These things did not become virtuous until the middle class decided to do them. And when the middle class moves on from yoga and FitBits, as they have from power walking and aerobicizing, those activities will lose their social capital. As the divide between poor and middle class, unsafe and safe neighborhoods grows, running for sport is gaining moral purity. It is no accident running is more accessible to a white suburban housewife than to a poor mother living on high traffic, poorly maintained roads.
The American middle class weilds tremendous social narrative power to tell us who we are and what we should value. They could use that power for good, and history is filled with noble causes they backed, from abolition to (white) women’s suffrage. It’s also filled with their sins and failures, from supporting segregation to prohibition. Historically this class has tried to foist their values on others by legislative means, by use of existing (white male) power structures.
They could push for affordable child care and mandatory maternity/parental leave, but they don’t. They could demand equal funding of public schools, but they don’t. They could push for climate change legislation and some do. But far too many are focused on individualism, an important part of the moral middle class myth.
Rather than address systemic pollution and the dangers of corporate carbon emissions, they demand GMO food labels and ban plastic grocery bags. Rather than supporting and using public transportation, they invest in self driving cars. Rather than demand an end to food deserts, they feel charitable giving their unwanted leftovers to food pantries. They make individual morally affirming purchases and mistake it for activism.
I want us to ask more of the (white) middle class. I want us to call out their lies and self-deceptions. I want us to stop giving them praise for affording a lifestyle that’s only considered right because they can afford it. I want us to confront each time they claim moral superiority by pointing out the black and brown and poor people already doing their new ethics fad. I want us to hold them to the high standard they claim to exemplify, and I want to use their power for the good of all.
Until we get rid of classes altogether, I want to find ways to make the middle class actually moral.