Posts filed under ‘Class’

Black Friday (the Service not the Sale)

Recalling a conversation from several years ago….

“They’re having a Black Friday service”, I told my Lutheran boyfriend about my church.

“Wha- but they’re Unitarians, I didn’t think they’d observe Good Friday, and besides, it’s the wrong time of year.” he said.

“No, honey not Good Friday- Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving, when all the big sales start. It’s a special service to protest consumerism.” I explained

“As much as I hate holiday consumerism, it’s not really a spiritual occasion, is it?” He furrowed his brow, both puzzled and bemused by those goofy Unitarians.

No, it isn’t. Which is part of why I’m not going. Besides, I don’t need to be lectured about the evils of consumerism when I am actually working the Black Friday sale! After all, it’s the entire reason I had this job at Jo-Ann Fabric in the first place- excess consumerism during the holidays. The extra irony, was Unity encourages people to either make gifts or re-use stuff they have or buy used items, and here I am working in a craft and fabric store. I know they mean well, but this is one of those things they just don’t get.  Voluntary simplicity is nice idea, but I don’t need to go to a workshop to learn about it. Try mandatory simplicity that is my life, that is a lot of people’s lives, even more so than my own.

Last year while working at Macy’s I was thinking it might be nice to have some type of contemplative type service for people who have to work for the Capitalist Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Something to numb the pain- isn’t that what religion is supposed to, at least a little? I didn’t get things together enough to do it, but I think I will make the suggestion this year.

Last year, I got a call from an organization I work with, that was having a protest by Target (right in my neighborhood) for being open on Thanksgiving, and boycotts were called for against the stores that were doing it including, Macy’s where I was working, and had volunteered to work overnight for some extra pay. So, instead of protesting that people are being expected to work on Thanksgiving, just in general ask why are these people not paid more? Why do they not get good benefits- whether from their employers or the state? Why isn’t good quality affordable childcare available in this country? Why do people go to work sick? Why are so many disabled people who want to work unemployed? We love convenience- our 24 hour 365 days a week open stores, when one of them in closed for a day, oh no, how will we survive?

Well, how is it that America’s workers are surviving? So yeah. Live simply so that others can simply live- keep on with liberal do-gooding, I’m all for it, sure. But we can’t all work for non-profits, we can’t all be teachers and lawyers and all the Following Your Truly Meaningful Vocation type jobs that Unitarians and other liberals approve of. When you consider which charities to donate to this holiday season, and the whole year for that matter, consider also investing in businesses that are pay and treat their employees well, value life/work balance, that recruit and train people with disabilities, people with criminal histories that want to be a part of society, single parents, people who may have less education but still have plenty of skills and experience to offer, older workers, immigrants, young people who want a real start in their lives. Help build sustainable jobs and hold employers and investors accountable and we can build a community! Because without good jobs, we can’t donate to the church, or to save the rainforest or do any number of important things. We can only take care of ourselves and our families, and survival is not selfishness.

October 21, 2014 at 1:14 am 1 comment

Gentrification and Mixed Feelings

Alley Valkyrie has written yet another amazing essay, this one about her experiences living in a working-class Afro-Caribbean neighborhood, and how her presence there helped lead to gentrification. (link to be added!) I’m long-time city-dweller with mixed-class status and white privilege as well as a live-in caretaker of a home in which I rent out rooms to low income tenants. So yeah, I have a very complex relationship with gentrification. Neighborhoods need to be maintained and improved, yet a balance must be maintained as well. Likewise, I don’t really believe that there are “good” and “bad” neighborhoods. Those are big over-simplications with many unexamined assumptions lurking behind them.  

