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Middle-Class Liberation and the Intersection of Racism and Classism

Of all the class influences in my background, the middle-class one was the biggest. If I wanted to take on1 class oppression, working on middle-class liberation was going to be my piece of it. So despite my reluctance and resistance, I decided to do it.

I started by working on internalized oppression, relationships with working-class and raised-poor people, and ending class oppression. I have also been leading a middle-class support group for the last three years.

At the recent middle-class leaders’ conference, Seán Ruth2 called upon us to prioritize people of the global majority and young adults. That made me think about what it would look like to put people of the global majority and ending racism at the center of middle-class liberation work.

It’s hard for people of the global majority to do this work, and to want to do it. Some of us in Western countries grew up in majority-white-middle-class environments, and the racism we experienced came from white middle-class people. Many of us have working-class and raised-poor roots and don’t feel middle class in the way that white middle-class people seem to. The racism feels so huge that it’s hard to embrace being middle class and to work on internalized middle-class oppression and our oppressor role.

Middle-class people of the global majority are set up to manage and oppress other people of the global majority. We are held up as an example that capitalism works and that racism is over. We are used to blame working-class and poor people of the global majority for their conditions.

Middle-class people of the global majority don’t just have another flavor or experience of being middle class. Racism grew out of the need to justify class oppression; the two are inextricably intertwined. There’s a reason that people of the global majority in the United States are disproportionately poor and working class. There’s a structural relationship between racism and classism, which is usually invisible to middle-class white people.

It looks to me like white supremacy leads white people to feel like they should be “winning” in the class system. It’s “okay” when people of the global majority are poor or working-class, but when they are middle- or owning-class, it restimulates feelings of competition in white middle-class people and resentment in white working-class people. A few middle-class people of the global majority can be tolerated, but not a lot, and not if they are actually powerful. Look at the attacks on President Obama and the constant undermining of his leadership. Look at the white backlash in some U.S. universities where there is a growing number of Asian-heritage students. In a global context, white-dominated Western countries feel threatened by Asian, Latin American, and African countries that are becoming economically powerful.

I would love to hear other people’s thoughts.

JeeYeun Lee

Chicago, Illinois, USA

(Present Time 183, April 2016)

1 “Take on” means take action on.
2 Seán Ruth is the International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People.

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00