The Stubbornness Of Class Snobbery

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Freddie recently complained about his Facebook friends sharing a jokey item that conflated “think[ing] Olive Garden is fancy” with being a racist. Freddie’s post title, and seemingly straightforward request, is, “keep your classism out of my antiracism.”

I share his sentiment, but am pessimistic about the prospects of separating classism from not just antiracism, but social justice advocacy more generally. It’s not that sometimes, well-meaning progressive sorts slip up and accidentally insult one group while helping another. Rather, it’s that a certain kind of chic progressivism (or pseudo-progressivism) has fused with class snobbery. The chance to engage in a bit of class signaling is a feature, not a bug.

We see this in so many arenas, the most obvious being a certain kind of anti-commercialism that seems to be about defending those who can’t afford flashy-fancy items, but is in fact about those who prefer discreetly high-end items (or better yet, experiences) looking down on those whose tastes aren’t so impressive. See: Black Friday. See also: the “basic bitch,” and Noreen Malone’s spot-on explanation. The thing these days is to sneer at the schmancy in a way that seems at first to be about supporting the underdog, but that’s in fact the opposite. “Gourmet” is no longer indicative of high-end, nor are designer logos. So you’re not actually taking the pro-underdog position of you prefer Bushwick farm-to-table to special-occasion restaurants (that may well cost less). A gigantic engagement ring, a McMansion, an SUV, these are the things one can evoke as examples of how “we” i.e. Americans over-consume, but the person ostensibly including himself in this first-person-plural actually has plenty of money, status, and whichever stuff does interest him. It’s simply not done to insult the actual poor. So all the classist energies have gone towards insulting this nebulous (and unless otherwise specified, white) middle class, all the while claiming to be concerned about the environment, labor, etc. Yet those remain, for others, true concerns. The difficulty is sorting out which is which.

We also see this play out in social-media issues-of-the-day discussions. Specifically, the “privilege” conversation, which is often, as we have seen, a way for those with the right manners and terminology to exclude everyone else. Class signaling and social-justice advocacy have, on Twitter and most especially on Facebook, started to look, at times, almost indistinguishable.