Classism won’t protect women’s rights in Alabama.

With members of Black Belt Citizens and partners on a 2018 organizing trip to Uniontown, AL. (Author’s own photo)

Liberals, a word. We may be tempted, faced with the possibility that several states may pass horrific forced birth bills into law, to surface all we find horrific about the rural South. To use an assault on women’s constitutionally-protected freedoms as a pretext for wiki-scavenging statistics on poverty, obesity, and illiteracy as material “proof” of moral degeneracy and unfitness for parenthood in places like Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky.

We can differentiate these rants from the critical advocacy of red state community organizers and place-based cultural workers because they contain no proposed solutions; nor will we find in them an informed focus on the systemic effects of unmet basic human needs for housing, education, and sustainable foodways. The poster typically knows nothing about the place in their crosshairs. On the contrary: posters may admit, if pressed, that they would avoid such places and people at any cost.

Poverty-shaming of this kind may be satisfying in the short term. As a West Virginian I can go off on backwards-ass hillbilly politics and the neighbors who perpetuate them for hours at a time. This is both my foible and my prerogative as a person with fierce love, knowledge and investment of time in West Virginia and places like it. And, as a cultural worker fighting for change in deep South and Appalachian states, I’m telling you point-blank that our classist scorn (a pervasive problem, particularly among Northern liberals from some of the whitest states in America) is about the least “woke,” most counterproductive way to address systemic oppression imaginable.

For many of us white liberals living in relative comfort, it’s easy to reassure ourselves that classism isn’t a “real” form of bigotry. Perhaps this ingrained bias should help us to identify with fellow white bigots who don’t believe racism is a serious problem. Yet we fail to make this connection again and again, reassuring ourselves that our chosen form of prejudice is somehow the socially acceptable one.

If political frustration has driven you to post hate speech (or even to entertain such thoughts) about the backwards poor and their cultural drain on society, you aren’t alone. And reading this call-in might have you Feeling Some Kind of Way™ right about now. Don’t worry. We’ve all internalized oppressive behaviors and acted upon them in service of our so-called Ideals.

But when we know better, we do better. A commitment to intersectional justice starts with owning our own internalized oppressions. You know those deflecting tactics racists double down on when confronted with their white supremacist behaviors? Rage, fragility, minimizing, focusing on intention? An obsession with strawmen and projecting blame?

The difficult truth is, we liberals self-define by our willingness to do better than this. We need to model intersectional learning by doing better when our classist remarks and actions are identified.

Class, race, gender, sexuality, body size, mental and physical ability: There is no form of Othering that is not intimately tied to other forms of discrimination; and, regardless of your intentions, the worst of this rhetoric hurts non-white people living disproportionately in poverty. Alabama, for instance, ranks in the top 10 highest percentages of black population per capita in the U.S. So Northern liberals concern-trolling this population’s body mass index, reading skills, and average household income isn’t just hypocritical. It’s flat-out racist.

Above: concern trolling at its subtlest.

If you care, target the unscrupulous (overwhelmingly white) wealthy who benefit from systemic oppression. Focus your rage on the perpetrators of the injustice and your love on the frontline progressive people and organizations doing the most good in working class communities. Pledge to eliminate generational poverty by supporting radical education, health and community-building efforts led by organizers with deep knowledge and love of their home states. Find these people and give them the money you have been giving racist white artists and institutions which engage humanity only from a distance.

If we care about change, if we care about reproductive freedom, financial support is one of many things we can do to take responsibility as white people. Spreading classism via boycotts which hurt the vulnerable and rants which criminalize the poor? Neither responsible, helpful nor progressive.