Preservation of the Working Class

Cammellia Watkins

Our insistence on being more dependent on technology and less on people – whether through power or social capital – has brought us to where we are today.

Lack of jobs for those who don’t have college degrees when the vast majority of Americans don’t have a post-secondary degree is a challenge because it undercuts the fact that our education system is flawed. 

The systemic devaluing of working-class jobs is at a tipping point, thus our retail, factory and transport industries are at risk, because we are valuing work over workers.

We can’t continue to define certain work as low skill or high skill. 

This only serves to create a hierarchy of who is essential and who is expendable. COVID times excluded, the idea of being essential was not tied to many of us in front line work. Why? The most valuable asset for any business is it’s workers. Throughout history the fight to maintain workers (slaves) was the start of many battles in this country.  Yet, we somehow have continuously pitted workers against each other. 

Someone recently told me they want to make sure I support White male workers as they aren’t the cause of other people’s inequity.  My response to that was yes. An oversimplified fear could only be responded to by an oversimplified answer. 

Equity and Justice work isn’t about attacking White men and the belief that it is, is confirmation of the continuation of the division strategy promulgated by those who have sought to separate poor Whites from Blacks. We know the original servants in our country were white immigrants that were criminalized and sent to America as indentured servants to help colonize this land.  Soon to follow came African slaves stolen from their land to help colonize this land.

Both groups were unpaid laborers. Both groups were treated as less than human. Both groups were but thimbles in the game of Monopoly being played by wealthy “landowners” from Europe.

In this time Slaves and Indentured servants were in community with each other. The color of their skin did not define their experiences with each other. Black and White lived and worked and married each other without any taint of othering.  They even escaped and/or fought for their freedom together.  And this is when these “expendable people” suddenly became essential.

The wealthy colonizers did the math and realized a need to separate the poor workers as their combined strength was enough to topple power. Hence the strategy of division by skin color was implemented. A series of laws were created to insinuate that being Black was worse than being White and the closer a person was to Whiteness the closer you are to potential wealth and safety. Creating Team White vs Team Black (which in many ways was everyone else). 

This entire belief set was constructed to divide the poor, enslaved working class. And it has shaped our interactions even today.

Today, the divisive strategy is still in place – there are just so many more categories (Educated class vs Working class, Blue collar vs White collar, Manual vs Cerebral). None of these fabricated categories are exclusive to one race or another. Yet, we have been indoctrinated to believe that the higher status of each of these categories is meant only for certain types of people… Team White men. I didn’t create this notion and nor do I believe in its premise.  But I deeply understand how this belief impacts the ability for Team Everyone Else to succeed.  

This goes back to my original conversation.  White men are not my enemy and I need White men to acknowledge the same about me.  The advancement of people of color is not the downfall of White people. We can all advance together, but not until we acknowledge and actively address the systematic divide created by the creation of Team White. 

The work of the founders of this country to divide and conquer the poor, enslaved working class members by skin color have impacted more than just Black, Native and other people of color it also impacts White people. Racism effects all of us. Sexism impacts all of us. Thus, ALL of us are needed to eliminate these fabricated divides of value first starting with race then gender, then we can tackle those of class and ability and so on.  

So yes, I do want to make sure that White men in the working class are not marginalized and to do that I have to work to stop the marginalization of people of color and women.  By addressing and eliminating the inequity in Black and Brown communities I am promoting a better quality of life for all working-class people (psst…that includes White men).

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