Saturday, December 6, 2008

Call for Writing for an Anthology

For all of you interested in social class, Class Action is putting together an anthology on social class called Caviar, Coupons and College: Stories Across the Class Spectrum. They're looking for personal essays from 1,000 to 2,500 words, and their deadline is February 28, 2009. Please email your submission with a one-paragraph biography about you, the author to predington@classism.org.

No matter your current or past class status, won't you consider submitting? I am.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Guest Post: A Start at the Kingdom by Eric Evans

Recently, Eric Evans and I had a conversation in Facebook about my post on military recruiters, and he offered up this Bible verse, which made me pay attention to what he had to say:

Ezekiel 13:8-12
8 " 'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.10 " 'Because they lead my people astray, saying, "Peace," when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, 11 therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. 12 When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, "Where is the whitewash you covered it with?"

So with Eric's permission, I edited some of his words and offer them up to you for something to think about.

A Start at the Kingdom

One of the hardest things about looking at class is my own anger and my own internalized classism. I was surprised by my anger during the Gathering interest group on Quakers and social class. Despite thinking I had dealt with and was done with my feelings, those old memories about being made fun of in school because of wearing cheap clothing, etc., popped right up. Sometimes anger and the internalized hurt makes it hard to listen and not to form judgments in my mind about what I perceive to be another’s life experience.

“That middle-class Quaker with a college education could never truly understand where I’m coming from...”

At the same time, I know I also carry plenty of class issues of my own. Living in a working class Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia, I confront this everyday.

“Why do they have to be so loud/ignorant/rude?”

I find myself making unconscious snap-judgments about people in my neighborhood all the time, based mainly on my own upbringing in an Evangelical family with rural, mid-Western expectations of what a “good” family and “good” values look like.

So there’s a piece of real humility in this for me – acknowledging how both the hurt and my own hidden classism can keep me from always seeing clearly or relating to others out of a place of love.

I imagine this is the same for others, as well as a fear of being judged. I’ve noticed among Quakers that we’ll often try to rationalize the ways in which we’ve “done without” or experienced hardship so that we can put ourselves on the “safe side” of classism, racism, etc. But acknowledging how very hard it is for each of us, poor or owning class, to look at our own stuff seems like a good start.

How does fear of being judged keep us from being able to understand the experiences of others?

I often hear Quakers talk about “choices” – we get to choose where & how we want to live, where we want to go to school, even what we will do without. If someone seems to be “failing” according to our societal standards, they usually “didn’t make good choices”.

How do we consider what it would be like to grow up without a sense of choices or alternatives? Or to live without a sense of options available to us? What vision of the Kingdom of Heaven do we offer that’s different from our own comfortable lives?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Miscellany

Another post not specifically about Quakerism, and some things not solely about class, but things I thought might interest those who read this blog.

1. A blog post about white privilege as it's revealed in the presidential race. I found it to be amazing and well-written. And sometimes, he's also talking about class (and sometimes he's not seeing his own class biases). And how class and race are perceived in this country as opposing forces when they're not.

2. A follow-up blog post about white privilege by the same writer. Also well-written and insightful. I especially like this bit as it applies to the conversation on class among Friends:

Talking about white privilege [or any privilege] is about responsibility, not guilt [or shame for that matter].

3. Finally, a Quaker going to a Quaker college talking about class and race, but not to or about Quakers (intentionally, anyway). Check her out. She's smart and a good writer.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Military Recruiting

Facebook is more fun than you can know.

Today, Zach Alexander posted on Facebook a CNN article that featured a Quaker who is working to keep military recruiters out of Wilkes County North Carolina high schools. This sentence struck me:
"The students need to know there are alternatives to the military," said Ferrell, a Quaker. "But they're not getting the other side."
And it got me wondering what "other side" all the middle and owning class Quakers are offering poor and working class high school students, like Josh McGrady, 20, (also from the CNN article):
He was working at a Wal-Mart after spending parts of three years at a community college. His bills -- including student loans -- were piling up. His father worked at a window-and-door factory for 30 years, but McGrady says he didn't want that life. "You could be laid off at any moment."

Tired of struggling, he walked into the Wilkesboro Army recruiting office. His mother, an elementary school teacher, and father support his decision. But his sister, a bank supervisor, tried to talk him out of it. Three soldiers from the county have been killed in Iraq.

"She's worried I'm going to get blown up," McGrady said. He paused for a moment. "I'm a little nervous, too, but there's not much else here."
So I checked out Quaker House to see what they have to say about military recruiting.

Lies, they say. Corruption too. They even explain how we can help, by running around proclaiming the truth.

As Quakers, we rely a lot on revealing The Truth as a means for change. Woolman did it, why can't we?

Because now, like then, economics is getting in our way. And I think our class privilege might be preventing us from seeing it.

McGrady needs a job that pays enough so he can live, and his options are limited. He went to public school and grew up in a working class family.

Like me.

I didn't know college was an option until 10th grade. Even then, I didn't think my possibilities included most middle and upper class jobs like engineering or medicine.

The Army is telling McGrady that they'll pay for his college degree if he wants to go, take classes while he's in the army, comprehensive health care and generous time off, and generous compensation.

Does it matter that the Army is lying? That some of their recruiters are corrupt?

Sure. But what are we offering recruits other than the truth?

The Truth might be enough for middle and owning class kids, but it's not enough if you live on the edge of poverty, or you're one paycheck away from welfare or getting a good education means making it all the way through twelfth grade or getting an AA from your local community college where your mother works nights as a janitor so you get to go there for free.

And it's those folks whom the military recruiters are targeting.

What could we do, in addition to exposing the military for what it is?

Create a fund to give scholarships and job training to CO's and 18-year-olds who have to choose between poverty and military service. Help those same folks with their resumes and interview skills. Provide scholarship search assistance. Connect them with social services and help close loopholes to keep those on the borderline of poverty from falling farther. Make sure they have access to decent health care.

