A bit of a different structure for this episode of Friend Speaks My Mind;  twenty five minutes dedicated to investigating the issues of Quakers and social class raised in George Lakey's 2011 Penn Lecture in Philadelphia.  Includes some clips from the lecture, an interview with Jeanne Burns, founder of the blog "Social Class and Quakers" and a chat with George Lakey and Richard George about how to increase the visibility of this important subject in our wider community.

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Comment by Glen Retief on 8th mo. 2, 2011 at 8:24pm
This guy is fabulous. I love how he thinks and talks. But one question. Does he ever criticize working class culture? All human cultures are flawed, even the oppressed ones. Just to flip traditional value systems doesn't really move us beyond the binaries, I feel.
Comment by N. Jeanne Burns on 8th mo. 16, 2011 at 10:23pm
Hey Glen, I've never heard George say that he wants to replace middle class culture with working class culture. And I'm pretty certain that's not what he is asking for. It's not what *I* am asking for. In this podcast, he talks about something we both want--to have the culture we bring *respected*, *honored* and not *denigrated* or *dismissed* which is what happens now. Only when that happens can we have a valid conversation about what parts of each culture we should keep. Honestly, I don't hear anyone criticizing the ways in which middle class culture needs to be removed from Quaker culture.
Comment by Liz Opp on 8th mo. 17, 2011 at 12:37am

Hi, Glen!  My sweetie pointed out your comment to me...

As she reminds me often, one of the first things that people of privilege do--in this case, social class privilege--when we are exposed to how the oppressed group experiences the majority/dominant group, is that we deflect, distract, repel, reject what is being presented to us, rather than validate and listen deeply to what might be hard to hear.  I worry that your question is in fact a type of that deflection.

Here's a recent example from my own life:  When we use the car to go places, Jeanne often drives.  I have the bad habit of pointing out to her when I see a biker, pedestrian, or car that I *think* she might not see.  This makes her crazy because to her, it's a form of unnecessary supervision and "helicoptering"--like what George talks about on tape when people are working "coffee hour," and a middle class person wants to... well, supervise. 

When Jeanne most recently confronted me on this behavior, I "deflected" her criticism by insisting I was concerned about everyone's safety.  Jeanne firmly reminded me that as the driver, she's also concerned about everyone's safety; as the passenger, helicoptering temptations aside, it's not my job to "manage" the driver.

With two people on equal social class footing, that exchange might play out differently.  But for the two of *us,* with Jeanne's experience of long-term oppression, my "good intentions" cannot be expected to outweigh the oppressive impact of them on her--not if I am to be an ally.  Continuing to "helicopter" around her just repeats the oppression. 

...Believe me, I am still wrestling with all of this but it is easier for me to learn how *I* deflect, defend, deny when I observe how others do it, sad to say.

Comment by Glen Retief on 8th mo. 17, 2011 at 9:37am

Hi Liz and Jeanne,


Thanks for all the careful responses to what I suppose was a bit of a casual comment.  I have never really managed to easily  figure out what class culture I come from.  Today I am obviously middle-class--a college professor in the humanities.  But in my family, only my dad and uncle had college degrees.  My grandparents, who played a big role in raising me, were all working-class--my grandfather unloaded trains and my grandmother started off as a cashier at a farm store.  They had sixth grade and eighth grade educations respectively.  In rural apartheid South Africa, race seemed more central than class.  So as a white boy, I grew up feeling very privileged, but not in exactly the same way American middle-class people do.  Almost all the people around me--my schoolfriends' parents etc.--were banana farmers, paper factory workers, maintenance supervisors, mechanics, soldiers and so on.


Later, I continued to befriend and interact with people of all different classes and races, especially in my twenties, when at one stage the majority of my friends were working-class black South Africans--the first in their families to go to college.


What I suppose I would say, class-wise, is that my immediate family was lower middle-class government-worker, while most of the people in my childhood were in fact working-class.  So in my background I identify with both classes (middle and working).  Maybe someone can have a "bi-class" identity, like a "bi-racial" one?


