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).


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.


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 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, 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).