Sunday, May 20, 2012

Subtle classism

I didn’t get to finish college. I started, but then life got in the way. It happens all the time. Me, I quit school to go to work full time and help support my family. My dad was dead and we were poor, so there wasn’t much choice. It didn’t stop me from learning it just stopped me from going to “a traditional school.” Instead, I went to what they use to call “The school of hard knocks” but it’s really just life.
This past year, though I had the chance to be part of The Clemente Course in the humanities at the Care Center in Holyoke. A bunch of “non-traditional” students gets to study the humanities twice a week for eight months. Writing, literature, art history, American history, and moral philosophy--> We range in age from early 20’s to 60+ years. I’m at the top end of the age group, with only two other women older than me, mostly Hispanic but a good mix of black, white and “other.”
This week we are starting on the last part of the course, moral philosophy. I’ve made friends I probably would have never met otherwise, both students and hopefully teachers. You see, the teachers get it. They get why the humanities are an important part of learning, but some people don’t.
I started this post because this past week I’ve been floored by statements made by people who, you would think, should know better. One statement was in a recounting of a conversation, which brought to mind another statement made late last year, and the other happened just the other day at a meeting.
Anyway, last Thursday, Kent, our lit teacher and coordinator of the course asked to speak to a couple of us. He was writing an article on the course for a publication and because his word count was limited, he needed some advice. What was it about humanities that made it worth studying to non-traditional students? The question arose out of a conversation he had when asked about his work. The person he was speaking to asked him why learning the humanities was important to the students in the Clemente Course and wouldn’t it be better if we were taught a skill in stead? I mean, really, WTF--talk about academic privilege and classism. This brought to mind a statement about the benefits of mixed income housing, so the more affluent in the community would have workers close by that would work cheap. Duhhh! And this from the head of the local non-profit low-income housing agency. We call people like that “Poverty pimps.”
This week I was at a meeting to try and sort out some issues that came up between members of a coalition we, Arise, belong to. We were talking about how Arise as an organization was perceived by some of the coalition members, as if because we were intelligent, politically astute, knowledgeable about social justice, and have a power analysis from a poor people’s perspective, we must have been to college. We must be one of privileged. So when there was a misunderstanding, and we got accused of trying to steal/horn in on/takeover a campaign that not even one Arise member had been working on, and that we, as a poor people’s organization had been looking at as part of a solution for homelessness, for years, at least 10 years and the accuser was one of the ‘up and coming’ leaders of the organization the coalition started, and when one of the strategies of the coalition was to shake up the privileged class, nobody said Boo! So in building a new organization/coalition from a grassroots base where members, the people, are the driving force, well then our voices not only weren’t as important but all of a sudden we weren’t to be trusted? When I said academic privilege in the context of perception, OMFG did I hit a nerve. The people at the table just stared with blank looks. Kind of like “What? Who? Me? I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t feel guilty for going to collage.’ ” Gee, do you think they/he really didn’t know what academic privilege was? To me, it sounded like guilt, a lot of guilt. Whether it was guilt because of academic privilege or guilt because they got called on their shit or just the exceedingly high levels of testosterone in the room, I can’t say for sure, it could be any one or all three. What I do know is that at that meeting, there were nine of us, 3 men and six women, 2 other male regulars were not there and one of the women that was there is not usually involved in this specific work. All of the men, including those not in attendance, have at least a bachelors’ degree and only 2 of the women, I know for sure went to college this included the woman who isn’t usually involved. The rest of us learned this shit the hard way, by living it every day.
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1 comment:

john said...

I am so very encouraged to see and hear candid response, where candor is what is called for. Thank you Arise members for being truthful, and never losing sight of the goals at hand.