Class Consciousness Is Back
Douglas, Susan J., In These Times
MULTIPLE TIMES AND ON MULTIPLE days, my local NPR station actually used the "c" word on the air. No, not that "c" word- it was "class." Yes, that most unmentionable of topics: socio-economic class and how it determines the fate of millions of Americans.
Our vernacular obscures the country's very real class divisions, with crippling - even lethal - consequences. The term "middle class" is used capaciously in the United States to include almost everyone, while the term "working class" is eschewed (it sounds way too Marxist). Even the "99%" signs and chants of Occupy protesters occlude the multiple and often stark divisions within that 99%.
Class position, of course, affects everything: access to healthcare, education, where you live, what restaurants you eat in, nutrition, careers, income, tax breaks, how much credit costs you, who you marry (and when), who fights and dies for our country, and on and on. But with our media's national obsessions about gender, race and ethnicity, class may be the most under-covered feature of structural inequality in the country. In November, NPR-affiliate Michigan Radio aired an 11-part series called "Culture of Class," which rolled back the stone, showing what lurks in America's cave of inequities.
Let's start with the legal system. "There, perhaps, is no moment in life when the difference in class is more apparent than when you are accused of a crime," reporter Lester Graham notes in his piece on class and the courts. If you're upper-middle class, or even truly middle class, you hire a lawyer, and the richer you are, the more choices you have. But if you're a low-income person and are assigned a public defender, you are especially screwed in Michigan: The state ranks 44th in public defense funding. The report also noted that in Detroit, five part-time public defenders handle caseloads up to seven times the national average for full-time public defenders; they get to spend an average of 32 minutes on each case. Graham then put a public face on these statistics: David Tucker, whose public defender was totally unprepared for court. The result? Tucker lost four years of his life in jail before his conviction was finally overturned.
In the Michigan Radio installment on military service, we were reminded (and we need to be) that we've been at war for the last decade. …