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Class discrimination, also known as classism, is prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class. It includes individual attitudes, behaviors, systems of policies, and practices that are set up to benefit the upper class at the expense of the lower class.
For example, middle-class and upper-class individuals in the U.S. referring to working class, white Americans as "poor white trash" can be regarded as a form of class prejudice, the insult having the capacity to be historically analogous to racist language against African-Americans.
Class structures existed in a simplified form in pre-agricultural societies, but became much more complex and established following the establishment of permanent agriculture-based civilizations with a food surplus. Classism started to be practiced around the 18th century.
Institutional versus personal classism
The term classism can refer to personal prejudice against lower or upper classes as well as to institutional classism, just as the term racism can refer either strictly to personal bigotry or to institutional racism. The former has been defined as "the ways in which conscious or unconscious classism is manifest in the various institutions of our society."
The term "interpersonal" is sometimes used in place of "personal" as in, "institutional classism (versus) interpersonal classism.", and terms such as "attitude" or "attitudinal" may replaced "interpersonal" as contrasting with institutional classism, as in the Association of Magazine Media's definition of classism as "any attitude or institutional practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition."
Terms associated with personal or attitudinal classism include "white trash", "redneck", "little men" or "little people", "trailer trash", "the unwashed masses", "the great unwashed", "moochers", "oiks", "proles" and "bludgers". In earlier historical periods, classist terms and phrases such as "Hoi polloi" or "plebs", which are derogatory towards the working-classes, were more commonly used than they are today.
There also exists a degree of classism against those of higher economic privilege, referring to such people with derogatory terms such as "bourgy" (corruption of bourgeoise), "fat cats," "toffs," "preppie," "yuppie," or "bridge and tunnel".
Accusations of classism
People who generally tend to find charges of classism against lower classes to be unfounded or unreasonably harsh often characterize the perceived prejudice as expressive of classist class envy. Those who argue classism is especially pervasive or fundamental to the society that they live in often identify classism as the expression of systematic economic exploitation by the higher classes, and may connect it with an explicit notion of class warfare. However, any particular accusation of classism does not, as such, presuppose any such claim, just as people may agree on examples of overt racism, while disagreeing intensely over how widespread or deep-seated racist attitudes are in their society.
Legislating against class discrimination
The European Convention on Human Rights contains protections against social class discrimination. Only a few signatory states have signed and ratified these protections. Those that have signed and ratified this have implemented domestic laws against discrimination because of social class (in the same way that race discrimination, sex discrimination or age discrimination have been legislated against).
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