So the other day my husband and I are driving, and we stop at a crosswalk to let some pedestrians cross. These people take their sweet time, yakking it up and ambling slowly across the road in front of our Prius, as we roll our eyes and do the impatient-finger-tap on the steering wheel. But then when a new Mercedes Benz pulls up in the next lane, they look sheepish and hurry to get to the other side of the road and out of its way.
Now normally I wouldn’t read too much into this occurrence, but given the recent federal budget situation in which tax cuts for the wealthy were just extended during the worst recession since the 1930s, and given a recent dispute on facebook with a friend who actually seemed to believe that the wealthy are more hard-working and self-reliant than the rest of us, it makes me pause.
What could possibly be the motivation for hurrying to get out of the way of a new Mercedes Benz (but not a Prius), other than the belief (conscious or not) that the driver of the more expensive vehicle must be a Very Special Person with Big Things to do with his/her time and somehow More Important than the rest of us? It’s one thing for the wealthy to believe that they are better than everyone else; that’s just basic self-psychology and cognitive dissonance. But for other people to believe it too? That’s downright dangerous.
You’ve heard of internalized racism of course. But this is internalized classism. No wonder we have so many conservatives calling for a return to pre-New Deal social policies, and so many people willing to buy in to the rhetoric that the majority of poor people really aren’t “deserving” of the aid they receive.
That’s hardly American. It’s downright Dickensian. Get ready. Gilded Age, here we come. Again.