Sunday, August 19, 2007

It's All Pam's Fault

Yep, it's Pam's fault that I am starting a blog, in case you want to know.

Well, maybe it isn't Pam's fault, but Rich's fault. Or maybe I can blame this blog on George.

Okay, okay, I'll take responsibility. I'm starting this blog because I took George Lakey's workshop, Quakers and Social Class, at the 2007 Friends General Conference Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin.

The workshop changed my life and I'm finding that I need to talk with others about my experience. I also want to share some of my new awarenesses around class and Quakers.

When I was in my late-teens and early twenties, I discovered feminism. Before then, I knew that men and women were supposed to be equal, and that women and men should be able to do the same kinds of work. But I hadn't known how deeply the patriarchy had affected my life. Things like how I dressed and how I expressed my sexuality.

Similarly, during that one week in July, I began to learn more deeply how class oppression has impacted my life. Like exactly what my elementary, middle and high school education taught me: to do tasks right. Middle class and owning class folks get an education that teaches them to manage people who do tasks. They learn process.

All of a sudden, the choices I made in my life around work made sense. The choices I wanted to make after graduating college this December make sense. And now I have to look at these choices in a new light.

I have always felt like I don't belong in middle class work settings. And I thought that meant there was something wrong with me, that I had some unknown flaw that kept me out of middle class social circles. I feel like I've tried to reach for more middle class jobs and friends, but that every time I've tried, I've had my hand metaphorically slapped away.

But what does any of this stuff have to do with Quakers?

Quakers are middle and owning class primarily. And I've felt like a terribly odd duck among Friends. I now know that some of this has to do with class.

This blog will be a personal and intimate view into finding my way with my new class glasses. If you're looking for theory about Quakers and class, Martin Kelly has a really interesting and apt view of Quakers and how we got to be so white and middle- and owning-class (and why we stay that way) in his comment to a Brooklyn Quaker post. I'm quoting Martin directly here because I couldn't figure out how to link to it directly:
"My working theory is that East Coast Quakerism became an ethnic group as much as a faith and that the last fifty years has seen us become a kind of self-selecting demographic sub-culture. You can see the phenomenon measuring all sorts of identity divisions: not just class but race and education. Most liberal Friends now are convinced, which means we haven't inherited this class structure.

I have to think that if we really believed what we say we believe we'd be reaching out more. We have all sorts of unwritten norms that have nothing to do with faith. If we cared less about our cultural sensitivies and more about sharing the good news (which is the same good news if you're a transit worker or university professor) then we'd see our meetinghouses fill up.

But how many East Coast Friends would really be that comfortable seeing a darker, more working class meeting that now has five times the membership and doesn't feel like the cozy oasis where we "recharge" ourselves for the coming week?"

If you want to talk about this theory or how to change it, go talk to Martin, Pam, Rich. Don't get me wrong. I think it's important to change Quaker culture to be "darker, more working class" than it is. Because I think Jesus's vision of his church was not as homogeneous as North American Quakers are.

But I'm clear right now that the only way I can tackle class and Quakers is to understand how to interact with middle and owning class folks, how to make new choices that respect the gifts I bring as someone who was raised working class, and how to discover and nurture my innate gifts that were stifled by class oppression.

This blog will explore my forays and foibles as I find my new way among Friends.


earthfreak (Pam) said...

Yay Jeanne!

I'm excited to follow your blog, and to talk to anyone who wants to talk about theory and how to change it. We need both in the world, but I also think we lack quite a bit of the "personal and intimate" in the blog world, and I'm excited to read whatever you have to share.

As someone who is trying to faithfully approach this issue, mostly from the outside, theory may be all that's available to me for now, but I'm excited to keep track of your more personal journey.



Zach A said...

Thanks for doing this. I'll be reading. My family was pretty middle- to even upper-middle-class growing up, and now we're pretty not (though some of it is cultural rather than purely financial I realize), and it's given me a new perspective on things. I think Martin's quote is wonderful.

MartinK said...

Hi Jeanne,
Wow, great topic for a blog. Re-reading that quote of mine from long ago I'm wondering if you've ever seen "Quakers Money and Morals," a book that was in print for only a year a few years ago. I didn't read it but I attended a lecture that its author James Walvin gave when he was in the states (he's British, an academic and not a Friend).

His thesis, as I remember it, was that the values Friends hold as religious principles give them an economic advantage that leads to wealth. He used seventeenth century trans-Atlantic trade as an example: here you are sending a boat laden with goods representing your entire life savings halfway across the world in an era of no communication, no world police force or law and no real recourse if the faraway merchant or ship captain runs off with your goods. It really helps if you know that the goods are heading to a merchant who is scrupulous about integrity and whose internationally-linked religious society will take away his or her membership, contacts and social status if they are dishonest in business.

I'm currently supplementing my income with some work that is about as working class as it gets. I'm not particularly open about my Quaker identity (my own hangup about not wanting to seem too different from the other guys, though my vegetarianism and fondness for soy chai give it away) but I think I've earned a certain reputation for dependability, carefulness and scrupulous integrity that would be a competitive advantage if I wanted to make a career in this work.

We may be doomed to do well and not just good (as the old saying go) but we need constant reminders that doing well is not our purpose. Faithful Friends like John Woolman have done a good job testifying to that. He's definitely a good source for understanding the relation of money and faithfulness.