Middle class values are treated as morally superior, because the middle class demands it. If anything, class identity in the US is a type of moral identity. When the white middle class adopted yoga, it shifted from suspicious foreign practice to moral health and wellness exercise in xenophobic white eyes. Now it’s recommended as a panacea for every conceivable ailment. Likewise when they started eating quinoa it was declared a super food everyone should be eating.
“Should” is the operative word. The middle class here has always portrayed itself as a moral example to the poor. If those cursed loitering vagabonds could just go green, eat organic, and take a spin class, surely they’d emulate the middle class enough to not be poor anymore. Pull yourself up by your yoga mat and go drink a kale smoothie for a more centered, selfless you, so goes the branding.
The US white middle class decides the role of women for each generation. They also choose which practices to make benchmarks of class membership. Because even poor mothers might stay home with their children, the home is no longer enough. Children must be enrolled in activities guided toward their enrichment, as Victorian an idea as possible. The ideal modern mother is a chauffeur to her busy children, subsuming her schedule to theirs.
She is also obsessed with clean eating and the environment, something she lets you know by her canvas tote bag from Whole Foods. She keeps her family active and fit, or at the very least wears fashionable athleisure clothing to signal her health virtue. Her indulgences are rewards for her moral acts like fitness class and carpool duty. It’s acceptable for her to relax with a glass of wine in the evening.
As a poor mom with no car who carries my groceries home in a backpack, I get no social capital from the ways I show concern for the earth. My backpack isn’t properly branded to advertise an organic produce diet. Walking to the store is better for the environment, but it doesn’t communicate how eco friendly I am as effectively as a hybrid car would. When only the poor rode bicycles to work it was laughable. Now that the middle class cycles, it’s an important part of city planning and praised for being green.
And that’s really my main point here. (White) Middle class habits become moral standards because the middle class does it. When they Columbus a practice or food, it first becomes trendy, then a sign of purity, then a social compulsion. Organic food started as a trend. Pedometers are old technology. Quinoa, kale, and collards were staple foods long before the white American middle class discovered them. Yoga is ancient. People too poor for cars have always biked to work.