Query: How to open discussion with a poor-basher?

Dear Class Action, What should I do? My neighbor in my conservative rural town emailed this racist/classist piece of junk to me. I need some advice on what to do next.

I asked the one who sent it to me and another womyn if they had any interest in coming to my house and watching the documentary on low-wage workers called “Waging a Living”. She said that she’s open to anything that will enlighten her. She was sincere and I may get up to 10 such people to come, here in rural USA. It is a good teaching opportunity.

The last time I organized a showing of “What I Want My Words To Do To You,” I fell flat on the discussion part. I get choked up or emotional and don’t know how to guide a discussion.

Could you help me form questions that will lead to a good discussion? I’m just not good at it. I find that I am avoiding the “R” word and the “C” word to not shut down discussion. I can talk about cultural stereotypes, but I think if the questions are more open ended, people will get less defensive. In the 80’s we banged people over the head and that sure didn’t work!

There is a real need to talk about class. I’ll do anything to further that. There’s also a link, I think, between spirituality and class. I don’t even know where to start with that, but that seems to be a major connection with the people I’m dealing with here.

I’m learning a whole new language to communicate about these issues instead of calling names or really separating that individual from myself. And I really can’t. I’m learning how to put spirituality together with politics, and everything is political. The personal is political, as is the political personal.

Sincerely,
Lena Rothman

5 Responses

  1. Lena Rothman
    Lena

    Thank you David. I will use some of that quiz. Documentation is always helpful and yes please let me know how to get it.

    It’s also been suggested that I ask about what their experiences with difference has been. The womyn I’m talking about was a Hare Krishna so I know she’s had some experience. At this point I feel that the racism in this community is so ingrained I need some heavier tools to reflect back to them the ugliness of her acceptance of that letter as fact.

    I just watched “Waging A Living” again and what an amazing documentary that is. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. I think this doc will do more to dismantle their stereotypical, racist, classist beliefs because it not only shows the reality of people struggling to earn a living but also shows how punitive the welfare system is by depicting a womyn who is working very hard to get her associates degree, work a job, care for her children and with each accomplishment or increase in her finanacial status she is punished by the system reducing her benefits and losing more than she gained. It becomes obvious why the welfare system induces people to lie or work “under the table” just to survive. It’s called “hustlin backwards.”

  2. Corinna

    Hi Lena,

    This sounds like an ambitious undertaking, but certainly worthwhile. If I were in your role, I’d try to validate the concerns people are bringing about their own lives – their needs, desires, etc. I think people get pitted against each other when we think there aren’t enough resources for this woman to get health care and make the best decisions about her body that she can make and for us to earn enough money to live a reasonably fulfilling lifestyle after taxes. I think if you can find common ground with them about the kind of world they want to live in and how to get there – including investing in community infrastructure like roads, schools, and health care – you might be able to turn their focus on corporate level greed and free-loading, military expenses, you know, the real culprits!

    There’s also the issue of bodily autonomy. I don’t know if the person who forwarded it to you is pro-choice, but we walk a dangerous line when we think we can tell people what they should do with their bodies – whether it’s smoking, eating, drinking, or carrying a pregnancy to term. Anyway, tt the end of the day, it’s not rich people’s decisions and bodies that will be policed and criminalized.

    Good luck!

  3. Lena Rothman
    Lena

    Hi Corinna
    Thanks for your response. On one hand (the humanistic hand) I think you’re right about validating her concerns but honestly when people have so much and are used to having what they want, when they want it, and they need scapegoats because they might have to go into their trust funds I don’t know that I can give away even more and be Christlike without resentment. Once again, why would I be the one to over extend myself by taking care of their negativity, their racism and classism? I am asking for help in how to do this and it seems that I have to baby these people into learning. The ones that learn about race and class are those that want to, not the ones that I have to coddle to unlearn their prejudices. I might do as you suggest but on this blog site I want to be more honest about how I feel.

    In this same community I was going to provide a service and was told by a wealthy older womyn who lives off of her $1200 a month interest from her trust fund that she couldn’t afford to pay me. It is all relative to an extent but that was ridiculous. No one wants to take money out of their accounts but what of those of us, the majority actually, that barely has any savings. We shouldn’t get paid for our work?

  4. Corinna

    Hi Lena,

    I don’t think I realized these folks had more class privilege than you; I thought they were your class peers. You’re right, you shouldn’t have to coddle or hold people’s hands to get them to open their minds to their own privilege and the ways they’re oppressing other people. So often, those of us with privilege want people to make us totally comfortable so that then we’ll be willing to learn and grow. I know that as a white woman, if I get called out on racism and it’s so upsetting to me that I feel sick or tingly all over or I burst into tears that that’s probably a GOOD thing – it will leave an imprint on my body from the inside out of how my own racism is hurting me and other people and I’m probably more likely to stop doing whatever I was doing before.

    And you absolutely deserved to get paid for your labor. Hell, I used to say that if we paid parents to stay home and take care of their children what we paid to lock them up and put their kids into foster care, our country would be a radically different place. Maybe that’s a bit of a tangent, and I think what you’re describing is this elderly wealthy woman’s feeling of scarcity that leads her to be stingy. I have a long-time, very close friend who I struggle with on this. I’ve watched her grow and really challenge herself to feel more at ease spending money, but it doesn’t come naturally to her. Even though she has plenty of resources, every time I talk to her she brings up not having enough money. I love her dearly so I try to validate the things she’s saying that I think are valid and challenge her when and where I can without alienating her; meanwhile, my mom works two jobs making little more than minimum wage, my sister had to drop out of high school to help pay the rent, and my aunt and uncle are essentially homeless. Relativism stops meaning anything to me at a certain point – like you said, MOST people are poor and working class and other people’s views are just totally skewed. It feels like it’s our burden to help reorient them.

  5. Lena Rothman
    Lena

    You say that you have class privelege so why is your mom working two jobs barely higher than minimum wage? And your sister dropping out of highschool to help pay the rent doesn’t sound like class privelege to me. I don’t want to get into your family’s business but I’m confused.

    The one comment I want to respond to though is “if I get called out on racism and it’s so upsetting to me that I feel sick or tingly all over or I burst into tears that that’s probably a GOOD thing –” I’m not so sure about that because I’ve talked and listened to wimin of color about this very thing about white people crying when called on their racism or classism. To tell you the truth, although I validate your feelings because they are yours, the crying when called out feels like a manipulation and is taken that way by oppressed peoples. It makes me feel bad when I see people cry and it does manipulate me. I would say if you can toughen it up and own it, do what you need to do in private because it just doesn’t do anything positive for building cross cultural alliances.

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