My neighborhood, Midway in St. Paul has fluctuated in its reputation over the time I’ve lived here. Back in 1994 my dad drove by and spotted the house and made an offer to the owner that very day. Apparently my neighbors thought he overpaid for it at the time. Many of the neighbors were elderly or middle-aged empty-nesters. There were only a handful of kids I knew, mostly younger than me. Over time, a bunch of them have moved away and younger couples (with and without kids) have moved in. There was a tattoo parlor close by (much to my parents’ chagrin), and several businesses later there’s one there again! Midway had a worse reputation then. My Dad, who is from the suburbs of Philadelphia originally, strongly believes in fighting the trends of middle-class white flight (a social trend which has had a terrible effect on Philly and many other metro areas) by staying vigilant and aware of what’s going on. He and other neighbors in our block club were in frequent contact with the police about activities they found suspicious- cars stalling by our large privacy fence might mean drug deals. Lots of people going in and out of a house might mean a drug house. And so forth. So with this vigilance, the neighborhood got better, but we try not to be complacent. We continually need to keep an eye on things. I still get comments from people, especially from suburbs about where I live. “You live there, really? Well, at least it’s not Frogtown!”  Frogtown, or Thomas-Dale is nearby, and I don’t really consider it “worse” than Midway. Different in flavor, more like. When I take the (newly finished as of June!) Green line light rail down University Avenue, I notice both neighborhoods have a mix of businesses that are newer, or have been fixed up, and ones that are run-down, and vacant buildings and a few empty lots that are waiting to be bought. There are somewhat more of the latter in Frogtown, but there are also improvements in the works. There are lots of immigrants from Southeast Asia- Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia. Many of them have lived here for a couple of generations at least. There are more recent immigrants from Northeastern Africa- chiefly Ethiopia & Somalia. There are Black Americans and European American whose families have live in this country much longer. I suppose this diversity scares some people, but I find their own ignorance scarier. I think the mix of cultures makes things interesting. For one, I can go have Cambodian for dinner, then have breakfast at the Finnish bistro the next morning!

We have Hamline University, and not too far away, Macalester College and St. Catherine’s, St. Thomas, and in the other direction, the University of Minnesota.  Having all these educational institutions nearby. Oddly though, I’ve never rented to any students before (as my parents and many neighbors expected to happen), I’ve gotten a few Craiglist responses from students, and shown the house to a few, but none of them ever worked out.

Just as with things in nature, neighborhoods and cities have cycles. And different neighborhoods and cities go thru phases of the cycles at different times. I could do some homework on urban studies and sociology to get into more , but I intuitively know what some these cycles are without doing that. I’ve watched them over the years just as I see the dramatic turns of Minnesota seasons. I already mentioned one- generational cycles. Waves of people often move in or out of a neighborhood at particular times. Individual buildings and businesses go thru cycles. A change in one individual’s decision of where to live, or whether to renovate their home or business or build a new one, influences others decisions. Each neighborhood and city has its own social and economic balance that it needs to maintain in order for people to get what they need. And within a metropolitan area like the Twin Cities, each adjoining town or city tries to find niches to fill within that context. Within a city, a neighborhood tries to figure out its own niche. In St. Paul and Minneapolis, each neighborhood has a name and a council (some are larger, more organized and do more things than others, and it also depends on what other non-profits exist that focus on that area, or if a city or state government decides to fund a special business development program there and so forth.
I feel my neighborhood is pretty good about maintaining the necessary equilibrium, without going into full-blown gentrification mode.

September 5, 2014 at 3:39 am Leave a comment

Smoking as a Class Issue

Among the conversations I got into with my family while on vacation was some of my relatives expressing befuddlement as they traveled across Montana and Wyoming that OMG, There are Still All These People who smoke? How strange, I mean, *I don’t know anyone who smokes* What decade is this anyway? sorta comments. At some point I pointed out that these days, smoking is something of a class difference. It used to be that smoking was pretty evenly common among every class of people. The smoking rate has gone way down with rising awareness of health risks, social pressure and anti-smoking laws. But it tends to still be higher among working-class and poor people, at least in the U.S. This may seem counter-intuitive considering how expensive smokes can be, but consider this: nicotine is a stimulant- many of these folks are on their feet all day, and smoking gives them a little extra energy. Smoking can relieve stress, and many of them are very over-stressed. Yes middle class people are also often very stressed, but have more options for stress-relieving techniques. They also are more likely to be able to access smoke-quitting programs, alternatives like e-cigs (which have a high upfront cost) therapy etc. Many people who are recovering from alcoholism, addiction or mental illness smoke as a stress reliever. Once again low income= less access to recovery programs/therapy etc. A smoke, a drink or a favorite food that might be seen as comparatively bad uses of money and unhealthy choices are simple pleasures low-income people can access after a hard day (or night). I suspect that if my one uncle who lives on an Indian reservation was present, he probably would’ve backed up some of my reasons. Some of them seem to be acknowledged, but mostly my view was overpowered by White Middle-Class Liberals Know Best self-righteousness.