Finally, we have a number of fine institutions of higher learning that could provide scholarship for CO's and those young people who feel they have no other choice.

This is a lot to ask for. But I'm hoping it'll give you all something to chew on.

And I'm hoping that maybe some of you are already doing some of this work. Anyone?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quaker Learnin'

I've been busy lately: mentoring a twelve-year-old girl in writing, taking a writing class (intermediate fiction), resuscitating my writing group, reading on class and race issues. So I'm only now catching up on Quaker blogs. The first one I read? Will T's post on not only laying down our burdens but taking up those that God asks us to take up.

His post is speaking to my condition. And it got me thinking about how Friends talk about education.

He writes:
Do we like to stay at the level of Quakerism 101? Are we reluctant to move on the higher level courses? Where is Quakerism 322 or 453? Where are the graduate courses? In our meetings do we even acknowledge the advanced curricula in the school of Christ?
We all, not just Will T, talk about Quaker education in terms of college level classes (Quakerism 101, Quakerism 201) and speak of curricula and syllabi (both words I heard for the first time in college). And culturally, doesn't it sound like fun to consider taking a college course-like class on Quakerism?

But how do Quaker courses named after and run like college courses come across to those who haven't gone to college (and won't go to college)? How does talking about Quaker education and conducting Quakerism classes in this way keep us from following the will of God, from taking up the yoke we've been given?

***

On another note, I came home from Gathering with a growing sense that I'm supposed to be doing more work around social class with Friends. I'm about to write a letter to Meeting to ask for a clearness committee to test the leading. I'd appreciate your thoughts and prayers as I move forward.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

10,000!

Woo hoo! Sometime today, before 4:30 Central Daylight Savings Time, my site meter registered 10,000 visitors!

While you're here, don a party hat to celebrate with me.



And one question I've had ever since I put a site meter on my blog in September 2007:

Who the heck lives in far northern Canada and is reading my blog? Can you give me a shout in the comments? Please?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Books for First Day School Classes Around Social Class

Jane over at Education & Class has posted an item about kids' books that highlight the issue of social class. A few folks post recommendations, but she also links to another blogger that has a full list.

I haven't read these books *yet* but I hope to sometime. If you are responsible for a First Day School program (or are responsible for a library at a Friends school), you might want to consider reviewing the selections.

Do you all have any recommendations about kids' books that highlight social class and also Quaker values?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quaker Education

I didn't get a Quaker education but I'm surrounded by people who did. My friend Pam who went to a Quaker high school. My partner Liz who went to a Quaker college. My friend Jane who sent her daughters to a local Quaker school. An ex-girlfriend Kate who went to a Quaker high school. My friends Nils and Peg who went to a very elite Quaker school outside Philadelphia. I know lots and lots of young Friends who have chosen or are choosing Quaker colleges.

I love all these people. And I think they all deserve the best in life, including a very fine education. But I just don't know how to square the Quaker value of equality with our stalwart support of an elite education accessible to only a few.

I think middle and owning class folks sometimes think that poor and working class people don't value education because they just don't want to or sometimes we think it's the culture of poverty. But I read a Thomas Friedman New York Times article in May that described a crack-addicted, strung-out mother coming to a Seed school in Baltimore to beg for her child to be let into the lottery that selects a mere 80 students from over 300 who apply. That image alone shatters any myth you might have about desire.

So if there are far more families who want a good education for their kids than there are spots at good schools, why aren't Friends opening their schools up to these kids? There's a Friends school in Baltimore, in fact, that could very well stop educating those who already have access to an elite education and accept the other 220 kids who want to go to Baltimore's Seed school.

Couldn't they?

I know, I know, gosh, how in the world will your child learn Quaker values if you can't send them to a Quaker school? And how in the world will would we pay for such an elite education if all that elite money went to other schools?

Last fall, George School in Newtown, PA (where my dear friends Nils and Peg went, and met) received a gift (the thirteenth largest of 2007 to a private school according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy) of $128.5 million from alumna Barbara Dodd Anderson. When the news first came out, I mentioned it in a blog post and got an anonymous comment from someone who said she worked at George School (I don't publish anonymous comments). She was defensive and insisted that the school gave out a lot of scholarship money and would eventually increase that amount with Anderson's gift.

Indeed, they give some financial aid to 45% of their student body. At first blush this sounds impressive. But please remember that many lefty folks choose work in helping professions, which lowers their income far below their earning potential. Some even choose to live below the poverty line for reasons of conscience. And George School gives out scholarships to families that make up to $200,000/year.

Those needy students will be helped tremendously by the first donation from Anderson that is going to help build a LEED-certified library, to be named for her granddaughter.

I don't mean to pick on George School alone--every Quaker school, K-12 or college, acts mostly like every other private school in the country in every way about who they educate.

So why should Quaker schools be any different?

Because we believe that there is that of God in everyone, that we are all equal in God's eyes. Because we used to be so certain of this truth, we were willing to be persecuted, tortured and executed for preaching it. Because if Jesus were alive today, he wouldn't be hanging with most of the folks you'd find in most Quaker schools in North America. I think he'd be turning over a lot of tables.

And if you think that a quality education for poor or working class people can't be done, just take a gander over at Berea College in Kentucky, the first southern college founded as an interracial school, with the belief that "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth."

They also provide a four-year full-tuition scholarship to every admitted student.

We can do better, can't we?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Comfort

Nobody gets up on a soapbox and shouts about the comfort of his sofa and chairs. He just invites other people to sit in them.--Adam Gopnik, from "The Back of the World: The troubling genius of G.K. Chesterton" in The New Yorker, July 7 & 14, 2008

How are we comforted by having most of the people in our Meetings look, act, talk, eat and have professions like we do? What of our comforts keep others away? Is God calling us to be comfortable?

