Has Class Trumped Race? Part 4 – The Question

by Latoya Peterson

This is a continuation of a series. See parts 1, 2, 3, and 3.5 for more details.

So it took me a while to write this part of the series, partially because I am still looking for a concrete answer to the following question:

Why do so many people want to focus more on class than on race?

Now, this is not to say that class isn’t an important issue. It is. And it is an issue that needs to be brought before the public for discussion more often.

However, I must say I find it a bit disingenuous when I am having a conversation about race, and someone chooses to chime in “No, you’re wrong – the real issue is class, not race. We need to be discussing that.”

Hence the reason why I titled the series “Has Class Trumped Race?”

I would argue no.

Class and race and two different things which encompass a wide range of experiences and scenarios. They build upon each other. Just like there is no one universal race experience, there is no one universal class experience on any side of the divide. Being upper-class and black is still different from being upper class and white. Being lower-class and white is a different experience from being black and working poor.

And most of this “class” analysis still falls into a few distinct binaries.

There is the separation binary, which indicates that all lower class people in a certain group and all upper class people in a certain group must act in set ways. I hear this most in class discussions in the black community, where someone will mention that certain problems only pertain to lower-class blacks and so we should not include them in the larger racial discussion.

There is also the black-white binary, which much of our racial discourse is based around, and leaves lower class and upper class Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, and the various generations of people born to immigrants out of the dialogue completely.

There is another binary which dictates that all discussions of race are really discussions of class because all the blacks/asians/latinos they know don’t have race problems, so it must only be a class issue. I generally hear these sentiments when I am dealing with white people who don’t want to talk about race.

The discussion today is not about whether or not class is worth discussing. I think I have made it clear that it is an enormous issue and one that must take a place of importance in our national dialogue, especially considering our current political and economic climate in the United States.

But what I want to know is why so many people want to insert a discussion of class over a discussion of race?