Now I’m not saying smoking is this great habit that we should all take up. I’m saying that think before you swoop down and condemn “Those People” for being foolish, short-sighted, selfish or whatever for smoking. I was reminded of all this while reading Nornoriel’s post in which he points out that as a coping/stress release technique smoking a couple times a week is not as bad as many people claim. “Vice” taxes on tobacco and liquor don’t really work, and essentially function as regressive taxes that have more of an impact on poor people. Which I suspect, is exactly what they’re intended to do. I wonder what would happen if someone were to propose a special tax on coffee. Everyone would pitch a fit. That’s the “acceptable” vice that people of all classes partake in. Both sleep-deprived office workers and truck drivers alike are dependent on caffeine. It’s a drug that makes you a good productive capitalist worker. Unlike say, marijuana…

 

August 28, 2014 at 2:50 am 2 comments

Myth of the Perfect Social Justice Ally

Thanks to the internet, there are lists of “How to Be a Good Ally” directed towards members of many different social advantaged groups: whites, heterosexuals, men, middle/upper class people, able-bodied, neurotypical, and cisgendered (that’s non-transgendered) people. While that’s fine and dandy and many of them do give good advice, I still don’t call myself an ally. There is way too much baggage attached to it, and activism is already hard enough!

There is myth of the perfect ally held among white & class privileged people, and its why I find white anti-racism groups to be hostile to newcomers, certain exceptionally enlightened white people think they can do no wrong and jump on other people when they mess up. Good intentions are no excuse for ignorance, prospective allies are told in every possible type of ism-fighting group. It’s not my responsibility to educate you, use Google if you have a question!

Now, I can understand impatience and distrust from people of various non-dominant groups. Many of them who have fought long and hard in the trenches know there is no magical exceptionally enlightened cadre of white folks, men, heterosexuals etc. I realize as a person with various privileges, I will have to prove myself again and again, and some people will never completely trust me. I don’t blame them. But it is extra hypocritical and annoying to get this from people who have the same privileges- and often more privilege than me. What’s so special about them? They went to the right grad school and studied with Cornell West or Judith Butler? They’re teaching in the South Side of Chicago? They’re good anarchist vegan Buddhists? They betrayed whatever dominant group they belong to, and have suffered mightily for it?  Please. Whatever they’ve done, they too are the product of a racist/classist/everything else-ist society, and they continually need to unlearn that. They’re only one slip-up away from losing that book contract or speaking gig about diversity issues. Gee, that sounded kind of bitter. Yes I admit that maybe I’m a little jealous of career activists. But my point stands- there is no perfect ally!

I suppose if I didn’t belong to any non-dominant/oppressed groups, this empathy would be a lot harder for me. But I know many times, reaching out to non-autistic people, and even autistic people who have a negative Autism Speaks view autism, is hard. I don’t have the luxury of brushing them off and telling them to “just Google it” when they ask me questions that seem ignorant. I try to meet people where they are. Sometimes I get frustrated with people who claim to support people with autism but go about it in (I think) the wrong way.  But I try to set aside my anger and explain how I feel.  And I have to deal with difficulties of communicating with a neurotypical each time I do that.

Every “ism” is different, every person who experiences and benefits in different way from each “ism” is different. We all have our journey we have to take in understanding that. Some people won’t get very far on those journeys, but they won’t even be able to start if we won’t talk to them.

August 8, 2014 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

Who’s With Me?

