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Does class bias blind our decision making?

Mel and Pearl Shaw

FUNdraising Good Times

Does class bias blind our decision making?

Recently we had the opportunity to participate in a workshop called A Framework for Understanding Socio-Economic Differences facilitated by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.  It was an eye-opening session. Here’s just a little of what we learned.

A community needs all of its members. We – as residents, community leaders, elected officials, and government employees – have to value the needs and aspirations of all our members. That means keeping a focus on the needs of people living in poverty, those who are middle class, and those who are wealthy.

Access to resources contributes to stability, and the differences between those who are resourced and those who are under-resourced play out in all aspects of life. According to Dr. Payne there are nine different types of resources, the most recognized being financial resources. The others are equally important and include emotional, mental, and spiritual resources; physical health; and our support systems, relationships and role models.

Two other resources are “knowledge of the hidden rules” and ability to use “formal register.” Each social and economic class has hidden rules. We usually learn them when we break them! Formal register refers to the ability to speak and write in language that is typically used in work situations and school. When people don’t use “formal register” in these situations they can be misunderstood – and sometimes suffer dire consequences – due to preconceptions that middle class people may have about how people speak and what that means.

Stability and access to knowledge are the bedrock of today’s middle class. Achieving and sustaining stability makes us “middle class.” All of us – regardless of our class – manipulate time and money in an attempt to achieve stability. How we manage our time and life is now a form of knowledge, and access to that knowledge is a new form of privilege.

Race and class are not synonymous. African Americans are not by definition poor, or from poor families. White people are not by definition middle class or wealthy. Yes, there are distinct correlations between race and class, but if we don’t recognize the distinctions we cannot see ourselves and our community.

Even though you might be African American, you cannot assume you understand the culture of poverty and how people living in poverty today make decisions and why. You may think you know, but you may have forgotten. Middle class assumptions are exactly that – assumptions.

Learn more about Dr. Payne’s work at Copyright 2018 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw help nonprofits grow their fundraising and increase board engagement. Visit or call (901) 522-8727.


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