Socio-Economic Class

Throughout history we read about rich and poor. In our current lives it is not hard to see that there are haves and have-nots. In fact, it is such a permeating reality that one can witness a poor person and not think it abnormal.

The truth is however, that this reality is inherently abnormal. It is abnormal because all people have innate abilities and skills. And yet, there is a small number of people relatively that reap maximum reward for their work, and those that reap minimum (or not at all) for theirs. This is true for a variety of reasons, but the main culprit is the class structure of our society.

“Class” describes how money organizes society into layers-low-income, middle class, upper class etc.

It also describes how money shapes and reproduces the social, cultural and political life of people.

Example #1: A highly skilled worker is generally paid an hourly wage that does not reflect the true value of their work because the surplus value is extracted to pay the manager and their manager for overseeing them. The whole point of a business is to extract the surplus value of the worker’s labor by paying them just enough to keep them in the job, but low enough to boost their income. 

Example #2: A lower paid worker is not only paid lower than the value of their work, but their lower salary can only afford to live in certain areas, send their children to certain schools, and presents for them a variety of different options compared to middle and upper class folks. Working class children attend schools with working class students, while upper class students attend wealthy upper class schools–money then, is not just how much you earn, but the options available based on what you earn. And the consequences for life. 

A note on Adams, Marx, Fanon, and Mitchell
I have tried to provide a foundational understanding of class. But, it is important to note the competing understandings of class. I will try to summarize them below for those who are interested:

1. Adams:
The market is a just an equitable distributor of resources. By providing a needed good or service, the business person is allowed to make a profit. Competition for profit provokes innovation and “weeds out” low performers. Because of this, inequality is justified. Government should only intervene when the market can’t. For example, the government should provide public goods such as education and a police force.

See Adams, J. (1994) The wealth of nations. (6th ed). Modern Library

2. Marx
Marx, witnessing the immense social changes brought about by the free market argued that the surplus value extracted from workers, i.e. the profit, generated unfair political, social and economic power, which turned workers into objects of labor rather than full human beings. He criticized the relationship between government and business arguing that it was business dictating the social needs rather than democratic governments. 

Marx hated the idea of a system that inherently entrenches inequality and exclusion of the majority for the benefit of a minority. 

See: Marx, K; & Engels, F. (2002). Jones, G, (ed). The communist manifesto (New ed.). London: Penguin


Frantz Fanon, a pan Africanist revolutionary scholar who fought in the Algerian revolution against French occupation reframed Marx’s ideas to account for the anti-colonial struggle (1963). Fanon redefined traditional discourse of class and race by centering skin color and not money as the central unit of value used to stratify and oppress under colonization. Fanon argues that the world is not divided into the working class and the bourgeoisie, but between the colonizers and the colonized. More specifically, between White colonizers and colonized Black and Brown peoples around the world.

Marx’s analysis of class rests on the assumption that elites extract the surplus value of labor of all workers equally. However, as was the case in colonized South Africa, White workers in Britain benefited disproportionately from the labor of Black colonized people in South Africa. Black labor produced value for White elites in Britain and South Africa, while also producing benefits for White British workers who enjoyed higher levels of social services paid for on the backs of exploited Black workers outside of the country. These British workers benefited not because they were workers, but because they occupied white skin.

Unlike White workers whose world is socially reorganized to exploit their labor, the world of Black people is forcefully reconfigured into an encompassing social system of exploitation through colonization, enslavement, and extraction. While British, French, Portuguese or German workers may experience exploitation based on their labor, because they share a broad culture with the elites, their culture and way of life was not under attack.  Society in this system is divided into the colonizers, the overseers, and the colonized peoples.

See: Fanon, F. (1963) The wretched of the earth. Grove Press: New York

3. Mitchell
Mitchell argues from the gender perspective. She purports that the entire system of capitalism works to extract women’s labor. Comparing the home and the factory, she argues that in the home the value of women’s work is extracted by the man in order for him to enter the factory to produce value for the factory owner.

In her analysis, women work double or triple days. If they have jobs, they go to work, then raise the children, while also doing the chores to keep the house going. The value of all of this work is extracted in order for the man to go to work and earn a living at an underpaid wage. If women got paid for the actual work they did, then the entire system of capitalism would collapse because it rests on the gendered role of women. 

See Mitchell: Mtchell, J (1966). Women: The Longest Revolution. The New Left Review (40).

To learn more, please see my book list here. See the Race, Power and Privilege Section.

Great reads:
1. Community or Class Struggle
2. Steve Biko, I Write What I Like
3. Sex and World Peace

The Basics of Socio-Economic Status:

[Exercise] Putting yourself into another's shoes

What are the barriers to leading across lines of difference?

Implicit bias is a harmful bi-product of living in a segregated world. Without understanding of one another, humans naturally develop bias based on their perceptions of those different to themselves. This can become an enormous obstacle to true diversity and inclusion.

What are the barriers to leading across lines of difference?

Closed Captions for Leading Across Lines Of Difference

Leading across lines of difference.

