Facing the Big Taboo–Class in America

Jennifer Ladd and Felice Yeskel discuss the
coverage of class by two major, mainline publications–The Wall Street Journal
and The new York Times. They say class is the big taboo and it’s time we had a
conversation about it in the U.S.

Class? There
is no word
or concept
that is more
off-limits in
our boundless
tell-all culture
right now
than class.
–Jennifer Ladd
Felice Yeskel

Jennifer Ladd and Felice Yeskel review two series on class in major, mainline publications–The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Ladd and Yeskel say that class is the one taboo we still don’t talk about in a tell-all culture, but these two series are breaking new ground for the mainline media, even giving class credibility so it could be discussed by others.

They write that when it comes to class it’s as if we stumble and go speechless. It’s the most basic of divides in the U.S. but we can speak of it only in coded language and euphemisms.

… a standing
offence to the
American expectation
that everyone
has the
opportunity
for life,
liberty, and
happiness.
–Jennifer Ladd
Felice Yeskel

I wrote of this a few days ago. I believe the concept of class so threatens our perception of opportunity in the culture that we cannot abide the idea that class exists and that it controls destiny more powerfully than we want to recognize.

Ladd and Yeskel say wer’re dealt four cards–education, income, occupation and wealth. If they are face cards you are in the upper class. Other cards put you lower in the social order. Barry Switzer, the former football coach at Oklahoma University has said, “Some people are born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple.” That’s class.

What’s menacing about this today isn’t only the social discrimination that occurs in a class-based society. The hidden wounds of class do affect us. But the menace is even deeper. It’s the limit on opportunity, the gap between our belief in opportunity and the reality. Ladd and Yeskel cite studies that reveal less opportunity for upward mobility in the U.S. than in Europe which we perceive has had class-based societies for hundreds of years.

We need an ongoing conversation about class and opportunity in this society. We are at risk if the economy is locked into injustice. Class affects access to health care, adequate diet, work and stress. The wounds of class are pervasive and lasting. They are emotionally damaging.

As the gap between the rich and poor grows wider and becomes more fixed, the threat to an open and free society is jeopardized. We really need to talk about this big taboo.

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