I love comfort. Big cushy chairs. Salty mashed potatoes. Public radio.

The other night, we got together from other folks on our block to plan our annual National Night Out festivities at an ice cream social. Our neighborhood is historically working class but some of young professional families have moved here. Some people are living in the homes their grandparents built because they inherited them and don't have mortgages outside of equity loans.

Among the many things we do, we always have door prizes, free stuff from local businesses. And there are enough things for everyone. But we also have to ask local businesses for stuff. One person said she didn't know anyone and was afraid to ask for donations. I started to tell a story about how I recently coached someone who said the same thing and he ended up having several options when we were done including having a particular public radio personality do the outgoing message on your answering machine and lunch and movie with a local well-respected movie reviewer.

As I told the story, I realized that this crowd wouldn't be nearly as excited about those donations as I was (and as my consultee was for his event). And I was uncomfortable.

These folks wanted free beer and smokes.

I can hear your sudden intake of breath, and see you squirming in your seats. No, you don't drink. Or smoke for that matter.

Nor do I. Though when I'm around my non-Quaker friends, I do drink. Not to get drunk. Usually.

So how would I feel if I were at an event with a couple of people who looked their noses down on me for drinking alcohol, or for getting tipsy, I asked myself.

Would I want to hang out with them? Go to their houses of worship? Consider taking up their beliefs?

The people on the block have looked to us to take up leadership of the NNO planning because we've showed initiative on the block. I started a pick-up recycling program on my block for plastics that the city doesn't currently recycle (but that I take to a place that does recycle them). Liz prompted our neighbor to put together Tuesday's planning meeting.

If we do become block leaders, I think we have a real opportunity, but I'm going to be uncomfortable, like I was Tuesday night. We could live into the belief we say we hold about believing there is that of God in everyone. We could live our testimony of equality. Even folks who smoke and drink and vote Republican and love Rush Limbaugh.

No, that's not shouting from a soap box, but maybe it's better outreach than we've ever done before.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Stickiness

One query posed by a Gathering interest group member that resonated with me and still sticks to me:

When we label something as Quakerly or unQuakerly, are we talking about something that is essential to our faith or are we confusing Quakerly with cultural appropriateness? How do we tell the difference? How do we see and acknowledge those things which are basic to Quakerism and let cultural trappings melt away?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quakers & Social Class Interest Group at Gathering

I'm having a hard time finding the words to talk about my experience leading the Quakers and Social Class interest group at Gathering this year. In part, I don't have the words because it felt like when I give ministry during worship--later descriptions of ministry never have the power they had during meeting. So as I try to describe my experience, it doesn't feel as weighty as Wednesday night.

I felt led and covered in grace. I had a nudge to go to the space early and that gave me access to an otherwise locked building. I didn't want anyone to come into the room after we started and no one did. Until I got a nudge to stand up and go into the hall during the small-group discussions, that is. I could turn the late comer away and give her the handouts I brought. I didn't know what queries I would offer up for worship sharing but got a nudge during worship to ask folks what questions they'd have for themselves or that they'd bring back to their Meetings after the step-forward exercise we did.

Here's what we did:

I made some introductory remarks about me, why I was offering the interest group, social class in general (what it is, and what it's not) and what we'd be doing. We did a modified version of the step-forward exercise I posted on my blog in October. We split up in small groups to discuss our reactions to the exercise and came back together for worship sharing.

See? As I write this, it sounds so boring. But I promise you it wasn't. People reported to me that it gave folks a lot to think about and a lot to consider. Several friends told me they heard people they don't know raving about the experience.

I know this sounds like tooting my own horn, but I am so pleased because I felt well-used (in that same way I feel well-used when I am faithful giving ministry). And because I've never done anything like this before. It's easy for me to get hooked and get my buttons pushed during group processes but standing before the interest group felt easier than any group I've experienced. I felt such deep care and love for each person in the room the whole two hours.

The last time I felt that kind of grace for that amount of time or with that many people was when I was in the hospital in 1994 for my bone marrow transplant.

People asked what I'd be doing next and if I'd turn it into a workshop or if I was coming back to the Gathering.

I can honestly say that I don't know. I'll ask God what's next.

In the meantime, I'll continue to blog here and I will go to George Lakey's workshop on Quakers and Social Class. I'll also, hopefully, get to an FGC small conference on diversity in March announced at the summer Gathering.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some Gleanings from Yearly Meeting

I went to Northern Yearly Meeting this year mostly to see a dear friend I haven't seen in far too long. When I got there, I found out that I could sign-up then to do an interest group. So I did.

I'm doing an interest group around Quakers and Social Class at this year's FGC summer Gathering, but I've never done such a thing. So I appreciated the opportunity to try it out at NYM.

I based the exercise we did on the meme I posted in November inspired by exercises developed by Will Barratt at Indiana State University. I turned the blog post back into a step-forward exercise as it was intended by Will and changed it a bit based on feedback and comments from the blogosphere (literally thousands of people blogged about it) as well as the demographic I thought would be at the interest group.

There were eight of us, four of whom had taken George Lakey's workshop on Quakers and Social Class before, and my partner, who'd heard a lot about the workshop. One of the remaining three had done a lot of thinking about class, and another had tried to get into George's workshop after having gone to his interest group at Gathering in 2005. The final person was there because he'd been in a workshop right before on spending money and thought it would be an interesting follow-up to be in the social class interest group.

The participants and I thought it went well, though I faltered a bit. I interpreted the wandering gazes at the beginning as boredom but I could have been wrong. And I planned how to start and run the interest group but forgot to plan how to end it!

I won't quote the brilliant interest group attenders here because I couldn't possibly do them justice, so I'll just tell you what I came to understand about myself and Quakers from my experience of the interest group.

