Thursday, March 05, 2009

Group Devoted to Dismantling Classism within UU

We have great groups that are devoted to dismantling racism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression within Unitarian Universalism.

Does anyone know if there is a group devoted to dismantling classism?

We make such assumptions -- and I am as guilty as any -- that everyone is college-educated, and to a lesser degree, came from a middle class or higher background.

I'm just wondering ... and please, play along with me in my fantasy for just a moment ... what would happen if we began having an influx of those not possessing college degrees, those working as roughnecks, as factory workers, as cab drivers?

Would there be a backlash? Would we say, that's great, but act more like us?

Okay, I didn't mean to go into that ... my question, and it is a real one, do we have a group devoted to addressing classism in our association? Should we?


Kristina said...

I encountered this first hand recently. Our church has begun working with a homeless shelter, and one of the women living in the shelter (with her young son) asked me a bunch of questions about UUs. We talked, and I invited her to join us. She took me up on the invitation, and the next Sunday she shyly walked in the door.

At the social hour, I tried to be friendly with her, and lots of people came up to say hello to me (and therefore her). Their questions were all about "Where do you live?" and "What do you do?" and I could feel her mortification - "I'm homeless" wasn't the introduction she wanted to give. When I said, "We met at Family Promise," everyone assumed that she was a volunteer.

It hit me in the head, it did. Every person asking the questions was kind, loving, wonderful, intelligent....people I really enjoy. But hearing their "usual" questions from the perspective of my homeless

Thank you from raising the questions. YES, we need to address classism. This was my proof of such.

ogre said...

Not that I'm aware of.

I got rather annoyed when (several years ago now), I was asked for a bio... and then someone came back and asked about details that I'd omitted -- like where I got my degree, etc. This is so deeply rooted. I'd done so intentionally. My history B.A. was and is irrelevant to being able to run a meeting or figure out a budget or...

We don't even know we're swimming in this water, most of the time.

I've asserted that *this* issue is -- for us -- more of a big deal than race, etc. (and my exploration suggests that most of the other ~isms are not only entangled, but arguably the servitors and spawn of classism...).

I've preached about classism as *sin*, and while people were interested and approving of the sermon, oddly... (not) the deathly silence returned on the subject.

No. We don't.

And yes, we should.

Ms. Theologian said...

This is one of the Big Reasons my husband will probaby never be a UU. He was quite interested theologically in UUism when I was in seminary, but every time we went to UU church together there were a lot of these sorts of questions: Where do you live? (in sort of a slummy part of Watertown)What do you do for a living? (he walked dogs) Where did you go to school? (He dropped out) Or, my favorite, Where did you go to grad school? These sorts of issues never come up in our daily life, EXCEPT when we were trying to attend church. Sigh.

Red Sphynx said...

From "A Fish Called Wanda" – Wanda, do you have any idea what it's like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone "Are you married?" and hearing "My wife left me this morning," or saying, uh, "Do you have children?" and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday. You see, Wanda, we'll all terrified of embarrassment. That's why we're so... dead. Most of my friends are dead, you know, we have these piles of corpses to dinner.

I'm sorry it discomforts some people; give me better questions to ask. Meanwhile, I'm still going to greet visitors and ask them questions. I mean, I think a lot more visitors walk away from our churches because no one talks to them than because people asked the wrong questions.

Steve Caldwell said...

Classism is the "monosodium glutamate" of oppressions.

Like MSG which is a "flavor enhancer," classism is an "oppression enhancer."

Other types of oppression hit harder if one is poor. If one has wealth, the wealth provides a layer of insulation against them.

Kristina said...

Red Sphynx, I had a chance to think about your question before you asked it, after the experience I wrote about above.

Different questions to ask:

How are you?
How did you hear about our church?
Do you have any questions?
Tell me about yourself!
Would you like some coffee?
Would you like to sit with us?
Are you from this area?
Are you attending alone today, or did you come with someone?
Do you have family locally?
What drew you to this church?

Lots of things to talk about. Lots and lots and lots. And it is to the discretion of the teller how much they reveal - but there is a lot of room for open, honest communication without getting into whether or not you own your home, attended college, or hold a prestigious job. Volunteer information ("I attend with my husband and daughter - please let me introduce you! Oh, it looks like our kids are close in age....maybe they can play together in the kids area. How old is your son? Oh that's great! Does he go to school around here? My daughter goes to Alki, and we've been happy there...."). It doesn't need to be forced, it doesn't need to be so PC that all essence of "real" is gone. But it can still be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is exactly the same.

