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Bringing it Together

Since the opening chapter of A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn asserts that class, not race or gender, is the most important division in American history. He starts by outlining the long-lasting impacts of indentured servitude and slavery on individuals’ socioeconomic class. By the time he reaches the Civil War he explains how different classes felt different ranges of emotion about the war. In the later chapters he views domestic favor for World War Two and the Vietnam War through the context of class structure. Finally, in today’s chapter, he brings it all together. Class is important to American history and, therefore, society because it is the middle and lower classes that must understand that they — not great figures — who must enact change in history. Even though Zinn admits that the US economic and political system allows the upper classes to manipulate the lower classes to be content with the current reality, he encourages the current lower classes to recognize their ability to make change.

 

In a similar way, the movie Sorry to Bother You encourages the middle and lower classes to recognize their agency. When Cash Green takes a job at a telemarketing company, he is just looking for a way to make some money and help his friends out of a bad economic situation. However, he quickly is promoted up the corporate chain and learns of a plot by one of the company’s customers to control their workers through a class of half-human slaves. In the same way that Zinn recognizes, change is difficult and takes persistence. The first time Cash tries to make change he fails; however, once he gets a whole class of people to revolt at the end, he is effective at getting back at the boss of WorryFree.

 

Looking at today, the movie and chapter’s message seem to be ringing true. After the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Taylor, and too many other people of color, it was the people as a collective — not some great figure — that stood up and demanded change. I think that the impact of this can be seen in the election of Joe Biden. While Biden has been elected to lead the country forward as its leader, he did not win election through an impressive amount of appearances and speeches. In fact, the opposite occurred. The fact that Joe Biden could win the Presidency on the backs of popular leadership shows that a changing of guard could indeed affect change.

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4 Comments

  1. Zachary Andrews Zachary Andrews

    I completely agree with you that Zinn, from the start, has told us that class has been the most important divide throughout American history. Since the days of the Founding Fathers all the way up until now, we can easily recognize the divides in our class structure. Regarding your third paragraph, I also believe that the changing of the guards is in effect right now. We have Black Lives Matter Movements taking place across the country, a change of presidents, and more. Clearly, we are in need of a change in order to get us through the current global pandemic as well as to fix equality within the nation and further the world.

  2. Delaney Demaret Delaney Demaret

    I agree with the sentiment of lower and middle classes taking autonomy over class struggles, and I know that it takes a high degree of unity. Claiming individual agency in framework of inequality with elements as strong as the American wealth gap requires the power of a unified community, one that Zinn has been advocating for.

  3. Sophia Peltzer Sophia Peltzer

    Zinn does a great job throughout his book of emphasizing, as you mention, the impacts and legacies of class divide over any other division in American history. Obviously, there are lots of sources of division in our country today, all of which causing their own problems and issues in society. However, I have a much better understanding of the role of class after reading Zinn throughout this semester, and I definitely think it is a division that is largely looked over and underestimated in the traditional telling of our history.

  4. Julia Leonardi Julia Leonardi

    I really like your connection to standing up for the change that happened this summer. I do agree with you that it was interesting that Biden was able to win the election without much campaigning. It is also interesting that he did this during a pandemic. The results of this election have been very historical overall.

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