1. Some people have questioned whether midwest Friends are quite as affluent and privileged and class-homogeneous as Philadelphia Friends. If the interest group is any indication, we are similar to east coast Friends. Most were within three or four steps from each other and and most took a majority of the steps.

2. When Friends reflected on their experience, they immediately talked about those less advantaged than "us," meaning Friends. I've said this before in one way or another: Friends are very good at helping other people but not so good at befriending those with less status, let alone inviting those people into our Meetings. And now I have direct experience to go with my opinion!

3. Someone pointed out that all groups, churches especially, need to be homogeneous around one thing or another: culture or faith. And since midwest Friends accept a wide range of beliefs, from nontheism to wicca to strict christianity, then midwest Friends need to be culturally homogeneous to stay together. This bothers me because while I have financial privilege and educational privilege, I haven't yet been able to have much social privilege. I haven't adjusted well to middle class culture and so I am often in pain when I'm among Friends.

4. Another Friend lamented the fact that many young Friends go to our Yearly Meeting because it's often the one place they don't "feel so weird." She wants young Friends to be excited about our Faith, and not our style of dress or political beliefs. I do too because I want to worship the way Friends worship but don't fit in very well culturally. And I want Friends to be very open to lots of other social classes, not just in ideal but in practice. I think that until we deal with social class, we won't be able to address racism within our ranks as fully as we need to.

5. Someone wondered aloud if the Religious Society of Friends should be laid down so we can start over. I was put-off by this at first because, I think, I couldn't imagine wanting to do that or Friends being open to such a thing. But, in retrospect, this might be the only way to overcome our unspoken insistence on cultural affinity. Unless you all have some suggestions?

At NYM, I also experienced being talked-at a lot. I would ask a Friend how they were doing and they would tell me their stories, then walk away, without asking me how I was doing. I wondered if this was a social class indicator and talked with another f/Friend about it a couple weeks later. During that conversation, another Friend walked up to us and demonstrated that behavior for us. She was wearing an Obama t-shirt and I asked if she was at the Xcel Center the previous Tuesday. She said yes and then started to tell me all about it, assuming I wasn't there. I listened. When she was finished, she walked away. My f/Friend thought about it and posed the question to herself, wondering if it's about social class or something else.

Talking at people and then walking away may be something other than social class. But I never experienced that behavior at my primarily working-class college. There, conversations were all give and take, talk and listen, seek compassion and give compassion.

***

On another note, I've been pretty silent of late. Obama's speech on race has really affected me in the way that deep Ministry can affect me--I want to act loving in the way he described when he said:
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
I've failed miserably at this in the past, and want to do better. I hope you all can forgive me for not being as loving as I could have been. Thank you for being as patient with me and kind to me as you can while I heal my wounds around class.

***

On yet another class-related note, George Lakey will be leading his workshop on Quakers & social class at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in March 2009. I will be there. Will you?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Class Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack

If you've read Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack, you'll know what the title of this post refers to. If not, it's a list of privileges that white folks have in U.S. culture. Google it if you want--I'd prefer to protect McIntosh's copyright.

The lovely woman over at Education & Social Class has posted a parallel list from a social class perspective created by the wonderful folks over at Class Action.

I won't post the whole list here--you'll have to go to Jayne's site for that (and I'd strongly suggest you do so, and add your own suggestions there). If you have additions, please send them to privilege at classism dot org. Here are my additions and questions.

Suggested Additions to Class Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack

a. My ignorance of cultural references, intellectual concepts or academic knowledge are not attributed to my social class.

b. My favorite foods are often served in expensive restaurants where I live.

c. My cultural habits and likes are viewed as appropriate and healthy and are not attributed to my social class by my peers when they deem my habits and likes as unhealthy or inappropriate.

d. The way I talk at home (my grammar and pronunciation and diction) is considered business standard.

There should be an addition about technology, but I couldn't come up with a statement that was exclusive because of social class, other than being always up-to-date technologically. Some not-so-middle-class people I know are up-to-date. Does anyone have a suggestion about a technology indication of class?

On Jayne's blog, I also posted a question about #18 on the list. Can anyone answer this question? Here's what I said:

About #18, that one is very interesting. It doesn’t necessarily get at your social class, but at the social class of your friends relative to you. I *do* worry about whether my friends can afford the things I can afford–I live an owning class life and almost none of my friends can match that. But I grew up working class–does someone who grew up owning class or middle class not worry if they have friends with different means?

Let Jayne know what your suggestions are!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fun Little Thingy (and I promise, not a meme)

My partner forwarded to me a blog called Stuff White People Like, which is a satirical look on one person's experience of being white.

I actually think it's more of a satirical look at being a lefty middle class person, regardless of race (or mostly so), more than a commentary on race, even though race and class are closely correlated.

For instance, when I look at the Full List of Stuff White People Like, I count 36 of the 95 things that I like. Is that because I'm white? Or is it because I have some lefty middle class values? I know a few people of color who would count more in their Like column.

