The Nation - October 4, 2019
“As a working-class person, a working-class family, I can tell you the group of people I feel the most patronized and annoyed by as we go about our daily struggles in our workplaces: it’s the professional ‘liberal middle class.’ It’s the people who are ostensibly our ‘allies,’ who support our plights in words but don’t understand our struggles. Stop feeling sorry for the ‘poor class’ and pretending like your words will change anything in our lives. The truth is, we know you don’t really want anything to change that might also change your lives."
Beyond death, taxes, greed, and gravity, there’s little we can count on to remain constant in this world. But as sure as the day is long, you can bet on this: The elite assholes and self-interested charlatans who flood so many of our media channels will always jump at the chance to tell you that they know what “ordinary” working people are about.
Just who all these “average” Americans are is often—and deliberately—vague. But the baggage of our dominant cultural assumptions tends to plug the holes left by lacking details. What emerges is a recycled composite of the working class as a predominantly white, primarily male, and presumably Christian batch of English-speaking citizens who make their living in the roughneck trades (industrial, mining, farming, etc.). Even if it’s acknowledged that the demographics of this ill-defined mass is more complicated than that, the boiled-down essence of what “everyday” people want and think is not. And that essence is batted around like the helpless plaything of pundits whose professional, ideological, and class interests so often depend on their ability to summon the spirit of the working class without getting too bogged down in the flesh-and-blood complexity of workers’ lives. As the frenzied media spectacles of the 2020 election cycle and presidential impeachment proceedings gobble up our political universe, we can expect an endless chorus of talking heads invoking the mute specter of working people in their professionally hedged, assumption-laden “analyses” about Trump’s “working-class base,” white-working-class “swing voters,” “populism,” etc.
We should be infinitely suspicious, then, of any media figures—from any side of the political spectrum—who give credence to these reductive stereotypes in their self-serving rush to speak for the working class. Every week on my podcast, Working People, I interview workers from around the country, from all walks of life, and every week I’m reminded of this imperative truth: The working class is much bigger, more diverse, and more complex than any of us have been led to believe. (There’s actually a good chance that you’re part of it… and a good reason why you’ve been convinced not to think so.) No one can speak for it or its members. They can speak for their damn selves—and I asked a number of them to share their thoughts on these issues. So listen up.
Scott is a maintenance electrician in Chicago, represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). He’s worked at the same place for 10 years. And when media personalities play up working-class stereotypes to fit their own political narratives, it pisses him off.
“Yes, it bothers me!” he told me, especially because “it comes from people who want to feel above ‘the worker’ by assuming they ‘get’ them better than workers get themselves.”
It’s not as if the stereotypes are entirely unfounded—of course there are many thick-necked, Christian, white working-class people in the “heartland” who have reactionary tendencies and think things like “political correctness” and “identity politics” are the great scourges of our day. And there are plenty who don’t. Again, the working class is incredibly big and diverse—the most diverse economic class, in fact—but boiling the complex humanity of working-class people down to reductive stereotypes has always been an effective way for the ruling and managerial classes to justify workers’ lot in life (and, consequently, their relative absence from the mainstream media’s imitation of the public square). ...
Read full report at The Nation