Middle-Class People of the Global Majority

A group of People of the Global Majority did a go-around at a recent U.S. middle-class workshop. This is some of what we shared:

I was raised poor. I have raised-poor values but a middle-class lifestyle. I feel like I’m an imposter in the middle class.

I notice that many white middle-class people are afraid of taking risks and try to behave in a “correct” and “proper” way. The Black middle-class people I know who don’t have access to RC look just as scared as the white middle-class people, and maybe even more so.

Because African-heritage people in this country come from a history of slavery, we have a humbleness in us, particularly around white people. It goes across all classes. It doesn’t matter whether we’re raised poor, working class, middle class, or owning class. When Nelson Mandela visited this country and went around to different colleges and universities, the white people in my Master’s program made comments. There was something about him they didn’t like. He was not humble.


 For me, working on being middle class and a Person of the Global Majority is about discharging the “better than” or “don’t be like” material [distress] and a preoccupation with accomplishments and respectability. It’s not always tied to money, although money often comes with it. It’s very tied into assimilation and racism.

I’ve been trying to notice all the places where I feel “better than” and to discharge on that. I’m trying to detangle where I look for comfort and accomplishment to feel better instead of actually trying to change the world.


Doing well in school was a way I could be “better than” the white middle-class young people around me who had more money than I did. Because of immigrant oppression, my parents had low-status jobs. What I could do was get into an elite school. Upward mobility was about trying to feel better in the face of racism.

It’s hard for me to work on middle-class distress around white people because all I can feel is the racism. I feel my middle-class distress more when I’m around other People of the Global Majority, especially other Koreans.

I’ve worked a lot on the middle-agent role we Asian people play in this country and how we’re set up to play it [manipulated into playing it] in relation to Black and Latino/a people. We are considered the “model minority.”

I’ve been learning more about the laws in the United States that have allowed white people access to more money and education and how deliberately racist those laws were from the beginning. They were set up to deny access to people of color.

JeeYeun Lee

Wilmette, Illinois, USA

There are so many things you’re supposed to do when you’re middle class. I’m always preoccupied with “What am I supposed to do? What is the rule here? Am I doing it right? Am I okay? Am I the right type of human being?” I am constantly terrified of not doing it right.

I was raised poor and came to the middle class later in my life, and I understand why it was so attractive. Middle-class people, at least in my country of origin, looked like they didn’t have struggles. It was heartbreaking to grow up around people whose struggles showed so much—for example, on their bodies. I was at a meeting with a group of other people of my background and we were talking about our lives. Somebody said, “It is so funny [interesting]; every time you’re in a group of our people and you scratch beneath the surface, everyone has a messed-up family member—somebody who is in jail, someone who is this, someone who is that.” It is so true!

Being middle class feels very tenuous. It can be taken away by racism. It actually doesn’t mean much. It doesn’t change the way we are seen or treated, or feel.


My dad is Korean, and I have working-class people on both the white side and the Korean side of my family. If not for racism, I think both my sister and I would have stayed working class. My dad was a factory worker. He was viciously treated because of racism, so he made sure that we aspired to be middle class. Both of his daughters became lawyers. (He actually didn’t want me to be a lawyer. He wanted me to be a physical therapist because he thought I would have more job security.) We had these middle-class aspirations because of racism.

Elisabeth Rossow

Buffalo, New York, USA

There’s this phrase that I must have heard repeated: “Never have so many tried so hard and had so little to show for it.” This describes my parents.

My dad has a college degree as a result of the G.I. bill [a U.S. law that provided benefits for returning World War II veterans], and a law degree, but he never passed the bar. So the script was, “One day I will pass the bar and then we will have a lot more money and be happy.” My mom has several post-graduate degrees.

In my experience, being a middle-class Person of the Global Majority is completely hollow. It is fabricated security. You are three paychecks away from homelessness. It’s just a lie. You can feel really good about your achievements, and then, for example, Skip Gates [a prominent African American scholar] locks himself out of his home and is abused by a police officer. What do you call a Black man with a PhD? You call him a n—er [a contemptuous term for a Black person and one of the most offensive words in the English language].  


