White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America
Hardcover: 131 pages
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (2017)
Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor of Law and Hastings Foundation Chair at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and she is frequently featured as an expert on social class.
If you follow the news at all, particularly with respect to the recent election of President Donald Trump, you’ve become at least somewhat familiar with the term ‘white working class’ and how that group, however poorly defined, impacted the 2016 presidential election. More recently, the conversations I have been reading about have focused on their impact on – and how they are impacted by – the economy, politics, inequality, and immigration along with a host of other interrelated subjects.
Considering all the talk about the White Working Class and after recently reading The Kerner Report, a detailed 1968 report which provides a window into the roots of racism and inequality – as experienced by African-Americans – in the United States; and Toxic Inequality, read and reviewed here at RetirementSavvy, which posits that the basic pillars of economic security – wealth and income – are today distributed vastly inequitably along racial and ethnic lines, I was intrigued when I read a summary of this book. So intrigued in fact, I contacted the Media & Communications Manager for the Harvard Business Review Press. They were kind enough to provide a copy for review.
Interestingly, each chapter title is posed as a question. Examples include: Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals But Admire the Rich? Is the Working Class Just Racist? and Can Liberals Embrace the White Working Class without Abandoning Important Values and Allies? While each of these questions is interesting, the answers provided by the author often were lacking in depth. Perhaps that was intentional. Perhaps her desire was to raise the questions, ‘plant the seeds’ so to speak, and let the questions serve as catalysts for more discussion.
The most glaring flaw in this book is that the author, a self-described elite who believes she has some insight into the whiter working class, never really makes a compelling case that these is such a thing as a distinct ‘white working class.’ The most defining trait of the class she speaks of is not income, profession, education, or a discernible combination of the three, but really just the group’s whiteness. Homogeneity, beyond whiteness, seemed to be lacking.
Unfortunately, there simply wasn’t great depth to the book. At the end of the day Williams informs readers that the ‘white working class’ has different values than the “professional managerial elite” (PME). Moreover, the author’s argument seems to be that the PME needs to do a better job of talking to, talking about, and listening to the white working class.
I don’t believe anyone could argue against making more of an effort for better dialogue between all – not only the poorly defined (if a definition is even possible) of the white working class and those considered to be elite – who have a sincere interest in addressing and understanding the roots and impacts of racism and inequalities, both income and wealth; because at the end of the day that is what we’re really talking about when hear about or read about these class wars.
At 131 pages … White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America is available in Kindle and hardcover formats at Amazon.