Class? Don’t Talk About it.

Class is a subject we don’t talk about in
polite company in the United States. Mention country music to some and you have
identified yourself as a racist, chauvinist pig.

I learned long ago after many embarrassments that class is a subject you don’t talk about in polite company in the United States. I mean social and economic class.

The subject is sure to create hostility and denial straight out of the box. I stumbled into the storm several times before I learned to keep my mouth shut.

Liberal or conservative, left or right, class divides. The New York Times series on class documents this in real life experiences. A reader forum is generating truly interesting and insightful comments.

Many readers want to share a part of their own personal story. They relate experiences of class, some hopeful, some embarrassing and some quite magnanimous. It’s a bit surprising to me that people are doing this, given my experience with class related above.

It’s always interesting to me that those who don’t want to discuss class generally mean they don’t want to discuss the situation of those white folks at the lower end of the economic scale in the United States. Did reading these words bring to mind a latent thought about race? Did that bring ambivalence?

look at the
cover!! It looks
like an ad
for porn and
the music is
absolutely degrading!
There are poor
people, then
there are
white trash people.
This offering
is for the
white trash people.
–from a
review of
Here For the Party
by ritz,
on Amazon.com

Class cuts across many of the categories by which we’ve organized our thoughts in the U.S. It interrupts those thoughts and makes us uncomfortable. It’s Marxist, after all.

I’ve been attacked with equal enthusiasm by people on the left and on the right when I have brought up the subject of class. I’ve quit talking about country music in most settings, because I just got tired of defending myself against attacks of racism, chauvinism and being “low class.” The blindness of the left and the arrogance of the right toward lower middle class working people is tedious, tedious, tedious.

Through NAFTA, offshoring and other economic policies we have tacitly agreed that working people are expendable. We have figuratively put them in a boat and pushed them out to sea, without a paddle.

I can’t abide Toby Keith’s politics. (Toby Keith is a top-of-the-charts country musician, if you don’t follow the music.) But that’s not the issue. What’s behind his lyrics of anger, alienation and chauvinism? Those of us who grew up in this culture with these people ought to ask why our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and cousins say Toby speaks for them. But, too often, we don’t. We just get smugly self-righteous and sneer at their beliefs. There are three groups it’s still possible to malign in our society without impunity, poor whites, gay men and lesbians.

So I’ve stopped talking about it. I go about my life trying to change things in other ways. I listen to country music. I try to understand it in a context of globalization. I’m happy Gretchen Wilson was named country music’s top female vocalist and top new artist. I’m glad “Redneck Woman” was the song of the year. I’m glad she sang “I know some people look down on me, but I don’t give a rip.” Sing it sister, ’cause I don’t either.

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