Saturday, April 28, 2007

More on Class Triggers

by Fabulous Apparatus Collective and the Fabulous Participants of our February workshop (sorry for the delay!)

Fabulous Apparatus Collective's February workshop included an activity where we explored our different responses to some class-related stimuli. We put newsprints around the room, each of which described a particular situation. Then we walked around and each person wrote down the first thing that came to mind for each poster. It could be the first thought, the first feeling, or what they would first want to say or do in the situation.

The purpose is simply to notice how we may think/feel/experience the same situation very differently, based on our class background and situation, as well as other factors. The purpose was not to decide what a good or right or useful response would be. That part, we saved for the April workshop; see previous posts.

You might have a different response that's not listed here. You're welcome to add your responses by posting a comment. (First, take a look at the comment posting policy, on the right side of the screen.) Here are some highlights from the activity: (some items have been edited to reduce redundancy & ensure privacy)

A person on the street asks you for money.
  • Those are some expensive piercings you got there.
  • Argh. I could…Should I…? Shit. I dunno. This time?
  • I’ll give my last quarter…they’ve done the same for me…
  • I’ll only give a person money if they’re playing music, because I played music…hmmm…
  • I’ll give what change I have in my pocket
  • “Do you want my leftover food from dinner I just went out to”?
  • I feel terrible not giving money-if you need it badly enough to ask a stranger then I want to help-but I need my money too.
  • Feel guilty. Not always the same response-depends on the stated purpose of the request.
  • I go back and forth in my mind-sometimes give, sometimes don’t.
  • Depends. Sometimes I feel scared, especially if the person is flirting or calls me "sweetie".

"Where’d you go to college?"

  • Um…a community college..it’s small…*awkward*
  • I always say “Amherst” and never correct if people say “Oh, UMASS”. Most other students get angry if you say the wrong one.
  • Smith (How come they’re assuming I went to college?)
  • I say where I went for my undergraduate work
  • Safety now.
  • Partly at GCC, the woods, and my book collection.
  • UMASS (Insert awkward smile here).
  • Why, so you can size me up and smile when it’s not Smith?
  • Just as long as you don’t see my community college transfer I’ll be fine.

In a social situation, people are discussing their recent vacations.

  • Vacation? What’s that?
  • Jump in. Maybe even add future plans.
  • Hey, If I’m going to pay back $50,000 in school loan debt, I might as well have fun over winter break!
  • Embarrassed about the quality/frequency of my own.
  • If I just opted not to work, I could go home; would that be okay? Could I really do that?
  • Try to be invisible so they can’t say: “Oh you just have to go!”
  • Jump to tell pieces that could be shared.
  • I retreat quietly to the edge of the conversation because I have nothing to contribute.
  • I think about my last vacation.
  • Depends on who is talking.
  • Lots of listening and “wow’s”.

“Well, the world isn’t fair so you should just appreciate what you have”.

  • “You’re right, finishing my pasta may just make the starving children less hungry”.
  • That’s not fair!
  • Maybe, but I’ll dream and reach for what I want in life, that way I do appreciate what I have.
  • Ever heard of systematic/institutionalized classism/racism/etc.?
  • Don’t tell me how to be!
  • Oh, that’s helpful!
  • Fuck “the world isn’t fair”.
  • I do appreciate what I have and I don’t want to turn into a materialistic yuppie…but I want other people to have the chance to decide what they want with out your judgments.
  • That’s great Mom. Next time I see a homeless guy, Ill be sure to buy more food than I need…and then ‘really appreciate’ it.
  • Part of appreciating what you have is appreciating what others don’t have.
  • It doesn’t feel good to me when I ignore reality.
  • Can I borrow your bootstraps for a minute?

“Why aren’t you working?"

  • Like it’s any of your business anyway.
  • I am.
  • Defensive/Justifying
  • Um…Disabled and hard to find employment I can do/hours I can work.
  • Which part of the story is okay to tell?
  • “Gah. Becauuuuuuuuse myparentsgavememoney”.
  • I work all the time.
  • Judgments
  • Because I figured out how to fuck the system through play.
  • Because I couldn’t handle my last job emotionally, now you’re going to tell me I should just make money when I can.
  • When am I not working?

“I’m not rich. It’s not like my parents give me money whenever I want”.

