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


Marcus said...

Oh wow. I had forgotten the taste of commodity pork until your blog totally brought it flooding back into my head.

Marcus said...

I finally took the time to catch up with your blog posts so far, and you've covered a lot of ground. A few of the things that really hit close to home involve not only class, but an apparent lack of history as well as a heavy dose of misguidance about the essentials of what it is to be Quaker. You've mentioned Jesus's teachings a few times, so I can assume you won't be too uncomfortable when I cite them.

The first core that comes to mind for me is simplicity. This not only applies to matter of dress and lifestyle, but lack of ego and conflict. Second is the Quakers' stand against war and oppression, and for equality. There's a lot of history behind the reason for those core ideas that would make this tidbit way too long for reasonable posting, but I'm sure most of your readers should have immersed themselves in at least one book on Friends' history.

(So many conflicts come to mind as I write this, so I may wind up a bit scattered, so forgive me if this reads so)

So I march in the direction of simplicity. Being a guy who has barely over $100 a month after the rent and bills to pay for food and other needs for my family of three, if I didn't adhere to a simple state of mind and wallet, life would be incredibly painful for me and my household. Does that make me better equipped to adhere to that concept than others who are more well of? Perhaps yes, most likely no. But being poor cannot make you a bad Quaker. Rather, being Quaker makes it easier to be poor.

As a side note, I've also read many times in Quaker history that too MUCH education was once looked down upon, because it takes away from simplicity for reasons obvious to anyone with an education (or anyone without one that has to live down their stigma to their peers).

That also applies to things like diet. You blogged a couple months back about conflict over (cool whip) food. How does obsessing over what you or others eat make your life simpler? Even Jesus was wise to this; it's not what you put in your mouth that makes you unclean, it's what comes out of it (raw testimony for silent worship as well).

So who are we to turn anyone away because of class or level of education? Is the Inner Light not equally valid for everyone who acknowledges it, especially for Liberal Quakers who lean more toward Universalist beliefs and, at least in principle, exclude no one('s alternative viewpoint)?

All that said, is it your peers' egos or their spirits oppressing you and others like you?

susannekromberg said...
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Julie said...

Cool, keep talkin, Joe. And for the record, don't be afraid of being perceived as "angry." In Quakerism, it isn't hard to do, so you may as well let go and let people think what they want. Again, thanks [from an ex-Q.]

susannekromberg said...
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Jeanne said...
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Ayo said...

Hi Jeanne,

I just emailed you something on the Third Wave of Quakerism. I think your class issue writings are going to be crucial.

susannekromberg said...

Jeanne and Joe,
I am sorry that it is hard to talk about class and privilege among (liberal) Quakers. It is true in my experience that we (liberal) Friends are a defensive lot. At the same time I am a little surprised, because all one needs to do is take a poll in any Meeting on a Sunday and ask how many adults in the room have a college degree to get a pretty clear picture of what the reality is. This experiement, I suspect would yield much the same results in every liberal Meeting across the USA and Europe, and I'd hazard it comes to about 90%.

Is this just a coincidence? The defensive person, I presume, would answer "yes". Since so many of us have college degrees and have learned at least some rudimentary statistics, we might ask ourselves: If it is coincidence, then there is a 50-50 chance that each individual has a college degree. We might go to our statistical tables and check whether the probability that 90% of liberal Friends in all the meetings have a college degree is a random occurrence? I didn't keep my statistical tables when I graduated, but I'm pretty sure that it is overwhelmingly unlikely that this could be a random phenomenon.

I'm sure most Friends would agree that there's a reason. I'm interested to hear, in your experience, what the defensive people give as explanations for this phenomenon?

Jeanne said...

Susanne, actually, the likelihood that any person in the US having a college degree is around one in four. Among Quakers, it's more like nine in ten.

But many Friends deny that a higher education gives them any privilege (check out my September 27th post on education and the ensuing comments and discussion). And I'm finding that many middle class people get defensive and angry when I say that college degree confers privilege on the person who has one.

I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't sideways oppression, sort of.

They get their undies in a bunch at me and not the system that also keeps them oppressed. (For the middle class are also the minions of the owning class...just with more benefits). They can't get angry at their oppressors so they get angry at me. Or at least argumentative.

It's another form of class oppression.

I also think that people want credit for the things they felt they earned (and some of the things they didn't but class stratification says they did). And they don't want to be assigned privilege they don't feel like they have (whether they have it or not).

And who doesn't want credit for the things they earned?

Sure, I worked hard for the college degree I just got, at 40 years old. But I didn't pay for it--dividends and interest did; others' labor paid for my education.

So how much of it did I really earn? Or did my new found college-degree privilege come from the financial privilege into which I married?

It's that sort of question that folks aren't interested in answering because they feel it takes away from their actual accomplishments.

Hmmm. This might turn into a blog post.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Yay for that being a blog post, Jeanne, I'm waiting eagerly!

I might have to mull on the defensiveness thing a bit too, might be a post in there for me too....

