February 28, 2008

Wrestling with my own classism

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had shown a near-final draft of this post to Jeanne before posting it here.
One thing I am scared to tell you about myself is how much I feel like I don't "get" classism.

I say this because of risks I have taken in comments I have made on the Quakers & Social Class blog--a blog written by my own partner--and how my comments there and elsewhere have been met with difficult things for me to read and receive.

In my own case, I felt like I had started to see a bit of the L/light about class(ism) based on things that I had been told or had read about at home. For example, I now understand that not all public education was carried out the same as my upper-middle class education was, which was very much about critical thinking and learning about the process of analyzing and problem-solving.

It turns out that apparently not all of my peers were taught to think and problem-solve like I was: a number of my peers from low-income and working class neighborhoods were apparently instructed only to work to get the right answer, not to learn about how to think a problem through in order to consider what the answers might be.

So when I wrote a comment that later would be excerpted and appear on the Social Class blog, and then pointed to as an example of classism, I was a bit horrified:

I thought I had integrated a new understanding of institutional or systemic classism, and yet the hypothetical I had lifted up could be taken as classist itself.

What had I said? What had I done wrong?

It all reminds me of the time when my closest Deaf friend told me, in no uncertain terms told me:
What?!? Me, an oppressor? Me, who was near fluent in American Sign Language and was sought after as an interpreter by the Deaf community?

I knew intuitively to accept as valid that person's perspective and then do the personal work of looking for the Truth that existed in that finger-pointing.

While I am completely baffled at times by Jeanne's public and private pointing at my classism, I find myself taking deep breaths, scratching my head in confusion, and beginning (or resisting to begin!) the hard work of learning about classism as another form of oppression.

Another thing I'm reluctant to tell you is, as one of the contributors to QuakerQuaker, I struggle with deciding whether or not to add certain posts to it, especially posts that are about class or race that are offshoots of original posts and are from the same blog.

Some of these "secondary posts" don't seem to have the same oomph as the original, yet I worry about perceptions:
What does it mean when those additional posts don't appear on QuakerQuaker? What perceptions are out there as a result of the absence of those posts' listings?
While it's in my power as a contributor to QuakerQuaker to "protect" readers and commenters who might be stung or made uncomfortable, as I was, by some of these blog exchanges by excluding "ouchy posts" from QuakerQuaker, I must ask myself, is it my place?

Is it my own classism that leads to an unintended sense of power, of what personal authority I think I have when deciding what to identify for QQ?

Inwardly, I hear the soft whisper:
In fact, writing those very words about real and perceived power have now reminded me about an important book I read long, long ago: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

It is this element--power over as compared to power with--that over the years has helped me begin to grasp institutional oppression--and it is an element that I think comes from the book's Brazilian author, Paulo Freire.

I'm going to sign off and give QuakerBooks a call: I think I need to have this book on my bookshelf and give it another look.



Anonymous said...

I think one of the reasons "--isms" are so hard to get is that it's difficult to differentiate between that which we were enculturated and socialized into and that which we have chosen to impose on others (or oppress others with).

For instance, my family had a tradition of having a dictionary at the dining room table and playing word games during our meals. We had great fun and ended up with large vocabularies.

OK, was this a case of a low-income family wanting to better itself? Was it a case of a family who didn't realize their own claim to language/education entitlement? And should I somehow repudiate my childhood of word play? Does it make me a an oppressor because I engaged in this form of recreaction when other families may not have even owned a dictionary?

I will always go through life with a sense of reverence for words and with a vocabulary that others may not have. I don't know how to erase these kind of stuff from my brain.

And yet I work and interact every single day with people who do not speak English as a first language or who are basically illiterate. I do my best to communicate in ways that are clear and productive. But sometimes I slip up and use a word no one knows. Sometimes I speak too fast. Sometimes I engage in word play and the joke falls flat.

Does my childhood socialization automatically make me a classist?


Robin M. said...

As someone with my own complicated relationship to discussions of classism, I will just say I am holding you, and Jeanne, and the RSoF in the Light.

I believe God wants us to wrestle with this, but no one ever said it would be easy.

Anonymous said...

Hm, I think I actually have two copies of that book, albeit in my parents' home in Maryland.

I really admire your honesty: "I knew intuitively to accept as valid that person's perspective and then do the personal work of looking for the Truth that existed in that finger-pointing."

I know I have been guilty of assuming privileges and have worked really hard to wrestle with them. Another young adult Friend mentioned the whole idea of "service learning" hours for high school or college students was inherently assuming kids didn't have to work to support their families/education. I know that I will continue to stumble, but that is why I've embraced the self-determination and try to acknowledge that no, I don't know.