And just in case you're curious about what 36 I count, I list them here: #94 Free Healthcare, #90 Dinner Parties, #87 Outdoor Performance Clothes, #83 Bad Memories of High School, #82 Hating Corporations (which comes from seeing The Corporation at another love, #3 Film Festivals), #76 Bottles of Water, #75 Threatening to Move to Canada (well, it's not technically a Like because I don't *want* to move to Canada; it's just an expression of my frustration about the current administration, so maybe its that I LIKE TO THREATEN TO MOVE TO CANADA WHEN THE PRESIDENT IS AN IDIOT), #64 Recycling, #61 Bicycles (who doesn't like bikes, exactly?), #60 Toyota Prius, #59 Natural Medicine, #57 Juno (for which I now feel strangely guilty, as if I missed something about this movie and its whiteness), #54 Kitchen Gadgets (and, as an aside, other household things like making your own laundry soap...by which, I think, my mother would be horrified because her mother, the wife of a coal miner in Kentucky, probably made their laundry soap; my mother would see it as a step backward and probably ask why I would do such a thing. I don't know if I'd have an answer for her), #51 Living By the Water, #48 Whole Foods and Grocery Coops (and where else, exactly, would I find Crystal deoderant?), #47 Art Degrees (I can't deny this one since I just got one), #46 The Sunday New York Times (not the crossword puzzle though), #44 Public Radio, #41 Indie Music, #40 Apple Products (like the computer on which I write this post), #39 Netflix, #37 Renovations, #36 Breakfast Places (and who in the world doesn't like a good breakfast place???), #29 80's Night, #25 David Sedaris, #21 Writer's Workshops (heyyyyyyyyy, I take that one personally), #19 Traveling, #18 Awareness, #17 Hating Their Parents, #13 Tea (Casablanca from Mariage Freres in France, slightly sweetened Oregon chai, white-tip early grey), #12 Non-Profit Organizations, #8 Barack Obama, #7 Diversity, #6 Organic Food, #5 Farmers Markets, and, drum roll please, #3 Film Festivals (like, check my other blog at FilmFestGirl.)

This is the first post that I've done that isn't specifically Quaker, though anything lefty liberal, by default, appeals to liberal Friends.

So my count is 36. What's yours? You can post your score in the comments if you want (but please keep commenting light--this is humor folks).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Assets

In a couple of places in the Quaker blogosphere, some people have suggested that Quaker theology should be a block to poor and working class people. The questions and answers (and the implications of the questions and answers) around this topic have been very hurtful and have made me ask why Friends don't see the assets that poor and working class people might bring to our Meetings.

So here I'll suggest some assets that poor and working class people bring to Quakerism.

Spiritual Assets

Individualism is very strong among at least Liberal Friends in part because the middle and owning classes value individualism more than community (where poor and working class people generally value community over individualism). I see this individualism sometimes in people's struggle with doing what they hear God telling them to do.

I read one example of this (and I picked this randomly, not to pick on anyone in particular or to criticize...it's just an example of something I've heard lots from Friends, and it's without judgment) on Friendly Mama's blog a while ago:
I want to open myself to God's will for me. I hide behind my own self; my day-to-day life based on my will and my desires. I want to learn to be trustworthy for God, to be faithful, to mind the Light, to submit.
This isn't a unique perspective among Liberal Quakers. I've heard Friends talk about their reluctance to follow God's will for as long as I've been among Friends (since 1991). I've always felt like I was supposed to feel this way, but this hasn't been my experience.

When I feel God's will, I feel like I want to follow it, like it's my only choice. When I've spoken in Meeting, I have felt God lift me up and speak through me, and it's a pleasure and relief. I feel the same pleasure and relief when I've done a good job. I feel God's pleasure with me when I've been faithful, and I crave that sense of satisfaction.

And it's what I'd been taught to do by my working class K-12 education and my working class family and my working class friends and my working class neighbors.

Obey. Do a good job. Do a job right. Do it quickly.

So, since Friends struggle so mightily to obey, is there something that working class and poor people have to offer Friends?

(And, as an aside, for some science behind my claim that middle and owning class people are more individualistic-focused, I read this New York Times article about MIT students--only 17% of whom come from households that make under $45,000/year--participating in a study about the compulsion to "leave options open," that found that students resisted closing doors when it was the most beneficial thing to do.)

A more class-diverse Meeting can bring a life and vitality that some Friends find lacking in their Meetings.

Johan recently said it more eloquently than I could when he wrote:
I remember one very dear Friends fellowship that was pretty homogenous but yearned for diversity; half a block away was an Elim Fellowship pentecostal church where there was ACTUAL diversity--racial, social, class, temperament, language. Spiritual power does NOT necessarily mean emotional contortions, but it does mean crossing a threshold of conversion and self-abandonment not typically found among the self-satisfied or terminally autonomous.
Working class and poor people are generally more emotionally expressive than middle and owning class people, and, as Johan says, this can be a theological asset.

This asset, I think, will be harder to see and even harder to accept, because plain speech and direct communication is frowned upon among middle class and owning class people (and, therefore, Friends). This is a cultural difference between middle and owning class people and working class and poor people; until we recognize and acknowledge it, we won't do anything about it. This isn't because we don't want to change, but because comfort encourages inertia.

So, what of plain speech, Friends?

Community Assets

Poor and working class values can help the Meeting community. We are hard workers, we bring the perspective of the not-so-privileged to committee work and MfWfB, and we can refocus conversation away from process and toward tasks.

That last bit, about process and tasks, needs a little explanation. Many Friends acknowledge that we can talk too much about something. Sometimes, we talk about talking about issues.

I know for me personally, and other working class Friends with whom I've talked, over processing something can be frustrating. But one thing I learned in the Quakers & Social Class workshop at Gathering was that when my gifts of being task-focused were acknowledged and valued, it was easy for me to stay in the process.

I think Quakers over value process. I think I (and other working class and poor people) over value tasks. We could be a good balance to each other.

In that same vein, valuing all the assets that working class and poor people bring could be one step toward helping our communities be more diverse. This means appreciating fellowship committee as much as we appreciate ministry & nurture. Not everyone has the gift of structure and organization.

