty the centrepiece of his 2008 run for election. How he is undertaking the approach recommended in Who Lost The Working Class to reunite working class folks & the democratic party (although as far as I know, working class people of colour have not ever abandoned the democratic party). For example:

"And then there is Edwards' belief that "presidential elections 'are not issue-driven'; rather, they are character-driven and voters see issues as reflections of character."

It's also interesting to see how current critics of this collective/governmental approach to tackling poverty are using the same techniques to isolate poor people & individualize poverty as Who Lost The Working Class described being used in the 50's:

"The 1930s paradigm has been refuted by four decades of experience," Will claims. "The new paradigm is of behavior-driven poverty that results from individuals' nonmaterial deficits. It results from a scarcity of certain habits and mores -- punctuality, hygiene, industriousness, deferral of gratification, etc. -- that are not developed in disorganized homes." (Am I reading this correctly? Is Will saying that the solution to poverty is better manners and a daily shower?)
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From: johnnydtractive
2006-06-27 10:43 pm (UTC)

Hey! :)

Did you actually read the article I referenced? Because they suggest there are generalizations that can be made about working class culture not based on wishing it to be so, or willing it to be so, but by observing & documenting in a scientific research/social science way. The article was not about CONCEIVING working class culture. It was about observing & documenting what is already there. Not manufacturing, but documenting. So the actual research they chronicle would seem to contradict your assertion that there's not a working class ethic.

It also addresses the social & cultural manufacturing of the concept of of "middle class"--how working class folks come to identify as middle class, as your mom does--& how that actually erased huge elements of working class identity.

So many of your "yeah, but" criticisms of working class folks are addressed in fairly nuanced ways in the article. I'm disappointed if you did read it that what you would still come away with is "the stupidity of any sort of "working class people believe/do this" mentality". Ah well. That's life.

Just to warn you: I'm going to continue working with the tentative assumption that there are such things as working class culture, working class ethics, working class aesthetics, etc. And certainly, as the article states, "a working class intellectual tradition"!! I don't know what they are yet, but part of my goal here is to explore & learn about my own history & the history of others like me. :)

Plus, I think your comment about the differences btween working class & middle class racism is pretty insightful. Any elaboration/further experience you'd like to share would be greatly appreciated!
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From: johnnydtractive
2006-06-27 11:25 pm (UTC)

no no no! I wasn't trying to say go read it. I was just surprised because your post didn't seem like a response to the article per se, & turns out it wasn't.

I'm sure you've got loads on your plate, so really, it's not to pressure. The article isn't going anywhere, after all. :)

The work experience sounds really shitty. It's horrible to have to shut your mouth to keep your job.
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From: johnnydtractive
2006-06-28 12:33 am (UTC)

I really liked the article. Lots I disagreed with, but lots that really got me thinking too. If there are any other points like this that you connect to, trust me when I say I'm crazyinterested in reading any quick posts you might make about it.

I respect your aversion to party politics, but for me, voting is important because here in Canada I've seen the direct negative impact a conservative government can have on the lives of really marginalized people. So one of the parts that got me excited was the idea that in America, the democrat candidate John Edwards is actually taking steps that might bring white working class voters back to the democrats. The other part I found astonishing in the article was this:

"During the election campaign, when trade unions took the case for democrat Al Gore directly to their members, they totally reversed the national trends. While 69 percent of white men who were not members of trade unions voted for Bush and only 28 percent for Gore, 59 percent of white men who were members of trade unions voted for Gore and only 35 percent for Bush. Among white trade-union women, 67 percent voted for Gore and 31 percent for Bush. Among nonunion white women, in contrast, Gore lost by 7 percent.
The significance of these results is difficult to overstate. They demonstrate that when workers are presented with a progressive message by campaign workers who come from an institution that is part of working-class life, and who share their culture and values, a substantial majority can be convinced to support progressive candidates and programs. "

The destruction of unions affects not just livelihoods, but history.

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From: johnnydtractive
2006-06-27 10:56 pm (UTC)

I know a little bit about the chav/chavscum thing. The first time I came across chavscum I wanted to punch somebody.

Am I right in thinking many people self-identify as chav, as well as having the word used against them? A little like "poor white trash" in north america. If that is the case, do you know how self-identified chavs mean the word? What would they say if asked to define chav?
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