I believe that the view that American progressivism is now attacking the ills of society is unconsciously aimed at erasing class privilege via class prejudice. Think about it: when conservatives reigned supreme among the wealthy elite, we heard that the poor deserved their status because they were lazy, lacking a bootstrap mentality, or morally degenerate. Now, wherever progressives take over, we hear it’s because the poor are morally degenerate, only now as racists, historically responsible for “white” oppression, or homophobes, Trump supporters, or supremacists hidden blanks.
I see class privilege in a political movement that calls itself “the left” despite not “recalling” class and educational privilege among its elite members. I see it in how this movement sees “intersectionality” in every entry point of oppression except for wealth, in a very unequal society. It is a left without a left. Marx would turn in his grave to hear the virtuous elite blame the lower classes for the ills of society.
I see class privilege justified by prejudice in the ahistorical way we have recently constructed and centered race. I see it in how we’ve created a category called “white people,” unimaginable in an age of racial high science, and now, in our discourse, casually attribute the ills common to virtually all civilizations as pennies. -products of “whiteness”, a skin color shared by almost a billion people from Sicily to Svalbard – an explanation often put forward, intentionally, I think, no distinction between rich and poor, powerful and powerless – offered as if an Irish woman dying of malnutrition and cholera in a hospice was as responsible for European colonialism as Cecil Rhodes, because both were “white”. As if a peasant in Finland was an accomplice to the French colonization of Algeria.
Isn’t it the classism that desperately wants to believe that a Polish woman who cleans hotels in Detroit and Woodrow Wilson are both responsible for institutionalized racism in the American South?
Who benefits 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 about their moral failings. Surely it’s just a coincidence that reading books, ruminating and blaming morons are the eternal prerogatives of the upper classes?
The splitting of material power from moral responsibility is never a simple oversight. Class prejudice does not dare to ask who benefits from making the evils of society collective. Collective guilt? The sins of the father? Again, in other contexts, this progressive thinker would say that one should not generalize and blame the violence of one society or culture on all of its inhabitants. They were talking about agency. Except in this American case, where the opposite would have to be done. Is it a coincidence that class prejudices, blaming the poor for the ills of society, only become acceptable if they liberate the guilty? Or at least lower their tab?
Tellingly, what you will never see the upper classes do, no matter how progressive, is suggest that we take private school endowments from their children, those pillars of their privilege and material power, or that we seized ill-gotten gains from those Ivy covered destinations and reimbursed in the form of reparations to schools in underserved, minority-dominated neighborhoods. Because class privilege means never having to guarantee your moral righteousness with material sacrifices. Feelings are enough. Some progressives even say that making people have bad feelings is now a form of violence. Perhaps even the worst form of violence. Certainly more violent, it seems, than letting someone go without meds when their GoFundMe isn’t hitting its target.
The solution to the ills of society is a just condemnation, and the solution, above all, is gratuitous.
Class privilege is where progressives “appropriate” the perspectives of entire communities: poor communities, minority communities, women, and speak on their behalf, generate their slogans, their solutions, rename them, prioritize them, determine their priorities, all without bothering to ask them about what they want, as a collective, or how they see themselves. Breathtaking arrogance, and from where? Class biases are visible in the way, when they find out they’re off the mark about ‘defund the police’ or ‘Latinx’, or how badly women find the experience of bodies relevant to their identity, they do not feel humiliated, obliged to think, discuss, negotiate and listen. They keep insisting. Blame the audience as ignorant or morally vile.
Whence this assurance of their right to insist?
I see class privilege, first and foremost, in the way progressives use their power to never look at each other.