Classism: The Discrimination That Knows No Bounds

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What is it like to be poor? That’s a subject I think more people should investigate as I’ve heard so many disparaging comments made about those who aren’t as well off financially as others. Funny though, people seem to believe that because they have a new car, the largest cable package on the market, or some fancy electronic device this somehow points to the fact they are light-years ahead of those who need government assistance. I’m here to tell you, folks, you may not be as far ahead as you think. Moreover, if you ever hit the ranks of those who are forced to, as so many wrongfully phrase it, “apply for entitlements,” you will find that the word “discrimination” is now part of your vocabulary—and here’s a shocker for you—even if you’re white.

If you’re poor and can’t afford to pay your bills on time, an employer can deny you a job as they may conduct a background check, including a credit check, to decide if you are reliable enough to hire. Landlords can refuse to rent to someone with shoddy credit history. Getting a credit card is out of the question, so if your car breaks down, you might be out of luck in getting it repaired.

The poorer you are the more likely it is you might land in jail for debts you cannot resolve as well. While we do not have “debtors jail” proper anymore, we still have what is known as the Writ of Attachment.

Let’s say you are forced to go to the emergency room, and without insurance, are left with a hefty bill you cannot pay. Once that bill hits the hands of a collection agency, they will drag you into court to try to resolve the issue. Credit agents will use all means possible to drag money out of debtors, and many people just agree to payments. If those payments are not made, the agency will drag the person back to court, and here’s a huge problem.

Poor people are often forced to move faster than the mail system can catch up with them. So sure, the court mails out a notice, and often an officer will sometimes serve a notice to appear, but if the person can’t be found, the notice can’t be delivered. It might be left with a relative or neighbor, but not always. The court date comes, and the person does not appear because they had no way of knowing they’d been served. The court can then issue a Writ of Attachment, which calls for the arrest of the individual. All it takes is to get pulled over for a busted tail light, and BAM! you find yourself in handcuffs, and often without money for the hefty bond a Writ usually carries. (Generally the cost of the bill you owe.)

These people are not criminals. They’re simply unable to pay a bill. Now, with not only being a poor, but an arrest record to boot, they’re definitely going to be discriminated against. No one cares to hear why they went to jail. They just know they don’t hire, house, or educate criminals. The world of opportunities they once had shrink before their eyes as being poor becomes a criminal offense.

Of course, men of color experience this disparity two-fold with the intersection of both ethnicity and class, and women of color experience this three times over where gender, ethnicity, and class meet. Nonetheless, white folks, when I say we need to end discrimination, the new Jim Crow laws so many people of color are experiencing, you better open your eyes because if you’re poor, they will affect you, too.

See, we’re big on covering our eyes to issues with which we have no personal experience, but I’m betting most of you out there are not eternally wealthy. You probably have not amassed the kind of wealth that can’t go away. Sure, you might have a nice car, a home, and maybe even a boat, but I’m betting you’re so far in debt that you’re no more than a paycheck or two—maybe a month or two’s wages from living in poverty.

It doesn’t take much, really. A heart attack. One nasty divorce. A death. Maybe a natural disaster. Life changes easier than we might ever believe. I know folks who, in 2008, went from massive mortgages and expensive car payments to $400 per month rentals, used cars, applying for food assistance, and bankruptcy court. They waved good-bye to six figures and tried to find ways to live on unemployment. Some of them still haven’t fully recovered six years later. Most of them were college educated and had never broken the law. Nearly all of them have ended up in court being sued for monies owed to some creditor.

Humiliation is bad enough. Being discriminated against for something beyond your own control is mind breaking. In fact, I know of at least one man who committed suicide because he lost everything, couldn’t find help, and was denied employment because he was a “theft risk” due to his dwindling credit score. He had only experienced this discrimination for a small portion of his life. I cannot imagine the psychological effect on those who experience discrimination for the entirety of their lives.

If we ever think discrimination only happens to people who aren’t like us, we should look around us at everyone who is being treated poorly. No one should face discrimination for things of which they have no control—not the color of their skin, not their gender, not their sexual orientation, not physical and mental disabilities, and not the size of their wallets.

Now more than ever, it’s important that we all stand together. It’s time we quit looking for ways to differentiate ourselves from others, and realize that most of us, 99% probably, are very much alike. We all face similar issues, just in different ways. We all struggle to make it through life, and the best way to win that struggle is by helping, rather than fighting, one another. Holding one person down to get a head up helps no one, because while you’re busy trying to hold that person under you, someone else is plotting your demise for their own benefit, too. You’re not safe in a world where it’s acceptable to criminalize others for things which they do not control. First class passengers may watch as the poorer passengers below struggle and drown, but they should remember as they watch idly by, they will regret their inaction as the ship slips under the sea.

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