  • My mom sent me a $200 money order and it got lost in the mail. Then two of us had to figure out other ways to pay our rent.
  • “How many people’s parents do you think do that?”
  • Rich is all relative
  • Mom gives me five here, ten there, we help each other out.
  • …but they could.
  • But how many houses does your family own?
  • But would they if you asked?
  • They don’t have to because you have their credit card!
  • My parents could, I wouldn’t ask, but I know they could.
  • Need to connect. Need to not be boxed and shipped.
  • I have to take free and expired food from work to my parent so she can eat…I’m not rich either.

Some other situations that trigger us around class:

  • Expensive sports: Skiing, crew, etc.
  • Debt. Credit cards. Debt to relatives.
  • "What do your parents do?"
  • "What’s your favorite restaurant?"
  • "Where do you grocery shop?"
  • "Where do you shop?"
  • "Why aren't you going to a 'better' school?"
  • "What did you do this weekend / over break?"
  • "How many shows do you go to?"
  • Thinking about what brand pet food I buy / other people buy.
  • Thinking about where I set my thermostat in winter.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Helpful Things

Some things we do that are helpful for fostering cross-class relationships.
by Fabulous Apparatus Collective, and the Fabulous Participants of our April 15 workshop.

  • Start conversations about class.
  • Start lots of them, with lots of different people.
  • Speak not only from experience, but also from critical analysis. (You don’t have to have been poor to assert that an economic system that creates poverty is not okay.)
  • Choose not to be triggered.
  • When friends use jargon or words I don’t know, ask them what they mean.
  • Try not to misplace blame from past hurts onto current situations.
  • Welcome people into my home.
  • Discuss class.
  • Listen well.
  • Ask people if they want to teach me what they know about class, and make sure to educate myself independently, too.
  • Push myself to continue conversations, even when they’re difficult.
  • Be honest about where I come from.
  • Be honest about money.
  • Let go of guilt and shame.
  • Do fun activities with friends that we can all afford. Talk openly about how much money we spend when we hang out together, and about whether that works for everyone.
  • Acknowledge my fuck-ups.
  • Thank people for holding me accountable.
  • Thank my allies.
  • Honor input from many different classed perspectives.
  • Make offers (of many kinds of ally-ship) without expecting validation.

For more information about Fabulous Apparatus Collective, e-mail us at fabulousapparatus at gmail dot com.

Range of Responses

A range of responses for when someone says/does something that is classist.
by Fabulous Apparatus Collective, and the Fabulous Participants of our April 15 workshop.

When we do workshops about class and cross-class relationships, people often ask us, “But what should I do?” Well, it depends, of course. When somebody says or does something that is classist, we get to decide how to respond.

Our decisions can be based on many considerations. If we have plenty of time to make a thoughtful decision, we might ask ourselves questions like:

  • What is my relationship with this person? (Is the person a friend, a colleague, a stranger, a boss?)
  • How much am I invested in this relationship?
  • What is the power balance in this relationship? What do I have to lose?
  • What is my goal here? Do I want the other person to learn something? Do I want to feel heard? Do I want to protect myself from being exposed to this classism?
Based on our answers to questions like these, we choose from a wide range of possible responses. Being aware of our many options can help us to make choices we will feel good about. Some of the possible responses we choose from are:
  • Do nothing.
  • Walk away.
  • Change the subject.
  • “This is not interesting to me.”
  • “I don’t want to talk about this.”
  • “I think this is about class.”
  • Do nothing at the time. Write a note later.
  • Ask questions to make someone think or reflect, such as

What do you mean by (a particular word or idea)?

Where did you learn that (idea or assumption)?

Can you imagine that people might have a different perspective on that?

  • Suspend my immediate reaction; wait and see what happens next.
  • Check in with others in the situation – to compare perspectives, to check on your perceptions (“I’m not crazy, right?”), and/or to decide together what to do.
  • Step in as an ally.
  • Recruit an ally.
  • Phone a friend!
  • Provide information or resources, in many different ways, such as

Correct factual errors

Printed info sheet

Suggest other resources (website, books, …)

Suggest someone else the person should talk to about it

“I have a different experience of that.”

Do a classism 101 workshop right there on the spot.

Offer to do a classism 101 workshop some other time, or suggest someone else who can do one.

  • Propose alternative explanations.
  • Question the basis or underlying assumptions.
  • “I’m sure you didn’t intend to be classist, and …”
  • “When you say ­­­_____, I feel _______.”
  • “What is funny about that ‘joke’?”
  • “That’s not funny.”
  • Quote authority. (“Well, I read a book by Big Expert, and s/he said that this is about class.”)
  • “A lot of people think that. I disagree.”
  • “I need you to stop talking now.”
  • Yell, stomp, express anger.


