Class and the Discourse

When it comes to accessing the mainstream media discourse, academic discourse, or any similar prominent discourse that reflects on justice and politics, poor people face a double-bind that ensures their voices are permanently erased. If you grow up poor and you remain poor, your access to any of these discussions is basically nonexistent. If you grow up poor and then become educated and established enough to access and even influence these discussions, that generally means you are not poor anymore and so your perspective on class can be dismissed on identitarian grounds.

This double-bind is not true of any other identity because no other identity disappears at the same point at which you are able to meaningfully engage in the discourse. A person of color doesn’t cease to be a person of color just because they acquire the credentials and ability to become a successful writer or academic. Nor does a woman cease to be a woman when they do so. But a poor or working class person does, in a direct material sense, cease to be poor and working class once they’ve won a professorship or a stable writing gig.

Given that identitarianism is a generally liberal political grouping that has no real interest in class politics, this is not that big of an internal problem. But when practitioners of identitarianism run up against those who do have an interest in class politics, the contradictions create incredible havoc. This is especially so because identitarianism is so heavily intertwined with certain discourse norms demanding deference to (even bourgeois) members of various demographic groups. And the last thing someone interested in class politics should ever do is hesitate to harshly criticize any bourgeois discourse participant with bad arguments and opinions, especially when those arguments and opinions concern class issues.

  • One quibble: I’d say that should be “especially bourgeois”. In my experience, bourgie PoC and women often feel like they’re the living embodiment of everything previous generations fought for. Adolph Reed has written about this.

  • Lewis

    I agree. I notice that the poor are counted more in discussions that have a lot of numerical content.
    As an example: I do academic research in transportation engineering/finance. When I talk to other educated people at parties, they always ask me, “When are we going to get some high speed rail in this country?”

    Few academics in my field, in the US, are that interested in US high speed rail or in new subways. More study buses, because tons of people ride buses and they run in nearly every US city. Likewise, ridesharing. By contrast, CA HSR will take 25 years and is a transfer program for lawyers, lenders, contractors and monopolist makers of parts inexplicably bespoke.

    Anyway, most educated people I talk to have no idea (i) how many people ride buses, (ii) that they can be improved or (iii) how important they are for carless people. Academics notice this because they look at numbers and are not boosters. Unfortunately, transit priorities in America are moved by elites who feel envy when they visit countries like France and Japan where rail is much cheaper to build, and by hooked-up contractors.

  • Carl Beijer

    This double-bind is certainly not just true of the poor, it’s also true of children, who lose their identitarian cred as soon as they’re old enough to participate in the discourse. This is more erasure on your part and more class ageism, imo

  • Hierophant2

    Thank you for posting that, Carl. It’s a great point.

  • Mark

    Psychiatric patients too, as members of ex-patient and critical psychiatry movements know well. Categorization as ‘mad’ strips people of their voice precisely when they are assigned membership in an oppressed minority.

    Funny how the norms of discourse reinforce power relations, that. I wouldn’t be too hard on Matt though — the same rules that govern the discourse also make themselves invisible to anyone not subject to them. (blah, blah, privilege, blah. It’s unfortunate the notion of privilege has become hijacked into a way to silence people within identitarianism rather than a tool for awareness, because this is precisely where it’d be useful.)

  • invisible_hand

    Identifying “poor” as a (cultural) identity at all, that must be defended and thus controlled, means that to engage at all in attempts to participate in political or philosophical discourse means that one is ejected from the group. Even if there *were* access points for poor persons, indentitarian watch-dogs would call those seeking to educate and organize “privileged” or condescending.
    All of this keeps capitalist consumption the (assumed) authentic culture of the poor, because how could they hope for anything else. And to call it better is deemed insulting.

  • zebbart

    Join the Right, they will very much validate your poor background as a source of cred on class issues.

  • johnshaplin

    I once complained to the U.S. Dept. of Justice that sex abuse investigations were being conducted in the primary schools in our City which primarily served low-income residents and not those that served the wealthier and more middle-class ones…after complaining to the school board and the Mayor to no avail( there is no correlation between child sex abuse and income status). I found out that it is perfectly legal to discriminate against people based on their income status.