I want to foreword this post by saying that I do not believe racism, sexism or homophobia have been eradicated from our society I just believe it is less societally acceptable to perpetuate those prejudices than it is to be classist.
Recently I found myself questioning this idea of the acceptability of classism. I was a at gathering where there were few people I had met before. The conversation turned to homeless people, as Portland has a very large homeless population due to the availability of many social assistance programs and a vibrant street culture. A popular pastime of Portlanders (it seems) is to share stories about homeless encounters and generally bash the homeless population over drinks in a cosy atmosphere.
The partygoers exchanged various tales of how awful homeless people were here and how terrible it was to walk to work and run into someone begging for spare change. They waxed on how these people were just taking advantage of society, how they were lazy, how they were undeserving of human interaction. The equation of negative interactions being much worse than what it is like being homeless is disingenuous, selfish and disgusting. I admit I have become desensitized to this bashing, but that evening the length of the sport became so protracted that I made up an excuse to leave with another friend of mine who afterwards shared his feelings of disgust about the attitudes of the other partygoers.
What fascinates me is people’s inability to conceptualize homeless people as people. They reduce them to nonhuman entities worthy only of revile and ignoring. I find this highly disturbing and problematic, especially as it has become so easy to fall out of your class now. There are many people who are becoming homeless who were middle class before. Foreclosures, banks, mental healthcare, job scarcity and a rise in living costs have all contributed to this. I think this is compounded by American society’s “bootstrap” idealization of success. People are measured by how well they survive on their own. We put very little validity on helping others and creating community. I say “we” but I really mean White upper-middle class capitalist Christian thinking (there are numerous communities in the United States such as Native Americans and Jewish people which are the opposite).
I have known people in my life who have become homeless temporarily or for long periods of time and I tried to help them in whatever way I could. One of my friends related to an acquaintance of mine that I was the only person he had known in his previous life before he had to sleep under a bridge that actually still spoke to him and acted as if nothing was different. I remember him still. I treated him with dignity and respect as I would treat all people. My friend was a homeless person. Homeless people are after all, people.
I encourage you to think about that next time you decide to join in some bitching about how annoyed you were that someone asked you for change. Keep your classism to yourself.