"When I finished my masters..."
"My parents owned 250 acres..."
"...I discovered that those people don't have any appreciation for nature..."
"When I want to China..." (Europe, Australia, Alaska, Thailand, fill-in-the-blank)
More and more I'm seeing how privilege affects world-view. The above are types of comments I hear frequently at my Friends Meeting: They are paraphrases of statements I heard this week while at a meeting with a bunch of long time attenders of my Meeting. One man talked about working on a farm in summers while he was in college. It was hard work, physical and uncomfortable. He enjoyed it and I'm sure it taught him a lot and made him a "better" person but it was a summer job; one of many summer jobs I'm sure he could have chosen from among. It was an option for him because he was born to a life which was blessed with possibility.
Another woman, whom I love and respect and who I've always known to be gentle and loving and supportive to me and my children (and who is also a member of a minority group which is often discriminated against in our society) is one of the biggest snobs I've known in a long time. She grew up with privilege and sees under-educated working class and poor people in a very, very negative light. I'm pretty sure she is completely oblivious when she talks about "them" but she says it just like that: "THEM" as if all the people who live in the neighborhood around the Meetinghouse (excluding those who have chosen to live simply so they won't have to pay war taxes), people like my cousins who work in factories, people who's experience of public schools were only of failure and who dropped out and barely survive in our society are all the same. She talks about them as if they are all less than. It makes me very, very sad.
I come from a working class background. I barely made it out of public high school and have no higher education. I am very well self-educated. I am extremely articulate and verbal. I work for a university doing a respectable and interesting job. I work for an hourly wage. My husband and I are scrambling to figure out how we're going to pay to have our leaking roof reshingled. We would have liked to send our youngest two children to a small private school next year but couldn't afford the $8000 (total) tuition plus a car payment. We're planning a trip to Ireland within the next year but we are going to borrow against Hammy's 401k to pay for it. But we do have a 401k. And good health insurance. But I have never made more than about $13,000 a year and have never held a salaried position. But, I have stuck with this same job for 6 years and have almost doubled my hourly wage (I'm almost making enough money that I could support myself and my kids in something other than abject poverty should the need ever rise).
I feel like a woman in-between. I feel like I should be acting as an emissary between the two worlds. But how do I say to my dear friend that she is a snob? How do I broach the idea that we live like insiders, treating those not inside with some amount of disdain? How do I suggest to all these people whom I love and esteem that they are so mired in the comfort and privilege which they've always known and taken for granted that they seem to show little true compassion for the lives of individual people who come from less privileged backgrounds. And individual is the key word. Yes, we all work to end poverty, to improve the schools, to eliminate discrimination. Great! But how often do any of us sit down and have an actual conversation-between-equals with someone who is of a lower socio-economic situation? How often do we see a poor person as peer?
I feel a tremendous amount of agitation, fear and sorrow over this. Who am I to point a finger? I'm usually so harsh and judgmental about things. People get so defensive. If I suggest that the comfort in which one grows up makes one unable to show compassion that just sounds ridiculously judgemental. How can I lead people to see that we all live inside of boxes-socially constructed boxes-and the more comfort and privilege one grew up in, the thicker the walls of those boxes and the more one assumes that all boxes should be, or are, similar. "My box has wallpaper and a two story deck. And my grandparents own a small summer box upstate that my family summers at." Your box only has mirrors, no windows. The boxes of poor people sometimes only has windows and rarely ever mirrors. How do I communicate this without pushing people away? How may I punch holes in walls to make windows without making people really resentful? Nobody wants to feel guilty and this seems ripe for creating the resentment born of implied guilt.
I'm just kind of thinking "out loud" here. I don't have any answers, only this vague agitation. I open the floor to discussion, suggestions, action...hope.