Our Era's Racism
Last week I heard this piece on public radio titled, "Are Candidates' Spouses Off-limits?", and I just felt so disgusted. Skip ahead to the 40% mark, and you'll hear what I'm referring to.
The conversation turned to the expensive shirt that Ann Romney wore, and how people felt about it.
Some said she was out of touch with the public, while others, including the host, Larry Mantle, suggested that if she wore less expensive clothing it would be "pandering" because "that's not who they are." He mentioned that "they're super rich" and "don't hang out with people who don't have much money." He continued, "As to whether they are sensitive to people like that or not, I don't know them well enough..."
This is the kind of talk that is prevalent in our society, and the meanings behind it are so offensive to me, I thought I'd take a moment to point them out. I'm going to swap some words to see how it feels:
It would be pandering for white people to hang out with black people. It's just who they are. And these white people may or may not be sensitive to the inequities that black people have suffered for generations, and it doesn't really matter anyway.
Classism today, like racism in our past, passes without recognition. Notice that the host said "sensitive to people like that" and "who they are." The implied meaning is that rich and poor are internal characteristics, part of their being. Skin color is part of our genetic code while being rich is not, and yet we figured out that racism is unacceptable. The fact that we treat rich and poor as though they belong to different species is obscene. It is what allows people to believe that the rich and poor deserve different treatment. Rich people deserve to have whatever they can buy, poor people barely deserve food, unless the rich are "charitable" enough to help them out with only "pennies per day." Starving people just ruin the view, after all! But, they are poor, so what can be done (throwing hands up in smug resignation)?
Start decoding the language and see how references to rich and poor fly by unnoticed. Our culture needs to make a dramatic shift in understanding that does not segregate people based on their money access. It is no more palatable than racism, and there should be a sense of shame around classist language.