We came here because we couldn’t get what we needed in our home country. We came for financial reasons. Every country’s “cream of the crop” [“best”] comes here. And what for? To become middle class.

We are trapped in this materialistic culture. If we can give up the materialism, we can show that we can be happy without it.

Shagufta Husen

Karachi, Sind, Pakistan

I always feel apologetic for being middle class, like it somehow makes me “less Black” or “less authentic.”

In RC it seems that Community leaders can manage us if we are poor and working class. But if we are middle class, they don’t know what to do. You can’t be well spoken and have a vocabulary. People sometimes don’t seem to know what I’m talking about. Did I start speaking in a foreign language?

Jackie Kane

Albany, New York, USA

Back in the 1990s I went to Nepal for nine days. Our guide was friendly and wonderful. He took us to his house. Nepal was one of the poorest nations in the world. Children could not go outside for two years after they were born because they might get dysentery.

It came up in the conversation that we were “rich Americans.” But none of us were rich. We were either working class or middle class. So we said something about not being rich. And he said, “You’re here. I could not go to your country.” It put a different perspective on it. Now every time I travel, I think about that and my ability to travel.

I visited the Smithsonian Institute, and one of the exhibits was about the enslaved people in the United States who had migrated to the north. There was a list that had been published in one of the Black newspapers of how Black people were supposed to behave when they came to the north. They had been criticized for being too loud, for hanging out [spending time] on the street, for having too many friends, for sitting out on the porch—all things it had been okay to do in the South.

I grew up “Negro,” and as a “Negro” there were certain things you were not supposed to do. So many times people told me that I was too loud, I talked too much, I shouldn’t do this, I shouldn’t do that. It was all about being white middle class. You had to present yourself, and you had to do well in school. Otherwise you were playing into [reinforcing] the stereotype that Black people were not very smart.

Sandra Jackson

Roswell, Georgia, USA

 My parents came to the United States in the mid-1950s. They had lived through the Japanese coming in and destroying their lives and then the communists doing the same. They understood that there was sanctuary and safety in the white middle class and also less chance of being deported (they had come without legal status).

There was a tremendous amount of assimilation. My first language was Mandarin. I didn’t speak English well until I was in kindergarten. Then I lost my language. I got good at being middle class.

There was a lot of loneliness and internalized oppression. I’d see unassimilated Chinese in Chinatown and ask myself, “What are they doing? They’re setting themselves up to be a target [making themselves vulnerable to being a target].” There was no way I could get close to them—because they dressed differently, their attitudes and values were different, and they struggled with language.

I went into the white middle-class world. I now run a company. I’m the boss, and I have all these white people in my company. Interestingly, when they behave badly it seems to be okay. But I cannot behave badly. Ever. I know that if I behaved badly, even for a heartbeat, I’d be on the edge of leaving the company.


 Class is so complicated—and it’s especially complicated for People of the Global Majority. We have so many different class experiences during our lifetime, not to mention the effect of our ancestors’ class backgrounds.

Class also differs in each culture and country. What might be considered middle class here can be similar to owning class in other cultures. And middle-class conditioning and behavior are different in non-U.S. cultures.

Here in the United States, racism, anti-immigrant oppression, and language oppression are added to class oppression. Immigrants, people with accents, and non-white people can be treated with such contempt and disrespect.


Pennsylvania, USA

At the Pre-World Conferences I attended, I immediately felt at home with other People of the Global Majority who had daily experienced “ping-ponging” between class extremes—for example, living in a middle-class-looking home that had little to no furniture, or eating subsistence-level food while taking violin and ballet lessons. I started exploring all my class heritages. I dubbed it my “class project” and proceeded to go to raised-poor, working-class, middle-class, and owning-class workshops. Discharging on each of my class backgrounds has helped me understand where people are coming from and how their class backgrounds affect them.

Now, instead of feeling “schizophrenic” when opposing messages war in my head (“Buy that, you deserve it,” versus “No! You have to save every single penny!”), I understand that each message comes from a different class background. It is exciting to see all this while being equipped with the tools of Co-Counseling. I can often interrupt it with humor.

Cornelia Cho

Marietta, Georgia, USA

Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:35:58+00