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?