Outmoded Class Labels in Post-Facebook America
Gary Kamiya always writes intelligently and may have the pole position on the subject of mixed race in the upcoming election campaign.
I would urge him to tackle these thorny issues: Why would Appalachian white men with high school or less education seemingly mistrust Sen. Barack Obama, a black kid who grew up poor, was raised by a single mother and grandparents, but for whom education was valued as a way up and out? But not Hillary Clinton, a white, upper middle class girl who grew up comfortably with an expectation she would earn at least a Master's degree and succeed without a struggle, and who did so? Why would they believe this black candidate would not understand their issues, their lives when many of his circumstances match theirs? Do they mistrust him because he is black; because he became educated and succeeded at it and thus was able to escape poverty and deprivation; because his middle name is Hussein and they know only one other Hussein as an enemy; or because their issues have been pre-framed simplistically and their responses have been reduced to sound bites? Do we really know these citizens, or do we just think we do? Do we know them today or yesterday?
I would like to see Gary tackle the meaning of the phrase that is constantly used to describe---and substantially dismiss---an elusive national sub-section: working class Americans. Could this phrase be derived from an Edwardian-Victorian British conceit of landed gentry who were so wealthy they commanded fleets of servants and serfs attending their residential and estate needs, freeing their daylight hours for reading botany or playing badminton and their evenings for dining and dancing; whereas, those forced to work were relegated to a lower class, whose one's living was not guaranteed by inheritance and for whom charity was invented?
Today in America, those fully utilizing the phrase 'working class' appear to be just as hard-working as those they define as coal miners, truck and taxi drivers and restaurant servers. Hillary Clinton appeared to work harder than the class she said she represented, but from whom she did not emerge.
We all work. So who indeed comprises this mist-shrouded working class? Is it a quantifiable class, or just another outmoded label? I've met taxi drivers with PhDs, truck drivers who read Proust and many restaurant servers are Julliard musicians or actors making ends meet while training for their dreams. Can you lump them into the media caricature of the lunch-bucket carrying, Ford 150 driving, hard hat wearing, country music loving, tenth grade educated, white proud, gay and immigrant hating, beer drinking, Christian Southern or Appalachian coal belt mostly male sub-group? Or is this working class American caricature in need of massive review and updating to include everyone who works and lives in the US---that's everyone, from Barack Obama to Lou Dobbs to George W. Bush to your local supermarket clerk and Wal-Mart greeter? Anyone who gets a paycheck. Even Paris Hilton works, or so she says, so where is the outer boundary of this label? And if we don't know who to include or exclude, then how do we know that Barack Obama has 'a problem' relating to this group?
The sub-text of Obama's candidacy seems to imply that we may be on the verge of dissolving these old labels that define and precede us into The Great Political Room. Those who measure, however, will simply want to replace them to better quantify and qualify us as we, in greater numbers than ever before, exit the polling stations. But with what new labels, the question begs? Will they categorize by consumer goods, or beliefs, education or income level, employment status, hybrid or dino vehicle? Will race, gender and sexual orientation matter or will age and the internet be the great definers, as they already appear to be?
I hope Gary will weigh in on this in future columns. Our measuring sticks seem to be stuck in another century while our real political lives are being lived out invisibly and unheralded on line and very much in the future. This appears to be why hope matters so much...hope that politics will catch up with where we already reside in our cyber-imaginations, leading, refining and asking us to participate in the reality of our better dreams and in our very survival as a species.
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