Rapid response to “low-class Italian white trash”

What a coincidence! Just a few days after posting the two pieces below about responding to classist comments, I heard a doozy – and I think I responded quicker and better because I’d so recently read Nicole’s and Susan’s advice. But I’m still not sure whether it made any difference. In water aerobics class, several older white women were deploring the TV show “Jersey Shore,” in particular the female characters’ sexual morality. “They meet a guy at a bar and take him right home!”; “Or two or three guys – at once!”; “They’d do it right there on the bar... Read More

Responding to Verbal Classism

When I hear a classist put-down, I feel like Derek Zoolander in the Ben Stiller movie Zoolander, tongue-tied and unable to come up with a response until hours or days later. I know that being a bystander is not enough. I owe it to myself, other listeners, the offensive speaker, and the target of the comment to say something. But my problem is that I am slow with come-backs. For instance, my high-school friend used to put on a fake southern drawl to impersonate anyone she thought wasn’t smart. She was upper-middle-class, living on the upper west side of Manhattan.... Read More

Special Delivery: Mexican-in-a-Box

I found myself an unprepared witness to a classist/racist “joke” where and when I least expected it.  Should I have intervened?  Is there a way to turn such ugliness into a “teachable moment”? One afternoon I was waiting in line at my university’s mailroom behind a rowdy group of undergraduate men.  The students—mostly white and a few students of color—were clearly friends, who had assembled to help one of their crew retrieve a large number of packages that took the staff some time to round up.  As I stood quietly behind them awaiting my turn, I couldn’t help but overhear... Read More

When you’re rich and when you’re poor

When you’re rich and lose money on a leveraged investment, you are a victim of the bad economy and deserved to be bailed out. When you’re poor and lose money on a risky investment, you’re a financially incompetent yahoo who chases get rich quick schemes. When you’re rich and a war is about to start, doing your duty is working in your father’s oil business or the National Guard. When you’re poor and a war is about to start, be prepared to lose some limbs. When you’re rich and mess up, there are always second chance boarding schools, second chance... Read More

Felice’s mission of making classism a diversity issue

When Felice Yeskel started graduate school in the 1980s, she was outraged that the Social Issues Training Project at the UMass Education School omitted classism from its curriculum. Every aspiring diversity trainer had to practice facilitating two-day workshops on sexism, racism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism and anti-Semitism – but not classism. Felice had been severely oppressed as a young lesbian, and she walked around perpetually pissed off at sexism — but looming huge over those experiences of oppression was the disrespect targeted at her working-class family, and the shame she felt, as a scholarship student at a private school, about her... Read More

Don’t be a classist anti-racist!

While naming “white privilege” is an important part of exposing and dismantling structural racism, I can see how the term “privilege” is hard to swallow for white folks on the downside of our economic system.  Being marginalized in one power system doesn’t mean you can’t be privileged in another.  But this particular form of pushback should not be so easily dismissed as generic white resistance to confronting white privilege.  Rather, the resistance I experience from poor and working class white people feels like an important opportunity to check my own class privilege and cross-class competence, as well as to develop... Read More

Celebrating Felice Yeskel

Felice Yeskel, a peaceful warrior for economic justice, has left us.   After a 2-year battle with cancer, Felice died on Tuesday Jan 11, surrounded by loving family and friends in Amherst, Mass. Felice was a remarkable trainer and public speaker on issues of class, human liberation and economic justice.  Her irreverent sense of humor and big-hearted embrace of everyone will be greatly missed. Felice grew up on the Lower East Side of New York, the only child of Phyllis and Harry Yeskel.  Her father drove a truck that collected flour sacks from bagel and bialy bakeries around the city.    Felice... Read More

Memories of Felice and class

A few memories of Felice and class from Betsy Leondar-Wright I remember when Felice first identified herself as working-class. When she was in her mid-20s, members of Movement for a New Society (MNS) began caucusing by class background, and she joined a middle-class caucus. After all, she had always known that she’d be going to college; wasn’t that a marker of being middle class? But Fai Coffin, a Jewish working-class woman, took her aside and told her she was not middle class, she was working class; that values about education and class worked differently for Jews. Felice had grown up... Read More