You Think You’re Better Than Me?

Americans look on in celebration of President Obama’s second inauguration in 2013 ( Image )

Americans look on in celebration of President Obama’s second inauguration in 2013 (Image)


Politicians, political scientists, and journalists alike use all sorts of labels when discussing the people behind popular support of candidates and policies. Race, gender, class, and other broad categories have always been used to group people together. While there is obvious reason for this, the way in which we reference these groups says as much about our society as it does about anyone who gets labelled — and demands reevaluation.

As American politics would have it, anyone who has not received a college degree is “uneducated”, and, those working jobs that do not require a college education are referred to as “unskilled”.  Words matter, because words affect people’s perceptions and experiences in both negative and positive ways. This principle is no different in the case of those that we as a society have deemed “unskilled” and “uneducated”. By using these inherently disparaging categorizations, we necessarily devalue and degrade our fellow citizens — calling into question if they are worthy, and even capable, of being contributing members of a democratic society. This reductive terminology is not useful for any aspect of democracy, conceivably stifling dialogue between and amongst political parties, contributing to the polarization, and disenfranchising voters.

Why then do we continue to reference the 64 percent of employed Americans without a college degree as “uneducated” and “unskilled?” Despite the progress made over the past 100 years of granting and protecting citizens’ right to participate politics regardless of their social status, it seems that deep within the American psyche remains an elitist, classist, and often also racist notion that only a privileged few belong in politics; and that if we are to allow those who we consider the “unwashed masses” this privilege, we must also discredit and disparage their participation through the way in which we reference them.

With such virulent degradation their vote, intelligence, and economic value, is it any surprise that the use of voter suppression tactics continues to be a problem? If we as a people accept, consciously or otherwise, that those without a college degree are “unskilled” and “uneducated”, then the response, or lack thereof, to issues by both policymakers and citizens that directly impact them will be tinged with an implicit bias that necessarily fails to respect and value their place in society.

There are many problems with the current state of America that will require dedicated, intentional collaboration and compromise from policymakers and constituents alike, but if we are to be a functioning, inclusive, and equal democracy, Americans must take it upon themselves to speak in such a way that confers respect to their fellow citizens. We as citizens may not be able to directly solve all the problems we face, but we can most certainly address the way in which we speak of, and to, each other — because not being able to productively and respectfully discuss a problem is the best way to ensure we find no solution.