Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Quakers and Class

The topic has been coming up lately. Largely because my friend Jeanne attended the workshop on it at this year's gathering and has been profoundly moved (to action!) by it.

she has a guest post on Rich's Blog about it this week.

And we've had a few good coversations, always slightly forshortened, in real life and through email lately.

I find myself, unsurprisingly, not working class identified, but wanting to be an ally...... but not really sure how to do that (which I think is okay, and not optimal, I think recognizing the need to be an ally and admitting one's cluelessness are farther than many people ever get)

I have a sense of uneasiness about our material wealth as a community. Partly because as a person who tends towards the economically socialist in a way very tied into my quakerism, I'm more than a little shocked that quakers are so willing to get rich and stay rich in the face of such injustice in our society.

I've also become keenly aware of my own class biases and how well they fit into my quakerism. I was raised to be quite a snob, and averse to interacting with "those people" any more than necessary. My mother was one who offered drinks to men doing work on our house, but in special glasses that we never drank out of.

I was also raised to prefer natural fibers, imported cars, subtle makeup, flats over heels, a huge list of things that you just don't talk about in polite company (money, religion, sex, politics - which, even as a child brought me to think, "what's left?")

It's surprising how well this training fit my later life as a quaker (and a lesbian, but that's perhaps neither here nor there) - we talk about politics and religion, but that's easy, cause we share them. And, sadly, we talk about them (I have noticed) often in a VERY "us" vs. "them" sort of way (those silly people who believe creeds, those bad people who support the war - often party because they have kids over there.

Speaking of the war, I'm disturbed to see how good we are at "conscientious objectorship" (as a first day school teacher of young teens, I am keenly aware each year that part of taking attendance is laying groundwork so our kids can get out of military service because they're quaker - and I'm also aware that most 13 year old kids see this as a perk - not having to risk one's life - rather than as a deeply held moral conviction (which, granted, are just forming for most of us at 13)

I know some meetings and other quaker groups are working with the kids who get recruited (who needs the draft, after all, when economics in our country are so awful we have an effective draft of desperate kids with no other way to get an education or even nowhere else to go? - we have a sharecropper rather than a slave army now, what a solace!) But mostly, we don't (mine doesn't) - as quakers do we not care about those kids anymore? Are we failing to instill in our kids a horror of killing other people, rather than the easier horror of risking one's own life?

Anyway, back to class (the bigger picture) I really like what Rich wrote in his earlier post on this...

From Rich's 2005 post, with reference to why various sorts of working class folks are sorely underrepresented in our meetings:

It is not because Quakerism is a subtle, profound faith for intellectuals (it isn't).
It is not because working-class people are prejudiced against us.
It is not because working-class people are too busy to worship.
It is not because working-class people reject peace.
It is not because working-class people can't stand silence.
It is not because God wants it that way.

I'm also not terribly interested in "privilege guilt" - or guilt in general, these days. I don't want to sit around and bemoan how awful I am for growing up with the "right" sort of grammar, or that certain snobbery, I want to work on how to make friends (Friends?) across those often invisible but also often daunting lines. And I'm a little at a loss.

Amusingly, one of the things I've heard recently is that working class folks are much more likely to be about "getting things done" rather than talking about it ad infinitum - so here I am putting it out there in words that I have nearly no clue how to proceed in life


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post. I suppose I would describe myself as a convinced Friend; my vocation, though, is working with poverty.

One of the things that gives me pause in my meeting is how some members choose to interact with military recruits. Rather than recognizing the hard economic realities that face so many people in this country, some treat people in the military as though they've joined because they want to kill people. I wonder about that, and I feel sad; there are ways in which it reminds me of Christian fundamentalists screaming outside of abortion clinics.

Jeanne said...


I so appreciate your willingness to ask these questions and wrestle with this issue. Many people talk about wanting to be an ally but I see you actually wrestling with yourself and asking yourself (and everyone) important questions.

I, too, don't know how to proceed in life. Bet you didn't know that. I just take steps forward, falter, fail and sometimes actually get somewhere. It's not efficient. But neither is sitting in uncertainty and not doing anything.

And thanks for reading my new blog on class.


Tatiana said...

I've noticed this as well, and I'm not sure how the community of Quakers as a whole should combat it... but for me personally, a couple of things help me to stop stereotyping people whose economic lifestyle is different from me...

First, compassion. I admit that I really don't know what it's like. And thus, because I don't know, I have no right to judge them. I have no right to say what I would or wouldn't do differently in their shoes.

Second, empathy, which is really just another word for compassion. I try to leave myself open to everyone I meet instead of closed. I try to be friendly, to talk to people if I feel they wouldn't mind instead of essentially ignoring their presence.

Not to say that I have all the answers, because I really don't, and I'm constantly reminded of my upbringing by my aversion to my in-laws, who aren't as educated as my family and who I characterize as "backwards" a lot of the time... It's really something I struggle with.