1A is part of the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival. What's it all about?
Worldwide, populist nationalist movements are gaining traction. Why? Law professor Joan Williams says it’s because professional elites — including journalists and establishment politicians — remain clueless about the working class.
In a new book, Williams explains why so many white blue-collar voters in the U.S. feel like strangers in their own country, ignored by elites, and what can be done about it.
- Joan Williams Distinguished professor of law and director of the Work Life Law Center, University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Her books include: "White Working Class" and "Unbending Gender: Why family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It" @JoanCWilliams
Read An Excerpt Of "White Working Class"
Excerpted from White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams. Reprinted with permission from Harvard Business Review Press.
On the 2016 election results
I was amazed but not at all surprised [that Trump’s win wasn’t clearer to people]. In fact, I had become increasingly panic—stricken and had been spending more and more time at the Clinton headquarters in California because I just had a really really bad feeling.
On the term “white working class”
I’m using that term because everybody’s using it, but you know what, these people are the middle class. They’re not the poor — the bottom 30 percent of American families which are sometimes called the working class — I call them low income. They’re not the top — the elite top around 16 percent with college degrees and incomes in the top 20 percent. This is the middle, the middle 53 percent.
On the goal of her book
I think of this book as a book about a broken relationship between the professional managerial elite [families in the top 20 percent with at least one college graduate] and the working class, and I hope that it will be used as part of a program of what I call family therapy for both groups to realize that they need to connect better with each other. But, in many ways, the core audience is the professional managerial elite — all of the people who could not fathom why Trump won. If you don’t understand why Trump won, read this book. I wrote it for you.
On prejudice within the white working class
I think that there definitely is racism, sexism, xenophobia — it’s all there. The thing that I find really sobering is when elite whites refuse to listen to the economic woes of less privileged whites on the grounds that those other whites are racist. The fact is, whites in this country — we have a little problem. The professional managerial elite tends to stereotype African Americans as lacking in merit. There are wonderful studies that document that and have documented it for 40 years. The white working class, their social honor stems from their image of themselves as moral people — and they tend to stereotype African Americans as less moral.
On the intersection of race and class
Blacks in the United States understand the structural nature of inequality. And that’s true if you look at black, working class men. They look more like the French in their understanding of structural inequality than they do like Americans. But in other, cultural ways, the black and the white middle class are very, very similar. … [Take] traditional values. In the professional managerial elite, you tend to value novelty. In working class contexts — black and white — you tend to value stability. In the professional managerial elite, we like artisanal coffee and sexualities and genders and you name it. In working class families, they don’t have the human capital to go artisanal. What they want is the stability that has traditionally been provided, for example, by religion.
On Hillary Clinton’s comments about “deplorables”
It’s not just a Hillary problem, it’s a Democrat problem because Obama had an equally difficult problem with the white working class when he wrote them off as bitter people clinging to guns and religion. This is an example of the Democrats’ failure to connect with an extremely important part of the American electorate.
On how the Clinton campaign could have won over more working class voters
If Clinton had really focused on sexual harassment — which is a very common experience for women in low—wage jobs and middle class jobs — instead of focusing on the glass ceiling, I think she could have had more working class votes, and she didn’t need that many. If you think about that, the glass ceiling means that elite women like me should get the same kind of jobs that our elite men have. Why should the working class care about the glass ceiling? They do not. They could have cared — she could have connected with them on issues regarding sexual harassment.
On what has to change
What we’re doing now isn’t working. What we’re doing now is purveying social, class—based stereotypes against people who might otherwise vote democratic — and that’s having a devastating impact for all the progressive issues that I care about.
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