To lead across lines of difference

is a skill that will not only enhance

the productivity of your organization,

but will equip you with a unique skill

to truly operate in a global context.

One of the key areas of leadership
is communication.

So here are some barriers
to effective communication.

First one is cultural bias.

We spoke a little bit
about bias in this course.

And a bias is essentially a blind spot,

or a way of emphasizing one thing
and de-emphasizing another.

This can be both conscious
and subconscious.

In many ways, bias reflects ourselves,

and sort of assumes
that our cultural norms

and the ways in which
we see the world are uniform.

OK. That’s number one.

Number two: A lack of awareness
of cultural differences.

People who see

everyone as the same

and de-emphasize
the differences amongst people

are guilty of a lack of awareness.

As a leader, understanding the differences

and more importantly, the strengths
of each and every person,

is a very, very important piece

in tackling complex challenges.

So, awareness rather than
a lack of awareness

will increase your ability to communicate.

Third: Language differences.

Even though in many parts of the world
people speak the same language,

the way in which language is used

can often be interpreted differently.

Remember: There’s the language
that we speak,

and there’s the language that we receive.

And often there can be a disconnect
between those two things.

It’s very important
to ask probing questions, therefore,

about what someone interprets
your instructions to be.

For example,

if you tell someone,

“Complete this task by this date,”

they may not understand

what you mean by “complete”.

In their mind, “complete”
might be checking a few boxes.

Whereas you might interpret it
as not only checking the boxes,

but going back and assessing the quality

of those particular tasks, right?

So you have quality
and completeness in your mind,

the person may be interpreting it
as just going through and checking boxes.

So it’s important for you

to really dive in and probe

in terms of the language
that the person may be using.

The fourth one is ethnocentrism.

We spoke about this term earlier

where we believe that our ethnicity,

or in the ways in which we are,

is superior to the ways
in which other people are.

That can be
a large barrier to communication.

Because people can pick up

when they feel that one may feel

that they are superior to another person.

Remember, 90 percent
of communication is non-verbal.

And so be aware
of how you’re communicating

both verbally and non-verbally.

And finally, inactive listening.

Inactive listening describes a process

where someone is just…

putting out or responding in general ways

that don’t provide the space
for active listening.

So let me give you an example of this.

If I’m talking to someone
and they’re just saying “Yes, yes, yes”,

but I can see
that they’re clearly distracted,

That is an example of inactive listening.

However, if there were acting in a way
that was fully present with me

and engaged with me
in a culturally sensitive way,

then I could feel
that I am being listened to.

In other words, that person
is demonstrating active listening.

So as a leader,

if you can recognize some of these things

in your practice and address them,

you can improve
your cultural communication.

The next important point to bring up
is microaggressions.

Microaggression is a brief,
often unintentional bias

that people communicate
by virtue of what they say, do,

or the environment they create.

And this by someone
called Derald Wing Sue.

I provided three examples,

and the key thing for us here
is to think about the hidden message.

So the first one is when

a white man or woman clutches their purse
or checks their wallet

as a black or Latino man
approaches or passes them.

So this gives a message

that you and your group are criminals.

Right? That’s what
a microaggression looks like.

It’s very subtle in some ways,
and sometimes not so subtle.

Whistles or cat-calls are heard from men

as a woman walks down the street.

The hidden message is that your appearance

or body is for the enjoyment of men.

You are a sex object.

So that’s what a microaggression does,

it sends hidden messages to someone

and positions them in a certain way.

A blind man reports
that people often raise their voice

when speaking to him.

He responds by saying,

“Please don’t raise your voice,
I can hear you perfectly well”.

The hidden message here is
that a person with a disability

is defined as lesser in all aspects
of physical and mental functioning.

So that’s how microaggressions operate.

It’s important to manage

and be very, very critical and careful

about how these microaggressions
might operate in your organization.

The next piece that’s helpful
for you as a leader to work through,

are difficult dialogues.

And these are spaces where perhaps

you are thinking about how
to communicate around diversity.

And so there’s some eight ground rules
that are important.

The first one is
to be open and honest

as you feel you can be.

The second important rule is to respect
each other’s right to be heard.

So you’re being honest
as much as you can be,

but you’re also respecting
peoples’ right to fully engage

and fully be heard in the conversation.

Remember that you might be a manager,
but you also have

the space to learn from others.

So learn,

both as a teacher and a learner.

Become an active listener,

and remember we can all participate
in our own ways.

Do not judge other peoples’ feelings.

Focus on behavior rather than the person.

So don’t use terms like,

“You and your kind are like this”.

Rather focus on the behavior
of the person,

that’s easier to address.

Never ask someone to be
a spokesperson for their whole group.

So never ask a woman to talk
on behalf of all other women, for example.

And listen,
even when you do not want to listen.

Very, very important.

I myself am someone who is
quick to interrupt someone.

So that’s not a very good ground,

that’s not a very good practice
in a difficult dialogue situation.

So, you as a leader would be…

great of you and professional of you

to really hone in on these skills

when engaging in difficult dialogs.