In our very divided world, that’s the question that is always asked. Man or Woman? Gay or Straight? Black or White? Liberal or Conservative? Christian or Atheist? There is almost always only two options, nothing in between can be a trustworthy position. That person is light-skinned- are they “really” Black or white? We can’t trust the bisexuals, or the trans*, or genderqueer folks- they have to pick a side. You’re too moderate, you can’t caucus with us.

For some time now, a religious division has been arising, in small subset of the population- Pagans vs. Polytheists. Some “hard”- (the gods are totally separate) polytheists argue that the Pagan subculture emphasizes an all-Gods-are one theology,  a secularized hippie culture that doesn’t fit with their values, and has a bias towards Wicca, and religions that resemble it. There was conference last weekend, the Polytheist Leadership Conference in Fishkill, New York that discussed many of these issues. I’m glad to hear of its success- many thoughtful, talented and dedicated people were involved in it, and plans are being made for another one next year. I’m glad to see polytheist traditions grow and develop spiritually and intellectually. I’ll talk more about that in another post. But for now I will put this into perspective in my own life.

As I’ve discussed before, I’ve tried to do what I can for my local Pagan community. I’ve served in a couple of leadership positions, I’ve tried started groves that haven’t gotten off the ground due to different scheduling and commitment issues. Other people have planted groves in places I couldn’t get to by bus. I’ve accepted that. I was in a cult-like Celtic group at one point. I moved on from that, and in keep with the subcultures code of silence regarding abuse, I even kept my experiences to myself. (A decision that I am not proud of)

One of the things that has kept me going, in the Neo-Pagan subculture is, as an autistic person, and one who suffers from depression & anxiety, it was one of the few places I could feel truly accepted. I rarely had to explain myself, my quirks, my difficulties. No matter what, there was always someone at a Pagan gathering who was weirder than me. Some of them are autistic or neurodiverse- wired to be weird. Some of them just had a goofy personality.

But acceptance isn’t enough. I’m very fortunate, for an adult on the autism spectrum. I was identified at an early age. I had the opportunity to go to college, and one with a great learning disability program to boot. I completed my degree. I live in a community with many social services for people with disabilities, and a fairly good awareness of autism. I’ve never been homeless, I’ve for the most part avoided the abuse folks with disabilities so often receive from various “loved ones”. I’ve met many others who weren’t so lucky. I can do a lot to help these other people, but I need to help myself first. But I can’t do it all alone.

Whenever I look for work, I rarely think of asking other Pagans for help. It always seems like they’re struggling to keep afloat. The economy sucks, and some of them have disabilities too. Maybe the more well-off and well-adjusted Pagans keep to themselves. Besides, it always seems like much like when I go to one of my sci-fi or gamer-geek events, people come to Pagan events to escape their “mundane lives”. To reconnect with the past, their ancestors, their gods. Their cultural roots. All the things they feel the need to deny and bury and hide when they go back to work. They don’t want to talk about that stuff. It’s just too depressing. I don’t blame them. Many Pagans have strong political opinions, but I rarely see them at the political events I attend. Maybe they’re too busy with their religious activities- or geeky activities. Maybe they are more involved in radical anarchist type groups. I don’t know.

I go to Unity, and sometimes I feel as if everyone there has their lives together- at least if they don’t, they don’t seem to advertise it as much as Pagans do. Sometimes maybe Unitarians are a little out of touch in some ways. Maybe a little too privileged, or idealistic or optimistic. Most of them don’t know a lot about Paganism beyond Wicca or feminist Goddess worship 101. But it still seems they are a lot more in touch with reality than most Pagans I meet. Certainly I go to church in part to relax, to find support and community, but the Unitarians very much ground themselves in the issues that are happening in the community- locally and globally. I wasn’t sure how to ask them for help either. I went to their “career transitions” support group, which mostly was populated by middle-aged job seekers who didn’t seem to know what advice to give me.