Meeting & Individual Vitality

Finally, if our Meetings become more class-diverse, we, as individuals, will grow close to God's ideal for ourselves. As Tai from the Friends of Color blog said:
I find truth in opposites. I believe that when we are faced with someone who is culturally "opposite" from us, we learn. And it's not the kind of Barney purple dinosaur learn, it's the, this fucking hurts because I'm growing learning.
And if our Meetings become more class-diverse, our Meetings might grow. Martin, quoting statistics about a decline in both Liberal and Evangelical Friends' Meetings except where the Yearly Meeting is dually affiliated with both FGC and FUM, recently said on his blog:
Could it be that serious theological wrestling and complicated spiritual identities create healthier religious bodies than monocultural groupings?
What Quaker doesn't want their Meeting to grow and doesn't want to grow personally?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Some Thoughts From 2007 Summer Workshop On Quakers and Class

I was going through my email and found these things that came from the summer 2007 FGC Gathering workshop on Quakers and Social Class with George Lakey. At the very end of the week we shared on our thoughts about promoting class diversity in our Meetings and questions we may need to ask ourselves about our class diversity.

The workshop participants agreed that these things could be shared. And here I offer them in their rawness (and I use that word because that's what this list feels to me, raw, like a newborn, like a seed burst open ready to sprout).

PROMOTING QUAKER CLASS RELATIONS

This is the thinking of the workshop on Social Class and Quakers held at FGC Gathering, 2007.

-Welcome diversity of foods at events
-Get your Meeting to identify its own culture in specific terms
-Support leadership and the risks leaders must take to support growth and change in the Society of Friends
-Bring class awareness to problem-solving
-Ensure that transportation, childcare, and location of Meetinghouse are accessible to working class and poor people
-Accept the likelihood that we are clueless regarding how middle class and owning class Friends come across, and make a decision to become aware and curious, including curious about how life looks to working class and poor people
-Invite emotion at appropriate times, being aware that suppressing emotion is often (usually?) a class characteristic and an imposition of class-based conditioning on the group
-Support plain speaking, an old Quaker practice that has lately been trumped by middle class niceness/politeness
-Bring to worship our need to heal from our woundedness from class society
-Be aware of the role of entitlement when some Friends speak frequently and at length, filling the space that might be left open to Friends from working class backgrounds.



QUESTIONS THAT MAY HELP US GROW
IN BETTERING QUAKER CLASS RELATIONS

This is the thinking of the workshop on Social Class and Quakers held at FGC Gathering, 2007.

-How can we welcome all classes to our Meetings?
-How can we become more aware of our own class backgrounds, with the assumptions that we take for granted?
-What's the culture of our Meeting, in specific terms?
-How can we increase the safety of the cultural mainstream of our Meeting and the margins as well, and put them in dialogue with each other?
-How did emotions get sorted into "positive emotions to express" and "negative emotions to express" in Meeting for Worship? What could we learn from taking a fresh look at that?
-How can we appreciate and embrace conflict and its gifts, including the bluntness and anger that often come with conflict?

Monday, February 11, 2008

An Attempt at a Definition Part 1: Questions

Pam's comment on my previous blog post said
Also, we haven't yet defined "working class" and probably simply can't in any meaningful, consistenlty useful way.
So here's my first attempt at a definition of class. This isn't Quaker-specific, so I'll be inviting bloggers outside of the Quaker blogosphere to participate in the discussion. I welcome everyone's insights, additions, subtractions, criticisms, and praise.

I've been thinking about Pam's comment and wondering if I can't at least try to define class in a way that makes sense.

I have come to understand gender to exist on several continuum along several axes: sex (the physical sex with which you were born or assigned at birth or discovered at puberty), gender identity (the gender with which you identify internally, or you internally experience), gender expression (the gender with which you present to the world at large), and sexual orientation.

What if class were also expressed along continuum on several axes? What would the axes be? Can they be as simple as the gender model?

Off the top of my head, I thought of several continuum:

Education, income, cultural values & norms, and family of origin class status

Then I began to wonder how these things should be weighted. Certainly the first three would definitely be impacted by your family of origin's class status. So then should family of origin class status even be included or should it just inform the other three? Should income have equal weight with education and cultural values, or is there another measure by which we can judge economic class status (like spending, for instance, which was written about in a recent New York Times article)? Some have suggested that education shouldn't have as much weight as income because a high income can get you an education but an education doesn't automatically confer high income on a degree recipient. What about cultural values & norms being more highly valued than income because social capital can get you things (like jobs and material items) that money can't?

Part of the problem with using the gender model is that while each of the four continuum inform the others, I don't think that's true for gender to the extent my categories inform each other.

I think the three axes could be weighted equally. I also like the idea that one axis is based on consumer spending and ownership rather than income. I would add savings, investments and retirement to that value. So, for instance, you might go up a notch if you own your home outright, but down a little if you have less than 50% equity. You would go up a notch for each car you *could* afford to own (here I'm thinking of people like my partner and I who choose to share a car rather than own two). And "could" afford would assume a full-time income at your income-earning potential(because, again, I'm thinking of people who choose to live below the poverty line in order to protest war taxes). We could prioritize spending. For instance, you get more upward movement by spending money on dental care or a computer than say buying a pop-up tent you can hitch to your car.

I also like the spending model because it's what so many people talked about when they took the "What Privilege Do You Have" meme. Some said, Yes, I went to summer camp but it was sponsored by the Y and my parents didn't have to pay anything, or Yes, I went to private school but I went on scholarship because I was raised by my single dad who worked two jobs to keep a roof over our head. It became about how much parents paid for those things, rather than the things themselves and the privilege they conferred.

So what do you think?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Answers, Answers

When we ask questions like the ones I talked about in my Questions, Questions post, we reveal our biases. This is even more true when we answer the questions.

I'm taking these answers from blog to which I link in my Questions, Questions post, and since I can't directly link to the parts of the comments I want you to see, I'll quote them here for you:
But by the time working class/degreeless adults walk through our meetingroom doors, they've likely been exposed to the more black-and-white thinking all their life that somehow works for them as adults. And without an education or role-modeling that teaches them to think beyond short-term, tangible results, won't they be lost in the abstract critical thinking and philosphizing that goes on during fellowship hour? from LizOpp
Really? Working class/degreeless adults in Meeting need education from privileged folks like you? Working class/degreeless adults need to learn a better way to be and only privileged people know what that better way is?

