Classism is prejudice and/or discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic class. Like all forms of prejudice and discrimination it goes both ways. It includes individual attitudes and behaviors, systems of policies and practices that are set up to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes. Classism is grounded in a hierarchy belief system that ranks people according to socioeconomic status, family lineage, and other class related divisions. This system leads to a drastic income and wealth inequality.


Charges that a person, act or institution is classist often provoke argument. There is frequently intense disagreement between the parties over background facts, such as whether modern industrialized societies are economically stratified into discernible classes (and if so, how much); and there is also often disagreement over matters of understanding, such as whether negative treatment is due to prejudice against members of certain classes, or whether it is a rational reaction to "personal" traits of the person being so treated.

People who generally tend to find charges of classism against 'lower' classes to be unfounded or unreasonably harsh often characterise the perceived prejudice as expressive of class envy. Those who argue classism is especially pervasive or fundamental to the society that they live in often identify classism as the expression of systematic economic exploitation by the 'higher' classes, and may connect it with an explicit notion of class warfare — but it is important to note that any particular accusation of classism does not, as such, presuppose any such claim, just as people may agree on examples of overt white supremacism, while disagreeing intensely over how widespread or deep-seated racist attitudes are in their society. It could also be said that classism is 'popular' with resentful lower classes, looking for scapegoats as to their lower standard of living.

Internalized Classism

Internalized classism is the acceptance and justification of classism by the subordinated groups, namely people without endowed or acquired economic power, social influence, and privilege. The effects of internalized classism are infrequently recognized by the person or by others. It is often difficult to determine the boundary between the consequences of one’s action and that of political forces over which one does not exert direct control.

In comparison to other countries it is difficult to distinguish between the classes in the United States. As a result, class differences are often recognized as individual differences or demographic characteristics. This causes difficulty when it comes to addressing the issue of classism because of the lack of clarity, perception, and communication about class. Class mobility is also limited by classism; because of the effects of classism and the internalization of classism one seldom is able to achieve a different class standing other than the one they were born into. Internalized classism is not rooted in the intrinsic characteristics of the individual but rather from the individual’s exposure to systematically negative social conditions. The individual is actually internalizing the experience of being in those negative social conditions, and not properties about themselves.

The manifestation of internalized classism is the felt sense of the individual being different or looked at as “the other.” When it comes to internalized classism shame and anger is omnipresent. Because of the negative connation with being poor or working class the individual often takes this in and apply it to themselves rather than their situation. Even if one is able to change their class status class the internalization of classism does not diminish. Individuals who were able to change their class status still report that they feel like impostors and in a place that they do not belong and the fear of being poor again is still around.

Individual versus structural

Like racism, classism can be divided into (at least) individual classism and structural classism. Individual classism is a matter of the prejudices held and discrimination practiced by individual people (such as making jokes or stereotypes at those of lower class).

Structural or institutional classism is a passive form of classism that occurs when institutions or common practices are structured in such a way as to effectively exclude or marginalize people usually from lower classes, which can be due, in part, to widespread individual classism within the organization or the society, but does not need to be.

See also

Further reading

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

External links


Hill, Marcia, and Esther Rothblum. Classism and Feminist Therapy : Counting Costs. New York: Haworth Press, 1996.

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