August 25, 2009

The power of facing social class issues

I will witness your growth through muddy and tender times.
I will grow you and grow with you, lovingly and faithfully.

These are two of the affirmations my partner and I exchanged with each other during our wedding in 2000. We made them with the faith that by carrying our intentions--to open ourselves to Divine Assistance and stay with one another regardless of difficulty--we would be okay.

It's nine years later and the last two years have been muddy and tender indeed. The multiple veils and blindfolds that have hidden my awareness of social class oppression are being peeled away, with varying degrees of insistence, as the Spirit prompts, as the Way opens, and as I "give over [my] own willing."

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Quakerism allows for an unfolding of one's journey without pushing the river. Quakerism emerges out of a Seed of Love that calls us to labor with one another and to listen inwardly and deeply to the messages we receive from the Spirit and through others who may minister to us.

One of the things I know about myself is that I don't change when I'm in isolation. I change when I am in community and when I am in relationship with someone I care about. I change because the people around me are different from me and therefore view the world differently from how I view it.

Two people in my life have taken the extraordinary step of telling me how I have not only reinforced their [world]view but how I have contributed to the oppression they have known all their life.

One was a Deaf woman in Milwaukee. When I was at the height of my sign language interpreting career, she said to me, point blank:

At the time, I had had just enough training in those days about the dynamics of power and oppression, and about identity development, and about the history of American Deaf culture that I knew not to get defensive or blaming, but to listen more deeply to this person who was a dear friend of mine and whose version of the Truth had a validity I needed not only to understand but also embrace.

The other person was my partner. It's taken time for me to hear from her just the right phrase to address the thick blindfold that had been placed over my eyes--and the earplugs in my ears--by my owning class family:
The words in this case weren't enough for me to take a hard-and-long look at myself. Just a short and shallow one.

I didn't understand how I was "managing" her or what that even meant. I needed a weeklong workshop with George Lakey, dedicated to the topic of Quakers and Social Change. I needed to read at least two books about social class in America and reconsider Peggy McIntosh's well-known essay in light of social class.

And I needed--and still need on a near-daily basis--a good talking-to by my partner. (I still don't fully get what "managing her" means...)

This awakening to class oppression is powerful for me because social class and classism had been invisible to me before now, as has been my unintentional part in contributing to institutional and societal classism. This is powerful for me because I can begin to see how classism is embedded in our meetings, especially among Liberal Friends.

As Friends,* our actions indicate that we value individualism ("I don't want to give up my preference/privilege") over solidarity ("Let's stand with our brothers and sisters who have less"); we often write letters to legislators and make financial contributions to organizations for their good work rather than strive to engage in the good work ourselves, even at a local level.

We "talk about" doing things rather than taking action and doing things. Or we rationalize why we do or don't do things and label that as corporate discernment, even if we aren't in fact tending to "the least of these."

I'm learning... slowly... that much of these behaviors can be attributed to our collective middle-class/wealthy-class backgrounds--something that Jeanne has been telling me/us for a while.

Amidst all of this, I am sorting out the intrinsic values, expectations, and worldview that my parents and grandparents instilled in me and those that are reinforced by American Liberal Quakerism (which is the part I'm most familiar with), not to mention most of America's institutions, of which organized religion is a part.

God asks me to again to grow, to risk, to consider, to pray for more Light. What's my place in this work, where am I called?

Can I ever stop writing about this stuff and just start doing...?


*NOTE: A Friend outside of the U.S. contacted me privately a day after I posted this and makes this worthwhile point: I am indeed speaking of my own experience among Liberal Quakers in the States. Various forms of oppression exist differently--or perhaps not at all...?--in different countries and in different cultural contexts because of institutions, social structures, etc.

During my time in George Lakey's workshop, George spoke at length about Norway and some of its social, political, and economic structures that influence that country's social class dynamic. Similarly I was grateful for the Canadian Friend who shared from her experience that Canada's social systems and institutions (e.g. health care, education) made for very different dynamics around social class than what she has observed and experienced here in the U.S. --Liz, 26 Eighth Month 2009


Robin M. said...

Holding you in the Light.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Thanks Liz!

I mean that with all of my being. I've been disheartened because of being personally attacked when trying to be open and honest with others. I've felt like giving up, thinking I have nothing of value to offer.

Though we are very different, in your meditation today,
the Good was Raised Up. God spoke through your words.

I do thank you.

In the Light,