One mistake middle and owning class Friends make when relating with poor and working class people is paternalism, which, according to dictionary.com is defined as "the system, principle, or practice of managing or governing individuals, businesses, nations, etc., in the manner of a father dealing benevolently and often intrusively with his children."

It's good to be benevolent, isn't it? But don't we know that benevolence can go too far? Like, say, telling a working class or poor person that the middle class way of doing things is better.
One of the hallmarks of Quaker theology (as I understand it) is the ability to live in the moment and the Presence, even if that means dealing with the tensions of not having answers or not knowing. Most educatiors would say that living in such ambiguity is a sophisticated place developmentally. from Omar P.
My first response to reading this was "So then what in the world drew so many poor people to early Quakerism? What in the world drew unsophisticated me? Free coffee and cookies after Meeting?"

Is Omar really saying that God should only be accessible to the intellectual elite?

Nope. it's paternalism again. But his answer also reveals an intellectual arrogance that keeps poor and working class people away. The Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church and the Baptist Church all accept different levels of engagement, from going to church and doing as the minister or priest says, to intellectual book groups. In those churches, God is accessible to everyone.

It's still very hard for me to "live in the moment and the Presence," but when I do and can, it's more rewarding than any other church service I've ever attended. I had to learn to do it, but I did it on my own terms and in my own way. If I'd read Omar's post when I first came to Meeting, I would have left because I was not intellectually as advanced as him (and most people in Meeting). I worry that other working class or poor people will read his statement and unnecessarily choose not to go to Meeting. I worry that other Friends are saying similar statements because it's so appealing to acquiesce to an academic authority.

Most Friends to whom I've talked says it's hard for them to acquiesce to God's will. Giving in to the will of an authority is something many working class people understand because it's what the system has taught us to do. Why isn't this talked about as a Quaker theological asset, as something working class people have to teach privileged Friends whose entitlement gives them the idea they get to pick and choose what's convenient for their lives?
When you receive a messege, run it through your mind a few times. Can you use a simpler word? Can you drop, or at least quickly explain, an obscure reference? Would a child understand it? Or at least a teenager? from Jim
Jim grew up working class so I was at first confused by his comment. Then I went to his web page and saw that he has a PhD in mathematics. He seems to have acclimated well into middle class life (and now that he's retired at 36, an owning class life). Then I realized he might have meant what he said.

What's that definition of paternalism again? Something about managing children?

Poor and working class people aren't children. I know some working class people who are better read and more articulate than some middle class people I know. So please don't talk down to them or anyone. You can, however, not assume that everyone in the room knows everything you do. Especially if you're well-educated.

***

I shared a much shorter version of this post with one Friend (no, not my partner) and she called it rude. According to dictionary.com, one definition of "rude" is "without culture, learning, or refinement."

Hmmmm. I guess I have some learnin' and refinin' and culturin' to do.

(And if you're not getting the irony, find a clued-in middle or owning class person to explain it to you).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Questions, questions

On a couple of blogs, Friends have begun to ask some questions that seem to be looking for Truth about why Friends are so class homogeneous. But I think a look at the questions might reveal an better answer than their questions might garner.

Here's one example from Susanne K:
1. Is there something about Quaker theology that makes it more appealing to the kind of people who get college degrees? Is there something about Quaker theology that makes it unappealing to the kind of people who don’t get college degrees? If so, why?

2. Or is it something about current liberal Quaker culture? If so, why?

3. Or is it something to do with current liberal Quaker practice? If so, why?

4. Or do you think it is just a coincidence? If so, why?

5. Optional: Are you a college graduate? Do/es one or both of your parents have a college degree?

Question 1: No. No. No. No. I was working class (a third shift worker in fact) when I first came to Meeting. I didn't have a college degree. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck in a tiny three-room apartment (one room, the room I used as a bedroom, was unheated). And yet, waiting worship and continuing revelation spoke to me. I felt I could get closer to God at Meeting than I could anywhere else; and I'd been a seeker for over ten years before I found Friends.

Quakerism spoke to Joe Franko, who grew up poor. It spoke to George Lakey, who grew up working class. The fact is, George Fox and almost all of the early Quaker adherents were poor. The theology spoke to them.

So there is no theological or practical block to Quakerism because of your class background or income.

Question 2: See my blog.

Question 3: See my answer to Question 1.

Questions 1-5: Does anyone else get the feeling they're being tested? Maybe it's only me because I've never tested well.

The questions really should be: What is it about liberal Quaker culture is keeping poor and working class people away? AND how do we change that culture? (Not SHOULD we)

I don't mean to be picking on Susanne. Recently, The Friendly Funnel asked a similar question (and got some similar responses).

I also don't mean to say they shouldn't have asked their questions. Perhaps now, though, when my readers hear another Friend ask that similar questions, they will let the person know that their questions have bias, and perhaps show them their mistaken assumptions. I know when I see questions like this again in the Quaker blogosphere, my comment will be a link this post.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friends of Color Blog

Hey, check out the new Friends of Color Blog at http://friendsofcolor.blogspot.com/

"What does this have to do with Quakers and social class," you ask?

Racism and classism support one another.

Don't believe me about this?

Watch the movie Crash and ask yourself which of those characters you can see in Quaker Meeting. And be honest. Really honest with yourself. Make this assessment throughout the film--when you first meet a character, and, well, later.

