Adj Marshall

Posts Tagged ‘Class’

Classism

In Communication, Education on January 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm

When I was in poverty day in and day out, I often heard people say things like, “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s such a ridiculous image– If you actually lean down and pull on your boot straps nothing happens.”

-Ellen Smith

On Monday evening a crusader in the Classism movement lost the battle against cancer. Felice Yeskel was the co-founder of Class Action, a non profit based in Boston, which  “inspires action to end classism by providing a dynamic framework and analysis, as well as safe space, for people from across the class spectrum to explore class and to identify and begin to dismantle classism.

I first heard of Felice’s work through Class Matters, a book I assigned my students to read for a community organizing class, I co-taught at a Private Liberal Arts College.  Class Matters: cross class alliance building for middle class activists, by Betsy Leondar-Wright, was the first piece of writing I encountered that was grappling with the difficult task of class dialogue on a grassroots level. While I had spent much time studying various class theories and models for change there was little to no material available on cross-class dialogue. As I delved further into the subject I came to realize these women were at the forefront of work in this field in 2005 and still are today as little conversation has materialized on a national scale in this subject.

Felice’s short two page piece in the Class Action book chronicled the issues that arise on college campuses when class is not included in diversity training. In facilitating support groups for poor and working class students at the college level, Felice stated she came to notice “If you’re white and you come from a poor-working class background, you show up on these [elite private college] campuses and you are having your mind blown hundreds of times a day, and your reality is never noticed or validated by anyone.” The piece gave voice to my own struggles as poor white undergraduate and became the impetus for my submersion in the classism work.

Class Matters

In teaching community organizing, I pushed my students to recognize the class differences that existed amongst themselves as co-organizers, before working towards solutions to break down barriers existing between organizers and the community. All too often my students would assume that their classmates /co -organizers were of the same background as themselves, making blanket statements about “common” values they all most hold as like minded college students. What they didn’t realize was that issues of class needed to be recognized within their own ranks before they could move forward with the important work of supporting their community in organizing itself.  Felice poignantly stated in her piece that “Diversity training on college campuses is problematic without classism because education itself functions as a primary access channel for transitioning across class” As much as education acts as a bridge between class divides one never looses the class lens with which they were raised. This is an essential element that is often times overlooked in class based advocacy.

My work in the classism arena has continued over the years in various forms, first serving as a proponent of class based affinity groups at an elite prep school in MA and then in the creation of a support structure for low income first generation students of RI entering college. In 2009 I saw a posting by Class Action, the organization that Felice had founded, soliciting short pieces for an anthology speaking to the experiences of individuals across the class spectrum. With the support of a number of friends, in particular Keith, I submitted my own story for inclusion. The suspense was unbearable as I waited nearly a year before being notified this past May that my piece will be published in the Class Action Anthology entitled: Caviar, College, Coupons and Cheese. My selection for inclusion in this anthology served as validation that my experience warrant reproduction and can serve as a learning experience for others.

Class Matters

At the moment I am reading Class Matters: Correspondents of The New York Times a book that was given to me by a college a few years back. I’m not particularly sure why I haven’t set myself down to delve into this book yet, despite owning it for over 2 years now, but  I would like to think it is because I knew it was important and I wanted to give it the full attention my LEAP is currently allowing.

The opening chapter of the book entitled : The Shadowy Lines That Still Divide opens with “One difficulty in talking about class is that the word means different things to different people. Class is rank, it is tribe, it is culture and taste. It is attitudes and assumptions, a source of identity, a system of exclusion.” This comment intrigues me because it is ripe with the ambiguity that makes class the taboo subject of our times. Despite the fact that class is becoming a larger factor than ever in determining who moves ahead in the pecking order and who doesn’t, the understanding of class mobility by society is the exact opposite. A Gallup Poll conducted in 2005 by the NYT found that most Americans believe class backgrounds has less of an impact on social mobility than it did 30 years ago.

These statistics are not surprising to me as I have repeatedly viewed the denial of class impact in numerous workshops I have led over the last 4 years. Despite the workshops varying topics including: understanding social class vs. socioeconomic class, cross class dialogue facilitation, and the impact of class on education, there is always an initial rebuff to my statement that we are all impacted by class in negative ways no matter whether we reside at the top or the bottom of the spectrum. It is this gut reaction that worries me. If we are not able to come to the table with open minds and hearts, to discuss in supportive ways the impact of class on our families, our communities and our institutions, will continue to suffer in silence.

In my research for this piece, I have found limited resources from which to draw upon for inspiration, as the conversation on this topic has advanced little in the last 5 years. When this is the case it becomes our responsibility to take action, to serve as that inspiration, becoming the change we want to see. I hope one day we will make this a topic one that is discussed openly. For without open and honest discussion there can never be change!