Classism on the Left, Intersectionality, and Comedy

7 02 2008

I’ve been finding myself increasingly, and more commonly, frustrated with the prevalence of classism amongst supposed ‘radicals’ or ‘leftists’ or ‘liberals.’ When did we decide that it is okay to employ classist stereotypes about poor (usually white) people in the interest of advancing arguments against homophobia, sexism, and racism? Or, perhaps more accurately, why haven’t we gotten around to loudly and explicitly saying that this isn’t okay?

I generally really like Margaret Cho. She’s funny and vocal in her denunciation of sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, and racism, I think it’s important to support queer women of color in entertainment, and she’s pretty damn good at what she does. I came across a clip on youtube today from her Assassin dvd (I haven’t seen all of it). Now, granted, this is an old show, but not THAT old. The piece is called “These Christian Groups Have Lost Their Minds,” and it is her rant on the inanity of Right-wing, Christian homophobia. For the most part, it’s funny, calls out the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of a lot of the things people were (and are) saying about why gay people are evil, and has a few great lines. But at one point, she slips into throwing out the same old, tired, offensive classist stereotypes. Now, not only is it disappointing because it’s offensive, but it’s also not very original. Really, I expect more of her than lines about how gay people wouldn’t want to live in a trailer park. (Which, of course, is problematic because it makes invisible those queer people who DO live in trailer parks, and it reinforces the urban = good for gays/ rural = bad for gays dichotomy, which isn’t quite so clear cut.) Watching this clip, I was surprised, and disappointed, but it also reminded me just how little we talk about classism.

This isn’t something that’s specific to Margaret Cho, though, and it comes up again and again and again amongst liberals. It seems particularly common to me amongst white liberals, so because in this context Margaret Cho isn’t a relevant example, and because I’m speaking mostly from personal experience, I’m going to leave off from her particular routine.

We (white liberals/progressives) seem to be under the deluded notion that racism, sexism, and homophobia are only problems amongst those “other” white people – the poor, uneducated white folks. This trope has a lot of problems, but I’ll start with a couple of the big ones.

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