This was started by Allison and she's invited me to be a part of it. I'm not a person of color but I am an ally. I hope to recruit other well-known Friends of color to write on the blog.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Guest Post: Friend Joe Franko

Joe and I are on a Quaker listserve together and I posted something about class with a link to this blog. He visited and left this comment on my What Privilege Do You Have? post, and I thought I'd add it here as a guest post because I want there to be a variety of Quaker voices on my blog as well as mine.

He raises an interesting question about how to talk to Friends about class because I've faced similar reactions. Joe is very good at listening and has a big heart. He's also not as pissed off as I am; or, at least he doesn't come across as angry as I appear. I'm currently considering offering an interest group on class at FGC's summer Gathering on social class, but I'm not sure what to do or how to do it. I don't want to be the one to do it, but it keeps getting thrown up in my face (more on this in a later post). And I don't know how to talk about it without pissing people off. Even one Friend who says she grew up working class gets really really pissed at me when I talk about my own experiences and suggest they might apply to other working class people.

But enough from me and about me. Here's Joe's comment:

Gee, Jeanne. Read your post on the listserver and then followed the link here. Looked at the class game and found I could say yes to only 2 things on the list. Brought back lots of memories of growing up on welfare, having the police come to the house on a regular basis because of the domestic violence, and visiting my mother in the state psychiatric institute.

Now that I'm an all-growed-up college professor it's hard to look back and remember how tough it was to grow up poor and gay. And I don't know about you, but I still wonder sometimes if it isn't all about to come crashing down on my head. When I buy groceries, I still think with some relief that at least I can last another month. I can still clearly recall what was in the commidity foods welfare package each month. It's totally ridiculous considering how much money I make now, but I find it difficult not to wonder when I'll wind up in jail or on the streets.

I guess I come from a working-class family, but even that term is deceptive. My father worked when he could. He was an unskilled laborer who could neither read or write (he used to take me around on job interviews to fill out his applications, hiding me in the car so no one would know). His union took as much advantage of him as his employer. Both saw him as simply someone to make money from.

I think the hardest thing about being a Quaker now is the class thing. I am certainly in sync with the spirituality, but Quakers still don't understand me when I try to talk with them about their sense of entitlement. It was the most difficult thing about being a regional director for the AFSC. That sense of entitlement used to drive me up the wall. Even some of my deepest friendships in Quakerdom don't understand me when I attempt to talk about it.

When I do try to talk about it I find Friends getting defensive or guilty and totally missing the point. They shouldn't have to defend themselves or feel guilty, but to seek to have an honest discussion of class privilege. I try desperately to not send out accusations or guilt trips, but I still haven't found a way to do it.

Anyway, thanks for this blog. Now that I know it's here, I'll check in often.

Joe Franko

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Keys to What Kingdom?

Recently, almost simultaneously, Martin K and I asked essentially the same question (or, rather, made the same criticism) asking how Meeting would deal with a poor or working class person who wanted to worship with us.

Another blogger sent me this Unitarian Universalist article by Doug Muder, which, I think, explains one reason why both Martin and I (and I hope others) see the ironic contradiction a "tattooed ex-con" or gum-smacking ghetto-girl in Meeting would be.

In Muder's article, you can pretty much replace "UU" and "Unitarians" and "Unitarianism" with "Quaker" and "Quakers" and "Quakerism," and you have an interesting criticism of our faith.

He suggests that the reason his churches (and, therefore, our Meetings) are so homogeneous is about message & ministry. But I can't help but wonder if our ministry comes first from our culture, from our interactions outside of Meeting for Worship.

For me, the block is cultural, the things said and done in social interactions. In October, I blogged about one such social interaction. But I've had others since.

One Friend recently asked a group of Friends how to deal with someone who swears a lot. She said she'd had a conversation with this person, but the swearing person didn't seem to understand that swearing a lot was "inappropriate" outside of work as well as at work.

This Friend implied that she knew better than the swearing person about how to act.

I grew up working class (and haven't assimilated well into middle and owning class culture) and am well-versed in the myriad and pleasurable uses of 'vulgar' language. I've since learned that it's not proper at middle class jobs, but I still say FUCK to express pain or to be evocative or to be sexually suggestive.

To say the least, Friends don't like this part of me so much. When I swear, Friends at best look uncomfortable, and at worst admonish me for doing so.

I had an angry response to the perplexed Friend. But another (Su Penn) put what I said into middle/owning class speak by suggesting that "one way to approach that discomfort [of being around someone who swears a lot] is to think of it as a problem of translation rather than a problem of appropriateness."

Amen sister.

I can think of all sorts of things Friends would deem as "inappropriate." Dress (low-cut tops, muscle shirts), language (non-standard grammar, swearing, Jesus talk), food at potluck (fast food, processed food, non-organic food), conservative views (pro-life, Republican), spending habits (owning an SUV, subscribing to cable), to name just a few (and I bet you can add to this list).

And one might be able to argue that some of these things are particularly Quaker, but most of them aren't.

Even for the values that are particularly Quaker, how is acting like you hold the keys to virtue and proper etiquette a Quaker way of conveying these beliefs? Will those keys get you into God's kingdom?

I think of the profound act of compassion George Fox had for William Penn when he said, "Wear thy sword as long as thy canst."

So I'll try to live into this: Wear thy classism as long as thy canst.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"What Privilege Do You Have" Post Goes Viral

On the road, I kept getting email notices of people posting responses on my What Privilege Do You Have post, 127 comments so far. I had no idea this meme had spread so wildly (just Google privilege meme to see how many hundreds of people who have posted it on their blogs).

My post has also produced some particularly angry responses including this one from an Atlantic Monthly blogger.

I haven't had the time or energy to read all the responses, but my favorite class blogger has read many of them, and posted her thoughtful response here. Check it out.

Many thanks again to Will Barratt for letting me modify his exercise and letting me post it on my blog.

This conversation about class is so important.

Post Script: Another very thoughtful response to the privilege meme here.