The view that American progressivism now takes on societal ills, I believe, is subconsciously aimed at erasing class privilege via class prejudice. Think about it: when conservatives reigned supreme among the wealthy elite, we heard how the poor deserved their status because they were lazy, lacking in a bootstraps mentality, or morally degenerate. Now, wherever progressives gain the upper hand, we hear how it is because the poor are morally degenerate, only now as racists, historically responsible for “white” oppression, or homophobes, Trump supporters, or closet white supremacists.
I see class privilege in a political movement calling itself “the left” in spite of the fact that it does not “call out” class and educational privileges among its elite membership. I see it in how this movement sees “intersectionality” in every entry point for oppression except for wealth, in a vastly unequal society. This is a left with no left left. Marx would be spinning in his grave to hear the righteous elite heap blame for society’s ills on the lower classes.
I see class privilege justify itself with prejudice in the ahistorical way we lately construct and center race. I see it in how we’ve created a category called “white people,” unimaginable in the age of high racial science, and now, in our discourse, casually attribute evils common to virtually every civilization as byproducts of “whiteness,” a skin color shared by almost a billion people from Sicily to Svalbard—an explanation often proffered, intentionally, I think, with no differentiation between rich and poor, powerful and powerless––offered as if an Irish woman dying of malnutrition and cholera in a workhouse was as responsible for European colonialism as Cecil Rhodes, because both were “white.” As if a farmer in Finland was complicit in the French colonization of Algeria.
Is it not classism that wants desperately to believe that a Polish woman cleaning hotels in Detroit and Woodrow Wilson were both to blame for institutionalized racism in the American South?
Who profits from this reductive narrative?
I see class in how educationally advantaged progressives say the solution to institutional racism is for them to read books, ruminate, and then use their moral achievement to lecture poorer white people on their moral failings. Surely it’s just a coincidence that reading books, ruminating, and blaming yokels are the eternal prerogatives of the upper classes?
The cleaving of material power from moral responsibility is never a mere oversight. Class prejudice doesn’t dare to ask who benefits by making society’s ills collective. Collective guilt? The sins of the father? Once again, in other contexts that progressive thinker would say we must not generalize and blame the violence of a society or culture on all its inhabitants. They would talk about agency. Except in this American case, where we should do the opposite. Is it coincidence that class prejudice, blaming the poor for societal ills, becomes okay only in the case where it lets the blamers off the hook? Or at least lowers their tab?
Tellingly, what you will never see the upper classes do, no matter how progressive, is to suggest that we take the endowments from their childrens’ private schools, those linchpins of their privileges and material power, or seize the ill-gotten gains of those Ivy covered destinations, and pay them back as reparations to schools in underserved, minority-dominated neighborhoods. Because class privilege means never having to underwrite your moral righteousness with material sacrifice. Feelings are enough. Some progressives even say that making people have bad feelings is now a form of violence. Maybe even the worst kind of violence. Certainly more violent, it would seem, than letting someone go without medication when their GoFundMe doesn’t meet its target.
The solution to societal evils is righteous condemnation, and the solution, critically, is free.
Class privilege is where progressives “appropriate” the perspectives of whole communities: poor communities, minority communities, women, and speak on their behalf, generate their slogans, their solutions, rename them, assign them to a hierarchy, determine their priorities—all without bothering to poll them on what it is that they want, as a collective, or on how they think of themselves. A breathtaking arrogance, and from whence? Class prejudice is visible in how, when they find out that they are off the mark about “defund the police” or “Latinx,” or how relevant women find the experience of female bodies to their identities, they don’t feel humbled, obliged to reflect, to discuss, to negotiate and listen. They go on insisting. Blame the audience as ignorant or morally vile.
Whence that assuredness of their right to insist?
I see class privilege, above all, in the way progressives use their power to never look at themselves.