Kelly KH said...

Like Mrs. Theologian's husband, my own husband often goes months w/o going to our UU church, even though he's a member, because of the classism. He gets furious at the way that people assume that everyone there is like them.

We ARE having an influx of people who are not college educated, or are blue collar, or whatever...and it's a real struggle.

As an up and coming seminarian, this is extremely important to me, not jut for personal reasons, but because I think it's part of our radical hospitality that we often fail at.

MoonMystic said...

I have to admit, this was an issue when we visited our local UU. We were looking for a church family. And, although everyone was friendly, they were more interested in my job, education, etc. than in me as a person. It was somewhat disheartening since we were searching for a more socially conscious, cerebral church where the message was more contemporary. In the deep South, it's hard to find contemporary! We have now joined a Religious Science congregation who couldn't care less about our background, but is infinitely interested in our spiritual health. Nice change.

Red Sphynx said...

Kristina, thanks for your good suggestions.

If we are dismantle classism in UU, we will need to change our morality and our politics. And I strongly doubt that we want to do that.

What do I mean? Check out this post by Jonathan Haidt on WHAT MAKES PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN?

He writes "...the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer."

Haidt is, himself, a leftist athiest. And a sociologist who studies the psychological roots of morality. He is, therefore, a great person to explain to liberal elitists about what it is that we really miss in our understanding of other social classes.

Haidt rocks. I recommend his The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Over the years, the most popular bumper sticker I've seen in UU parking lots is the ubiquitous Question Authority. Haidt refers to that very bumper sticker to explain why working class people distrust liberals and won't identify with liberal elites. Read the whole thing.

In order to defeat classism, are we willing to give up the piece of the UU DNA that leads to those bumper stickers? I mean, our anti-authoritarianism is part of our identity.

Becoming a movement that cuts across the social strata is much deeper.

goodwolve said...

Red: "we will need to change our morality and our politics."

Wow. That is quite an assumption.

As one who is now gracefully poor (by choice) by US standards I have felt the odd sensation of those with more thinking I too should have more.

As also one who does not have a credential behind my name I have been seen as somewhat less than in our congregations.

Funny though that I have been engaged and giving for years.

Class issues would be a GREAT topic of discussion. Anyone?

PeaceBang said...

LE, I think that Hafidha Sofia who writes Never Say Never To Your Traveling Self works on classism issues within UUism. Don't quote me on that, but she may be a good resource.

Anonymous said...

"What do you do (for a living)?" can be uncomfortable for many reasons. Sure, money and class is one. But also many of us have all sorts of issues with our work -- it may not be our strongest suit, and it can get really really boring to talk about (I've been in the same line of work a long time). There also CAN be some assessing (by the listener) of the "value" of my work, which is awkward.

The question I suggest to replace "what do you do?" is something more like "what do you do for fun?" or "what do you like to do?" or something like that. It still involves DOING, and it doesn't rule out "work", but it leaves tons of room for creative answers. In fact, in many cases, if I'm asked "what I do", I give a non-work answer. It may be something I do once a week, but it may also lead the conversation to places that are more interesting to me. Although it also seems to confuse (many of) the people who asked :(

Likewise "where do you live?" can be uncomfortable for many reasons. Like, I would tend to wonder why you are asking that, unless you are planning to pick me up for the hike tomorrow or something? Maybe "do you live in this area?" would be less odd, to me.

And as a newish person, I found "what brings you here?" both really sincere and really tiresome. I never had a good or interesting answer, and I was asked this SO MANY times.

My favorite question that I was asked as a newish person: "have you found activities you like at church?" Yes, I had, and I was certainly interested in discussing what sorts of things were going on....

goldilocks said...

It's a hard question. We finally quit going during the Iraq War; my husband, father, and brothers are all in the military, and I served for several years, too, before getting out to raise our kids.

Seriously, there was just no way to reconcile the peace activism with the strong military affiliations of my family. Some of the members were, in the words of a family friend, "reliving their youth by way of Vietnam." lol.

And YES YES YES, there are a lot of class issues at play there. Trust me on that.

Still, I really don't begrudge UUs for being... UUs. Part of their fundamental nature is to be the upholders of a tradition that is almost necessarily upper-middle-class.

That unique combination of moral confidence and education is part of their charm and their power. You really cannot abridge this without changing something important about the denomination itself.

Yes, its inclusiveness and universalism is somewhat illusory-- but kick the legs out from under that, and you lose something really important.