I know that my college education is a result of privilege - I knew that I was going to college as a small child, it was not an option. I thought ahead to 16 years of school, just like some kids might be looking ahead to dropping out at 16

As we've discussed in person, it didn't get me all the goodies that it might have. This is a combination of lack of ambition on my part, lack of skill at other parts of getting to the top, not REALLY being at the top of the heap (I just finished "Limbo" and really liked it, but a few times was baffled by casual references he made that seemed to equate college education and country club membership, and with knowing all the "rules", not to mention "the right people" - I have never, ever, set foot in a country club, though I went to school with lots of kids who belonged to one, and I have NEVER been able to figure out the rules, but for reasons other than class.

So, I don't feel all the privileged (though I have never, ever HAD to do manual labor to survive) but I certainly had lots of pieces of the puzzle handed to me, lots more than the majority of people I'd venture to assume.

I think what you say about who you get mad at is important. It came up on the google discussion group too, I think. 75% of Americans don't graduate from college, but it's probably more like 95% of Americans who haven't actually acheived some "American Dream" - we all expect to be really wealthy and secure financially, and almost none of us have that, (and those of us who have any measure of it are totally focused on what we don't have instead) and we're terrible at not turning on each other.

Ugh, I feel like I almost have a point, but I'm not getting there, quite. So that's all for now.


Jeanne said...

Pam, thanks for your comment. And one piece that I've shared with you but not with the blog world, it's a working class thing to assume a college degree gets you the keys to the kingdom. I learned this from Lubrano's book: from below, there isn't any significant difference between middle and owning class people.

When I took the bus everywhere, worked the overnight shift, and was barely able to cover rent, phone, electricity, heat and food, I didn't see any difference between someone who could afford to own their home and one car and someone who owned three cars and two homes.

Obviously, this tendency befuddled you when you read Lubrano's book. Even though he's a well-respected journalist and author, he still conflates the middle class and owning class.

Think about how Lubrano's father and brother are still confused by his choice to work as a journalist instead of working at something that makes a lot of money. Lubrano has a college degree. His brother and father wonder why the hell doesn't he have two houses and three cars.

That's because class doesn't equal income or financial solvency. If it were, I'd be totally owning class. But I've been told over and over and over and over and over again I'm not even close (by Quakers, by my mother-in-law, and by other middle class folks). And Joe Franko wouldn't feel profound gratitude each time he makes it through the month and can buy groceries.

Chris M. said...

In Brian McLaren's book "Everything Must Change," he had a helpful table I hope to post on my blog:

Most people think:

Some people are rich --> Therefore others are poor

Instead, McLaren says, we should see it this way:

[Dominant]  ==>  Some people are rich
[ System  ]  ==>  Some are poor

I think this helps situate what you're saying about how middle class people still work for the owning class, but with more benefits. And we need to recognize we're all part of the dominant system. (McLaren says the task Jesus calls us to is to step outside that system.)

Also, there are some studies that show how much more money people make over their lifetimes if they have a bachelors, masters or advanced degree. And there are other studies that clearly correlate longevity & health with the amount of money one makes. So as a college graduate myself, I see no reason to get defensive about the facts. It's clear I've got real advantages in life, and the moral values question is: Who's side am I on? For whom will I put my advantages to work? I may not always be inspired by my own answer, but that is THE question for me.

Jeanne said...

Amen Chris about the QUESTION.

Liz and I have the same question (and sometimes conflict) over that question.

But I'm not understanding the table you laid out. Are the arrows "therefore?"

And I continued to be befuddled by everyone seemingly equating class with income.

I think I need a post about this.


HysteryWitch said...

I'm often confused about class...It is difficult to wrap one's head around how "working class" can include people who make more money than the "middle class." Maybe our society is outgrowing these labels and needs a new set of words? I think that often for me I think of privilege as strongly linked to wealth. Money = power and some culturally working class people have a lot more power than many culturally middle class people (at least in my community) But...that doesn't mean that middle class people (of whatever income) don't have other resources of power that working class people (of whatever income) lack. Wow. Not an easy subject to navigate! Still at the top are those who trample on all of us.

Chris M. said...

1) Yes, the arrows are supposed to be "therefore."

2) Admittedly, I may have been going off on a tangent by bringing McLaren's diagram into the discussion. My point was that the Domination System oppresses middle class people, working class people, the poor, and the extremely poor. But the middle class people may not see it that way, if they own two cars, a house, and a big TV....

3) Class and income tend to be correlated, that's why people bring it up. It is clearly a relevant -- but of course not the only -- factor in class identification. The correlation may likely not be with one's present income, but with the income of one's family as a child; or perhaps the income of one's grandparents or great-grandparents.

Just think: When you did the survey that a lot of people blogged, what was common about a lot of items on the list? They cost money! Airplane flights. College educations. Phones and TVs in bedrooms. Houses. Cars. You don't have those things if you are wondering whether you'll have enough to eat next week. So, again, I argue that income is relevant, but not determining.

4) My friend Jeff Schmidt wrote a book called Disciplined Minds, in which he argues that professional training is designed to create people trusted by the System to carry out the System's objectives. This may be as important a factor as any in determining one's current class status (as compared to the class one was raised in). How much autonomy does a person's work provide him or her? And if autonomous, how much does that person's work align properly with the Domination System (ie owning class)?

PS Jeff got fired for publishing the book (well, he admitted it was written on "stolen time" -- horrors!). Mostly, he wasn't in line with the system!! See http://disciplinedminds.tripod.com/.