[Excerpt] Class is the last great taboo in the United States. It is, according to Noam Chomsky, “the unmentionable five-letter word.” Even in this period of growing economic inequality, we hardly ever talk about class. We hear daily, in the mainstream media, about unemployment, bailouts, proposed tax cuts or tax hikes, Congress regulating one industry and deregulating another, budget cuts, recession, recovery, roller-coaster markets, CEO bonuses, and more. Given all the attention to economics, it is interesting that talk about social class has been so skimpy.
Sometimes I think of class as our collective, national family secret. And, as any therapist will tell you, family secrets are problematic. With rare exceptions, we just don’t talk about class in the United States. Most of us believe that the United States is a classless society, one that is basically middle class (except for a few unfortunate poor people and some lucky rich ones). Sometimes talk about class is really about race. We have no shared language about class. We have been taught from childhood myths and misconceptions around class mobility and the American dream.
Many of us are confused about class and don’t tend to think about it as consciously as we might our race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, or sexual orientation. Nonetheless, our class identity has a huge impact on every aspect of our lives: from parenting style to how we speak, from what we dare to dream to the likelihood we will spend time in prison, from how we spend our days to how many days we have.
We are living in a period of extraordinary economic insecurity and inequality. It is an inequality that crushes the poor, drains the working class, eliminates the middle class, simultaneously aggrandizes and dehumanizes the rich, and disembowels democracy.