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

"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.