Class, Dismissed: Working-Class Youth and the Evasion of Socioeconomic Inequality in an Affluent Suburb
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Foley, Nadirah Farah
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CitationFoley, Nadirah Farah. 2021. Class, Dismissed: Working-Class Youth and the Evasion of Socioeconomic Inequality in an Affluent Suburb. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractDespite rising income inequality and persistent racial disparities, in many communities, people struggle to talk about inequality. Scholars have found evidence of an aversion to open discourse about race in both the general population (Bell and Hartmann 2007; Bonilla-Silva 2003) and educational contexts (Lewis-McCoy 2014; Pollock 2004), although some recent work has questioned the dominance of the “colorblindness” paradigm (Berrey 2011). Similarly, previous work has found that people are generally uncomfortable discussing class, although the taboo against talking about class varies across the income spectrum (Sherman 2017; Silva 2019; Zaloom 2019). Despite that general discomfort with discussing class, however, previous work has found that in some contexts, people may be more inclined to address class inequality than racial inequality (Johnson 2006; Khan 2011; Mueller 2017; Warikoo 2016), arguing that class is the real driver of inequalities. But how youth from marginalized groups in diverse contexts make sense of inequality in racial or classed terms remains unclear.
This dissertation uses the case of an affluent, predominantly white suburb (“Kirkwood”) to illuminate how a privileged but racially and socioeconomically diverse community talks about class inequality. Using ethnographic methods, I focus on a group of working-class ninth-grade Kirkwood students. Drawing on extensive participant observation, in-depth interviews with both students and teachers, and review of school documents, I find that despite working-class students experiencing academic and extracurricular disparities, reporting feelings of not belonging, and struggling with issues of food insecurity, Kirkwood students and community members frequently evade talking about class, even going so far as to assert that class inequality is a non-issue in Kirkwood. Surprisingly, they also frequently pivot from class to race, deviating from the color-evasiveness more often described in previous research (Bonilla-Silva 2003; Pollock 2004). I argue that the color-conscious, class-evasive discourse among students and adults in Kirkwood is evidence that, under some circumstances, members of predominantly white communities engage issues of racial inequality, but that that does not automatically extend to issues of class inequality. Taken together, these findings offer implications for the study of discourse around inequality as well as the work of advancing equity in increasingly diverse schools.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368201
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