Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

White Middle-Class Privilege: Social Class Bias and Implications for Training and Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

White Middle-Class Privilege: Social Class Bias and Implications for Training and Practice

Article excerpt

Social class, classism, and privilege and their relationship to counseling have been given insufficient attention. This article defines and explores White middle-class privilege; it proffers support for its integration in a multicultural competency, as well as its intersection with race and other dimensions of multiculturalism and privilege. Implications for counseling practice plus a clinical case study illustrate the issues.

La clase social, el clasismo y el privilegio, asi como su relacion con la consejeria, no han sido tratados con suficiente atencion. Este articulo define y explora el privilegio de la clase media Blanca; sugiere apoyar su integracion en una competencia multicultural, ademas de su interseccion con la raza y otras dimensiones del multiculturalismo y el privilegio. Las implicaciones para la practica de la consejeda mas el estudio de un caso clinico ilustran estan cuestiones.


The man who washes cars does not own one. The clerk who files cancelled checks at the bank has $2.02 in her own account. The woman who copyedits medical textbooks has not been to a dentist in a decade. This is the forgotten America.... [M]illions live in the shadow of prosperity, in the twilight between poverty and well being. Whether you're rich, poor, or middle-class, you encounter them every day. They serve you Big Macs and help you find merchandise at Wal-Mart. They harvest your food, clean your offices, and sew your clothes.

--Shipler, 2004, p. 3

America's blind spot is social class. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that those with access to resources such as credit cards, automobiles, and relatives outside the Gulf region were able to leave prior to the hurricane, survive the aftermath, and return to rebuild what was lost. Those without privilege and resources were left to fend for themselves. Racially, privilege was afforded to many Whites, whereas the people in poverty were largely Black and Latino. The hurricane disaster reflected another stark reality related to privilege, classism, and racism: the ever-growing social and economic inequality in the United States. Yet, with the rich becoming richer, the middle class shrinking (Duncan & Smeeding, 1992), and the number of individuals in poverty growing, why is there not more focus on these disparities? What is it about the middle class that makes it salient, meaningful, and idealized by so many Americans even though the middle class is mostly becoming imaginary? What are the characteristics, privileges, and identity that give the middle class its currency? To address some of these questions, we describe and define White middle-class privilege in the United States and its relationship to social class and classism. First, we outline why social class is an important, but often confusing, cultural construct. Second, we discuss how social class privilege (i.e., middle-class privilege) may develop among White individuals. Third, we discuss privilege in the context of other dominant groups, such as Whites, heterosexuals, Christians, and men. Finally, we provide a case study on White middle-class privilege and discuss the implications.

The focus of this article is on the construct of social class and privilege, specifically, White, Christian, middle-class privilege, hereinafter referred to as White middle-class privilege. Although other authors (McIntosh, 1995) have discussed aspects of White privilege and its relationship to social class privilege, we focus on understanding the role of social class and classism within privilege. Even though economic affluence is often linked with privilege (Levine, 2006), we approach privilege as an attitudinal variable, or a subjective experience and perception specifically related to one's social class. Privilege has also been conceptualized as an invisible but ostensibly pervasive entitlement that manifests in behaviors and attitudes (Twenge, 2006), and several authors have already discussed privilege in relation to other multicultural constructs, such as race, religion, and gender (Black & Stone, 2005; McIntosh, 1995; Schlosser, 2003). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.