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Class in America: The Fault Lines

A Guernica special issue.
Image by Joe Webb, Hot Tub, collage, 2014. Courtesy the artist

From “trailer trash” to “the one percent,” the language of class tends to evoke divisions both stark and simplistic. It’s easy to discern the outward differences between a single mother living in squalor and a socialite in her Park Avenue penthouse. But the lived experience of class takes place on far more fractured terrain. The way we understand our own class—and determine the class of others—is as much about yesterday’s legacy as today’s money, as much about perception as reality.

In this special issue of Guernica, the second of four made possible through your generous support to our Kickstarter campaign, we offer stories beyond the sleeping beast that is the Occupy Movement. As with our previous themed issues, we hope to start conversations, not end them, exploring how class lives in our minds and manifests in imperceptible and unexpected ways. Class lines are fault lines: politically fraught and personally subjective, actual and imagined.

In her essay “Scenes from a Life in Negroland,” Margo Jefferson meditates on the interplay between societal appearances and class as she recalls being “comfortable” and black as a child in 1950s Chicago: “We thought of ourselves as the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians.” And Luis Alberto Urrea reflects on his own experience as a “white Mexican,” considering the complex relationship between race, class, and immigration, and the way in which class is often an exercise in image-making.

While occupation frequently serves as a marker for class, what does it mean when college professors—presumed members of the “professional class”—are living in near-poverty? As Guernica’s Rachel Riederer writes, “Teaching college is no longer a middle class job,” due to American universities’ reliance on adjuncts: highly educated instructors paid meagerly per course and rarely given benefits or a semblance of job security.

In 2008, Huntington, West Virginia, received the ignominious distinction of being declared the unhealthiest city in America, and soon it was the subject of a reality TV show aimed at transforming its food habits. Guernica’s Meara Sharma speaks with food writers Jane Black and Brent Cunningham, who moved to Huntington after the cameras left to witness an unlikely conversation about food reform unfolding in the primarily working-class, white community, and explore how the food movement might resonate beyond affluent urbanites.

As the food movement is often branded elitist, the environmental movement tends to be labeled exclusive: populations most affected by pollution and environmental degradation aren’t involved in decision-making. Guernica’s Katherine Rowland interviews Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice,” who sheds light on what he calls the “energy apartheid,” and how poor neighborhoods often bear the brunt of urban waste.

And Guernica’s Hillary Brenhouse talks to Cristina Ibarra about her documentary film Las Marthas, which follows debutante teens on the US-Mexico border as they celebrate America’s founding fathers in an annual, elaborate colonial ball, countering the pervasive border-town narrative of poverty and drug cartel violence.

Guernica’s Alex Zafiris interviews Milton Glaser, the celebrated graphic designer and creator of the I (heart) NY logo, about the aesthetics of class and why “art is work.” Plus, new fiction by Tracey Rose Peyton and Tracy O’Neill, poetry by Tommy Pico and Abigail Carl-Klassen, and pieces on the new debtors’ prisons, end-of-life choices, and more.

In this issue:


Margo Jefferson: Scenes From a Life in Negroland

Luis Alberto Urrea: Ghosts in the Land of Plenty

Rachel Riederer: The Teaching Class

Ann Neumann: How the Other Half Dies

Jessica Pishko: The Price of Freedom

Lauren Quinn: Which Side Are You On, Girl?


Servings of Small Change: Meara Sharma interviews Jane Black and Brent Cunningham

Going Through Customs: Hillary Brenhouse interviews Cristina Ibarra

Talking Clean and Acting Dirty: Katherine Rowland interviews Robert Bullard


Alex Zafiris: Sight Lines


Tracy O’Neill: Who Can Shave Thirteen Times a Day

Tracey Rose Peyton: More Than This


Abigail Carl-Klassen: Temporary People

Tommy Pico: Thems


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2 comments for Class in America: The Fault Lines

  1. Comment by Paul Freedman on June 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    This is my first contact with “Guernica”. Much of what I’ve read here confirms what little I know of the fractal patterns life leaves on the surfaces of the universe. I conclude, therefore, that I am home. Again. The sugar-filled life, safe for diabetics.

  2. Comment by Howard Hubbard on July 1, 2014 at 9:02 am

    I am very taken ith the name Guernica which defined the pre-WWII Franco-era liberal-
    left (and Communist politics) until the Battle of Britain and Pearl Harbor. None of this history is at all well understood to this day. A nation of sheep with media that fit. As they used to sayon the masthead of the Harvard Crimson “All the news that fits, we print”. Recherche Judith Miller et seq. As herman Kahn said “War is like piece, only moreso”. Need to play catch-up on Iraq debacle and the succeeding sequence of US
    foreign policy creativeness in Lybia, Syria, Crimea/Ukrain, and so forth. Needs work,
    wot? Will call if I don’t hear from you, as telephone Q&A vastly superior to intermittent
    textual ping pong. Bona sera, you all. Old Mother Hubbard. Atlanta

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