For more information on Fabulous Apparatus Collective, e-mail fabulousapparatus at gmail dot com.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Being a Duck on Easter

Saturday is my day of rest. I don’t usually go to religious services, and I don’t stop using electricity or anything like that, but I do try not to do anything that feels like work. Usually my Saturday involves relaxing and frivolous activities like sitting in a café, sipping expensive coffee drinks and making up stories about strangers walking by. That’s what I had in mind last week, the Saturday during Passover, which this year also happened to be the Saturday before Easter. It didn’t turn out quite as relaxing as I wanted it to.

First, I went to the medium-priced café in town. It’s where the students hang out. It’s not the fancy coffee-and-wine-bar where the professors go to “network,” but it’s not a truck stop either. While I waited for my espresso, I gazed longingly at the pastries case. Of course I couldn’t eat anything, because it was Passover. But they were there, so I looked.

To my surprise I saw a dish of chocolate-dipped macaroons. At first I felt excited, and actually flattered that the baker had thought to prepare a kosher-for-Passover treat. Then I took a closer look. The macaroons were …not normal. For one thing, they weren’t “dipped” in chocolate so much as drizzled with stripes of chocolate. But that’s neither here nor there. The real issue was that they were so cakey, I could tell the baker must have used flour to help the coconut stick together, and that automatically makes them chametz – not KP. On top of everything, the macaroons were embedded with pastel sprinkles. They looked like Easter eggs. Polka-dotted, striped Easter eggs. I thought, “Nice try, but, I guess you don’t really understand about Passover.”

After an hour or so of people-watching at the café, I went to get my hair cut. There’s a place downtown that does $10 haircuts that aren’t bad, as long as I’m lucky enough to get one of the people who understands about curly hair. Believe it or not, even a “zero fade, five on top” can be screwed up by someone trying to do something to curly hair that curly hair just doesn’t do. This time I was lucky, and my mood lifted just knowing I’d get a good, hassle-free haircut. I walked back to the sinks, where the hairdresser was waiting for me. She watched me take my yarmulke off and stuff it in my coat pocket. She washed my hair – which I love, having someone else wash my hair in a sink, even though I feel awkward getting that intimate with a stranger who I’m paying – and a minute later I was sitting up in her swivel-y barber chair. Her first question was, of course, “What are we doing today?” and once we got clear on that she asked, “So do you have any plans for Easter?”

I was flabbergasted on the inside, but I think I stayed pretty flat as I answered, “I don’t celebrate Easter.”

“Right,” she said, “I knew that. But isn’t Easter still a day to have a party, or dye eggs or something?”

I said, “For me it’s just another Sunday.” I thought, “You don’t really understand about Easter, do you?”

My Easter Saturday adventure wrapped up with a trip to the grocery store. I had to buy butter. Like most Jews, and most adult humans for that matter, I’m somewhat lactose-intolerant. But I hadn’t been able to find any KP margarine, so I figured I’d survive cooking with butter for one week. There was Easter paraphernalia all over the place, and anxious last-minute shoppers carting around hams and plastic baskets and other unfamiliar holiday accoutrements. I was wearing my yarmulke over my new hair-cut, and I felt like I must stand out like … well, like a Jew on Easter.

I found the butter, and moved toward the registers. I tried to maintain my calm, restful, Shabbos-y feeling as I waited in line. Finally it was my turn. And that’s when it got weird. I noticed the clerk noticing my yarmulke, but that’s okay, I’d probably notice too. I handed her my butter and my Big Y card. With one hand on her keypad and her eyes fixed in the middle distance over my left shoulder she asked, “Do you want to buy some Brand A bacon? It’s two for one today.”

For real? For real. I could not make this stuff up. “Um, no, thanks,” I said. And then I remembered that she’d noticed my yarmulke and I said, “So, just for future reference, if somebody’s wearing a yarmulke, chances are they don’t want to buy bacon.”

“Well!” she spat out, “I don’t like to stereotype people, or make judgments about them.”

I did not know what to say next. I was torn between thinking of all the Jews I know who do eat bacon, proudly, and thinking how dare she use good social justice language to legitimize her ignorance? And then, was I sure it was ignorance, or was she actually trying to be an ass? I mumbled out, “It’s not a stereotype, it’s, like, a rule.” She didn’t respond. I left the store.

I came home and made myself a great big pan of matzo-brie, with butter, no bacon, and the dregs of last season’s maple syrup. At least I got a good story to tell for next week’s panel talk on contemporary U.S. experiences of antisemitism.

Happy Passover. Pesach Sameach. Gut yuntuf.