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Classism is prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class. 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.
For example, middle-class and upper-class individuals in the U.S. referring to working-class, downtrodden white Americans as "poor white trash" is often regarded as a form of class prejudice, the insult having a historical parallel to wealthy whites' racist language against African-Americans.
Class structures existed in a simplified form in pre-agricultural societies, but became much more complex and established following the establishment of permanent agriculture-based civilizations with a food surplus. Classism started to be practiced around the 18th century.
Institutional versus personal classism
The term classism can refer to personal prejudice against "lower" or "upper" classes as well as to institutional classism, just as the term racism can refer either strictly to personal bigotry or to institutional racism. The former has been defined as "the ways in which conscious or unconscious classism is manifest in the various institutions of our society."
The term "interpersonal" is sometimes used in place of "personal" as in, "institutional classism (versus) interpersonal classism.", and terms such as "attitude" or "attitudinal" may replaced "interpersonal" as contrasting with institutional classism, as in the Association of Magazine Media's definition of classism as "any attitude or institutional practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition."
Classism is also sometimes broken down into more than two categories, as in "personal, institutional and cultural" classism.
Terms associated with personal or attitudinal classism include "white trash", "little men" or "little people", "trailer trash", "the unwashed masses", "the great unwashed", "moochers", "oiks", "proles" or Proletariat and "bludgers". In earlier historical periods, classist terms and phrases such as hoi polloi or plebs, which are "derogatory of the lower classes", were more commonly used than they are today.
Accusations of classism
There is disagreement[by whom?] over what degree modern industrialized societies are economically stratified into discernible classes. 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 the behavior is a rational reaction to actions of the person being so treated, or due to racial, ethnic, sexual, or other identity.
People who generally tend to find charges of classism against "lower" classes to be unfounded or unreasonably harsh often characterize the perceived prejudice as expressive of classist 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. However, any particular accusation of classism does not, as such, presuppose any such claim, just as people may agree on examples of overt racism, while disagreeing intensely over how widespread or deep-seated racist attitudes are in their society.
Legislating against class discrimination
The European Convention on Human Rights contains protections against social class discrimination. Only a few signatory states have signed and ratified these protections. Those that have signed and ratified this have implemented domestic laws against discrimination because of social class (in the same way that race discrimination, sex discrimination or age discrimination have been legislated against). However, these laws are often ineffective.
- Caste system
- Class conflict
- Social inequality
- Economic inequality
- Economic stratification
- Class Consciousness
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- Classism Definitions
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