I identify very strongly with George Lakey's critique of the Religious Society of Friends and very much want to learn more about it.  Most of the things he mentions driving him crazy do the same to me.  I hate the "process junkie" element, the obsession with issues I consider very "privileged," the managerial flavor to it all.  I hate the extreme care one has to take in interacting with Quakers, which reminds me of the "slickness" I need to cultivate in university culture.  I miss the much greater, unapologetic emotional authenticity and freedom of my working-class grandparents and friends--it's also there in my current working-class friends.  I miss the practical, no-nonsense, not-at-all-flamboyant care that in my experience working-class people give each other.  It is not a "big deal" or a "testimony" to help out a neighbor in working-class culture, the way it is sometimes in Quaker circles.  So I want middle-class Quakers to not only include working-class cultures, but to learn from them.


All of this said, in the podcast I listened to, there were moments I went, "Hang on, are these my grandparents and childhood friends he's talking about?"  Lakey listed so many positive working-class traits, like pragmatism,community, and honesty, and I agreed with him.  But he failed to mention so many aspects of the working-class I grew up close to,that broke my heart.  Like unapologetic racism, bigotry, sexism, and homophobia.  Middle-class culture is at least somewhat more open-minded, I feel, about things like race relations and gender roles.  Like the men's kamikaze partying culture--throughout life, my grandad and his friends drank and gambled and acted crazy in ways that middle-class men would either have kept more under wraps or, so I imagine, practiced more in moderation.  Or maybe their class privilege would have just insulate their families more from the impact--at any rate, this hurt my grandmother and the kids.  And then, from my current perspective as a  creative writer anyway, there was an anti-intellectualism in working-class culture.  People loved dime paperbacks and laughed at anyone with literary pretensions.  As a writer today, one thing I love about college middle-class culture is the openness to, passion for, and curiosity about, art, ideas, and the world.  Although I've retained some of my cynicism about pretension!


I recognize that many of the things I disli

Comment by N. Jeanne Burns on 8th mo. 17, 2011 at 2:06pm

Glen, I'm so sorry your comment got cut off.


I share your feelings about the positives and negatives about both cultures. I often feel at odds in both worlds. I love the no-nonsense directness of the friends I grew up with but feel like an alien when I want to have a deeper conversation about imagery and meaning. Similarly, I feel like an alien in middle class culture when I want to make a crude joke or share my love of TasteyKakes.


People like us (you, me, George), we carry a special sort of vision of how humanity, and especially Friends, can be more whole. Thanks for your sharing.

Comment by Glen Retief on 8th mo. 17, 2011 at 2:35pm

I suppose my comment was too long for QuakerQuaker!  I just talked about how the writers and thinkers I most admire critique the "isms" without romaticizing oppressed culture.  Like Richard Wright in "Black Boy."  He doesn't pull any punches about white people's racism--really.  But he also talks at length about being stifled in Black culture in the 1940s.  He doesn't portray Black culture as full of this amazing wisdom and goodness.


This is the way I want to be as a Quaker--real about my experiences, not "politically correct."  I ended up saying to Liz, if this being true to myself is a form of "deflection," then so be it--I can't help it!


Presumably there are other places where George talks about what he likes about middle-class culture and dislikes about working-class.  He has GOT to be between the cultures, like you and me.  He teaches at a university,  I have to believe he is both drawn to things in the middle-class world he didn't have growing up, and yet also repelled by the sanctimonius BS of that world--its self-satisfaction and smug assumed superiority.  He ended up at FGC, after all!  You've got to have a bit of middle-class culture in your personality to cope with that...


It's so good to know we share so much in common.  I am with you on everything from the intellectual conversations to the crude joke.  In my case it wouldn't be TasteyKakes--American--but I could entertain you with a very long list of the South African equivalents, all of which I love.  Clifton Powdered Lemonade!  Instant coffee with condensed milk!  I miss so much about that world, and so much of it (like the blatant racism) I'm relieved not to have to deal with regularly...


Comment by Jon on 8th mo. 23, 2011 at 11:49pm
Thanks for the wonderful podcast!! It is well worth a listen if you have not.


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