Shame, classism, and Walmart

This post on “Why We Should Stop Making Fun of Walmart Shoppers” really resonated with me today. Perhaps it’s because I’m also reading Sara Miles’s book “Take This Bread,” which also tackles the issues of classism, particularly in the liberal, Christian community. As Jason Dye notes in his piece,

“Should the progressive internet participate in the very acts of grotesquery that we hate seeing from conservative outlets? When we see libertarians and Republicans mocking poor people, we rip them new ones. And we should. Yet progressives and liberals constantly make and accept classist rhetoric against impoverished Walmart shoppers? That is the very essence of mocking poor people.”

Yikes. And yet, it’s true. There’s an entire website devoted to mocking people who shop at Walmart. I’m not saying this site is run by progressives and liberals; I tried to do some research and couldn’t determine the political bent of the site owners. But the idea of it classism among “the liberal elite” isn’t something to take lightly. Let’s begin by examining what may contribute to this.

1. Liberals are, in general, more educated than Conservatives. There is a fairly large “ideological gap” in academia that favors liberals. Although this is an older article, I know there have been more recent studies that have confirmed that the liberal/conservative gap among college faculty is incredibly large (87%/13% based on this study). A vast majority of PhDs identify as liberal. Additionally, in a study of the grade-level vocabulary of members of Congress, 17 of the 20 lowest scorers were Republican. The five states with the least educated state legislatures (as measured by number of college degrees) are all red states, led by Arkansas, where 25% of legislators have no college experience at all. Barack Obama was criticized for being elitist and too academic, Sarah Palin for being dumb. Stereotype: Conservatives are uneducated.

2. Liberals are, in general, more likely to be urban dwellers. Not only are liberals more likely to patronize the arts, but they’re also more likely to value living in a community of diverse people and views. Stereotype: Conservatives are uncultured and close-minded, “redneck hicks.” It’s notable that Walmarts are actually quite prevalent in rural areas – in fact, in many rural areas, it’s the only viable  option (this is true in the town in which my grandparents live, for one. There is no grocery store – only a mini-mart and a Walmart).

3. Liberal are, in general, wealthier.   This one’s actually up for great debate on the web. Here’s one perspective. On one hand, you have Mitt Romney, but also a lot of Midwest and South farmers. On the other, you have all those college professors, but also many of the socially disenfranchised (Blacks, Hispanics) who are often also poorer. But I would argue that the perception, at least in this Walmart case, is that the “redneck, hick” rural person who shops at Walmart is also (a) poor; and (b) conservative (gun-toting, ostensibly Christian). So for the purposes of this particular argument, I will say Stereotype: Conservatives are poor, redneck hicksters.

When we make fun of people based on stereotypes, we are perpetuating a system of discrimination, one we often times and in other places say we would like to eliminate. We need to stop making fun of people who shop at Walmart. Not only does it shame and demean an entire group of people who may have no other choice than to shop at Walmart, but we’re acting contrary to liberal principles and general morality. Shaming Walmart shoppers isn’t much different than pro-life protesters standing outside abortion clinics. In doing so, we are not going to educate people. We are not providing them with other shopping options. We’re not helping them rise out of poverty. People aren’t suddenly going to awaken to the realization that maybe they should be liberal too. Instead, we’re perpetuating a divide based on elitism and classism by shaming those who are doing something we wouldn’t do because we “know better.”

Today, I’m going to remember to stop the poor shaming. I’m also going to work on stopping the Conservative shaming, too. There has to be a better way to get a good point across than resorting to shame tactics.



One thought on “Shame, classism, and Walmart

  1. would you be willing to write a book review of take this bread through a class lens for our blog classism dot org/blog? if so email info at classism dot org

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