The Smile of Class Privilege

There it is again. Recognize it? That smile. A grin, really. You can spin it anyway you want to, but it is unmistakable except, of course, to the toxically innocent or ahistorical and willfully obtuse. It is one born of privilege.
 
The boys in this photo were taunting Dorothy Counts who was the first black student admitted to Harry Harding High School, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1957. She was forced to withdraw from the school only four days later following unrelenting harassment, threats and jeers by her white classmates.
 
In the days following the now infamous incident in Washington DC between a group of mostly white students from the all-male Covington Catholic high school in Kentucky and Native American elder Nathan Phillips, photos like these have been resurfacing. But there is a missing component to most of the commentary. And it is by design.
 
A statement has been released that was supposedly from the one boy in the now viral photograph. And many have reposted it as supposed evidence of the ‘pure innocence’ of him and his peers’ behavior that afternoon. After reading it twice it comes across as a carefully edited and prepared statement, as if drawn up by the family lawyer. And this is what is important here. How many working class kids have access to such services? Without class analysis of this incident everything else is rendered meaningless.
 
I’ve watched the videos several times. I have heard the obnoxious language hurled at the students by a small group from a cult called the Black Hebrew Israelites. I have watched the students body language. I have observed Nathan Phillips demeanor and that of the boys, and one issue that is glaring is that of class.
 
The boys in this video have a life that has been carefully crafted by their petit bourgeois standing in American society. They are clearly being groomed for upper middle class professions and up standing roles in civic leadership. Their presence in Washington was no accident either. They were bused in to protest women’s reproductive freedom. And those tickets and the hotel stay I’m guessing were not cheap. That they attend an all-male school while participating in political speech that seeks to limit a woman’s control over her own body is telling. After all, racism, class and patriarchy are a trinity of oppression.
 
The boys at Covington are undeniably privileged. Tuition for the private school is nearly $10,000 a year and that is not including extracurricular activities like the ‘March for Life’ that they attended. The median income in the region is around $25,000. That they are mostly white is no small issue either.
 
But America doesn’t do class analysis. Never really has in the mainstream. That would be “too commie” so it is a forbidden topic in the media and a self-imposed censorship by most Americans whether liberal or conservative. And so discussing this incident as if it were a conflict between equals has become an exercise in the absurd.
 
Like the kids at Harry Harding High School, the boys from Covington have always had the upper hand in America. And that is a sad fact that will never change in the United States so long as it remains what it is: a dictatorship of class privilege, white supremacy, and money. 
Kenn Orphan   2019

7 thoughts on “The Smile of Class Privilege

  1. John

    Class exists in every nation on Earth.
    It is a weapon of exploitation, divisiveness and avarice.
    The only consolation is the great equaliser.
    Being dead.

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    1. Dale Johnson

      Kenn, I just read your piece on Counter Punch. Well said. I write about the noxious effects of class privilege in Social Inequality, Economic Decline, and Plutocracy: An American Crisis, Palgrave 2017, now out in paperback from amazon.com Also at Amazon, Amerikaganistan, Dystopia Inc. a book of denunciatory poetry and indecent satire.

      Best wishes,

      Dale Johnson
      troporg@racsa.co.cr

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  2. Linda Holland Blossom

    His sense of privilege was so great that moving aside to let an elder pass was not considered – showing how he could stay right where he was as someone without the need to show manners. In his interview he said he had every right to be there but his manners are like those of the whites in the 50’s that would beat old black folks. No real class or manners and his PR firm is spinning in mud. I was dismayed at the NPR spot this morning that tried to take away from the story by disparaging the source.

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  3. Dermot M O Connor

    “America doesn’t do class analysis”.

    100%, across the entire narrow and revolting ‘spectrum’. Liberals and conservatives alike would sooner eat a bucket of sick than look at class (“Check your white privilege”, “check your male privilege”, “check your cis privilege” —> but NEVER will you hear “Check your CLASS privilege”).

    Hmm. Wonder why? Could it be that the person telling those to check their privilege might be in a position of unexamined class privilege?

    Between the smug bourgeois ‘liberals’ (who, without their ‘social liberalism’ are identical to 80s thatcherites) to the clueless defeated working class who would choke rather than vote left, there’s very little hope.

    I moved here from Ireland in 93. Some good consequences, many bad ones. While for me it was probably the best in a bad lot of choices, I fear the time has come to move home. 49 years old in this unraveling Rube Goldberg of an Empire, I don’t want to spend the next 25 years here. The idea of being 60+ in this place without family is frankly terrifying.

    I stumbled across this quote in the comments of a recent Guardian article. Guy got very close to nailing it in one paragraph. As long as the rubes (‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’) are fed their identity politics / culture war soma, they’re kept happily distracted, the dopes.

    They expend more psychic energy on spiderman comic book covers or Marvel movies than the lead in Detroit’s water supply. What can you even say about that?

    The Left now is largely what we might call ‘post modern’ (a poor term I know) in its obsession with identity politics. It’s like all that exists in their ontology is ‘identity’ and everything in history, everything today can simply be understood as white heterosexual men oppressing everyone else. It’s so crude, so simplistic that it provides a ready explanation for everything to idiots. It makes most people a victim which gives their lives meaning and someone to blame.

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    1. Kate Moriarty

      Really? …”the boys from Covington have always had the upper hand in America…”. Boys do not have any sort of ‘hand’, upper or lower. They could not choose to whom they were born. It is as unfair for adults to pick on them now as it was for her fellow students to pick on Dorothy Counts. Go for their parents – if you must, and then only if you truly understand what is in the heart of each individual – no stereotyping.

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      1. troporg

        Racism is only partially a question of parental upbringing. The question is why the currents of racism and sexism, and other evils, are so strong in the culture of capitalism.

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