Classism refers to a form of discrimination within the society whose roots are found in economics. It refers to a discrimination based on social classes. It is a form of differential treatment towards different classes and segments of the society. It goes on strengthening the dominant social class and weakening the poor ones. It leads to the oppression of the subordinate groups. This is a discriminative process of assigning various characteristics on ability, resources, worth and rights that are based on social classes. The basic features of the theory can be briefed with the following points:
i. Different behavior and attitudes towards different individuals based on their status and class.
ii. Policies and practices that are made for benefitting the upper classes at the cost of the subordinate classes.
iii. A drastic inequality in income and wealth.
iv. Injustice and unequal values.
This is a system that ranks people according to their economic power and status, level of education, job profile, type of family, caste and so on. The dominant group members generally comprises of people with high income, ruling class people and the high middle class people whereas the oppressing or subordinate group include the local workers, low income earners and the poor people. This segregation therefore leads to the dominance of the higher class and thereafter the higher class is the class that decides the normality, abnormality and acceptability within the society. Classism has been maintained and perpetuated from individuals to individuals, institutions to institutions and institutions to individuals, generation after generation by internalizing the organizing principle of rigged economics. Rigged economics refers to the structural system within the economy that is generally designed by the elites and ruling class people of the society.
Classism is often linked with the concepts of Eugenics and Social Darwinism. It is considered to be as one of the core concepts in Marxism, that gives the idea of the class based society and its exploitation and oppression. It is more of a conflict between the classes than the inequality between classes. It produces a gap between the rich and the poor and the dominant parties are opposed by the subordinate parties because of the dominance and tortures that the subordinates face. Classism however can take two different forms that are not at all mutually exclusive. The two forms are – natural hierarchy and economic hierarchy. Natural hierarchy provides the innate right to rule or dominate because of biological rights. It is applicable in case of kings and queens. On the other hand economic hierarchy is one of the most common forms of classism that states that the rich people within a capitalistic economy are more powerful and intelligent and thereafter possess rights over the working class and the poor people of the society.
The concept of classism has a long past. Divisions within the society existed since the pre-agricultural times. With the evolution of time and technology the concept of classism has become more complex and complicated. The earliest forms of class division can be traced from the dawn of history. During the ancient times class was usually distinguished by one element: nobility. In the ancient time, being born to a noble family meant that the person is of royal blood and has economic and social power over the society. In many occasions social class were divided on the basis of the caste. The caste system is one of the oldest forms of classism. With the advent of education and improvements in the society people started to gain more knowledge on the ancient history. This led to the formation of several ideologies. These ideologies in term resulted into making several distinctions and division within the social groups. Economically, the practice of classism however started from the 18th century. During this time the peasants were classified as the lower class people, whereas the kings, monarch and knights were classified as the higher class people. The history of classism states the rise of the coordinator class. The coordinator class consists of the economic elites with around 20% of the people and the remaining 80% fell into the working classes including the unemployed. Classism has evolved differently in different countries but however it evolved rapidly in the United States. Socio – economic status became a volatile issue in the US.
A huge time was spent by the sociologists in order to study how and why the populations got stratified according the level of income. It not only oppressed the people through income level but also separated the people on the basis of color and racial backgrounds. The opportunities that were provided to the higher class in terms of education and employment were much more than the opportunities provided for the actual working class. Since, 80% of the people fell in the working class and lacked the opportunity of education and employment, so most of the people remained illiterate and unemployed. Thus, the poor segment went on becoming poorer.
Classism is similar to racism, heterosexism, sexism and several other forms of oppressions in many ways. It prevails in the society because of the difference in behaviors and attitudes. It is similar to other form of oppressions as it also generalizes about people and makes several statements like “The poor people are not worth it, because they never work hard.” As we know prejudice is some opinion that is not based on any kind of actual experience but is perceived in nature. Similarly classism has just come out of perception and it is a generalized form of division. The division is baseless and useless leading to the oppression of the majority of the people living in the society. Classism is simply a prejudice that is class-based and is equivalent to a structured oppression within the society.
Classism has close interaction with other forms of oppression and prejudice. If we talk about Ableism, the prejudice is that most of the disabled people are often not invited in the social events, just because they are disabled. This deprives them of social opportunities thereafter making discrimination and allocating these kinds of people an inferior status and values in the society. Heterosexism is similar to classism as even today homosexuality is not always seen in a good way. It can be seen that in most of the schools and universities the heterosexual people have oppresses the homosexuality because of their sexuality. Racism is very closely connected to classism as most of the people are deprived of social opportunities just because of the race from where he/she belongs. This in turn leads to poverty in that racial and religion group thereafter making them fall in the poorer segments of the society. There are many incidents that many people are unable to simply rent a flat just because of their race. Sexism on the other hand refers to that situation that states that one sex is above the other sex. Society has always considered the males as a dominant figure and the women were therefore not allowed to work and earn. This made the women a part of the weaker sections in the society and hence they were ill-treated by the male. The women were given less work and were paid less. Sizeism is another prejudice that refuses people to hire on job because of their size. For example people who are short are unable to join in modeling and film careers even though they are mentally sound and look beautiful.