I had nearly completed my last entry about groups that care … and I stopped short. The bump in the road? I was “geeking out”, as a friend of mine calls it, delving back into anti-classism resources for a project I’m working on, and came across this web page on class cultures (I really admire the work of Betsy Leondar-Wright, and recommend her book, Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliances for Middle-Class Activists).
I’m familiar with Barbara Jentsen and Jack Metzgar’s chart comparing professional middle class and working class cultures, but as I was re-reading that chart, I flashed to my draft post and how hopelessly “middle-class” it seemed, focusing as it does on individual satisfaction and downplaying the importance of having any job, any income for food, housing, medical care and other necessities in this tough economic climate.
Which brought me to an old debate about hierarchies of needs, and whether it’s legitimate to focus on these “higher” needs of individuation, meaning, etc. when “basic” needs have not been met. I’d like to believe that we all need to have all our key needs met, and that regardless of which class culture we find ourselves in, calls that everyone’s needs be met are legitimate or valuable. And yet I couldn’t help thinking of people I know who have been out of work for two, three years now, and how concerns about care in our work environments would have to be considered a luxury, at best something only to be addressed once you have a job or income in the first place.
So what’s my responsibility here? I can only authentically tell my story, can’t pretend to completely understand what it might be like to be out of work, facing basic survival needs. I can’t dismiss, ignore, or downplay the importance of class in determining the focus of anyone’s attention, or the role of class, and discrimination based on class, in creating the circumstances that I and others find ourselves in currently. And, to be an ally, I must continue to increase my own awareness of class’ impact on our world and my own work, and I must work to ensure that other voices are heard. I’ll keep focusing on my class-related awareness with my project, and ask a couple working-class friends to bring us their views on this question of caring. Wish me luck, stay tuned.
And a final note on why I share all this? I believe that building awareness is a continuous, ongoing process, and any time we become complacent, we risk either hitting this type of bump in the road or losing track of key issues. Collaboration requires that we recognize and value each others’ stories and strengths and challenges, and this is is my small collaborative step for today.