So look folks- I know we want to talk theology, or ritual design, or spirit work. Or sometimes things like should we raise funds for a building, or what the role(s) of clergy should be. We’re a religious community those things should naturally be our focus. What about people in small town and rural areas? Many of them just one understanding person to talk to them about their religion, in their town, regardless of their personal beliefs. What about people who are getting out of prison (or are currently there) whom society rarely gives second chances to?

Some folks involved in the conference are primarily spirit-workers, they have stated, and I understand this- that their primary calling is serving the spirits and the gods, rather than the community- or that they serve the community by serving the gods. That’s fine. I can respect that. I feel called to serve the gods by serving community. I’d just like to remind you of something. Yes the gods have been neglected for thousands of years, and they want our attention. But the gods are not going to starve if you don’t feed them, or freeze on the streets if you don’t house them. They will not commit suicide if they feel alone, abused by their families or spiritual leaders, abandoned by the American Dream.

So I ask you, are you with me?

July 17, 2014 at 12:57 am 2 comments

A Privileged Low-Income/Disabled Pagan’s Thoughts on Money

(90% of this is pretty relevant to non-Pagans)

The whole time I’ve been Pagan, I’ve been low-income- either a student (thus socially OK to be unemployed) unemployed (not so OK) or underemployed. I also have several learning disabilities that have made employment and everyday life harder for me. But I’m also comparatively privileged- I’m considered “white”, college-educated, from a college educated family. Though I’ve had money worries, I haven’t had to go without food, housing or other necessities. I get healthcare thru the state, and my parents who live out of state own a home, so I can live there rent-free and rent out rooms to tenants. My partner has a good job and he helps support me. I also don’t own a car or have children, so those are major expenses I don’t have. I am fortunate to live in a metropolitan area with a fairly decent public transit system, and many Pagan groups. So I have unique view of some of the articles I’ve been reading about the money should play in the Pagan community. I’m not even going to touch on the magical/metaphysical aspects of this, as I’ve never been a practitioner of magic, but I’m linking to articles about magic nonetheless.

I always donate at least a little something to Pagan events I attend. However this is something I’ve been able to do. I’m a fan of sliding scale fees and scholarships to make events more accessible. I’m a fan of carpooling and sharing rooms at conferences- and I will offer to chip in with people who give me rides. (Heck I don’t even mind sleeping on the floor- I’m young and able-bodied, have air mattress, will travel!) I try to volunteer when I can.

I’ve worked on weekends and evenings a lot at my current job, and I don’t think it’s an evil capitalist conspiracy that events are typically scheduled at those times. I’ve had trouble organizing Pagan groups before due to people’s conflicting work schedules. You need to have enough people that have a compatible enough schedules that they can work together. The person with the random, unpredictable work schedule may just have to show up when they are able. It would be great actually to have a coven or grove that specifically met at times compatible for people who work second or third shift. The people doing this would probably have to be less fussy about what specific type of Paganism it entailed, but it can get lonely having a schedule that is the opposite of most of your friends.

Having rituals is homes may be cheaper than renting space, but it often means they are not handicap accessible, or in places not accessible to public transit. It will also mean people will have less control over potential issues like chemical sensitivities, pet allergies etc.

There are people who choose jobs that give them more time than money- in order to focus on spiritual work, arts, family. We need to do more to support these folks.

I’ve also known people-both Pagan and not- whose lives constantly were in a state of chaos, or moving from crisis to crisis. It is true what Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth say in the Patheos comments- chaos and poverty can be a self-perpetuating cycle. The essence of poverty, as I’ve learned is the lack of choices. We need to create environments where people can talk about the issues they face especially before they reach a crisis point. If they don’t feel ashamed, then we may be able to help them get a job (or one that pays better/has benefits/is more compatible for scheduling) or with transitional housing, or foster their dog so they can get a more affordable apartment, navigate social services, legal systems etc.

There are some people, however who do keep making the same Bad Decisions– over and over and over again. And we may try to help them, and realize after we rescue them from several crises, that we are encouraging them. But they are adults. We can’t force them to get mental health help, or treatment for their addictions, or learn to better manage their finances, or dump the abusive partner, or use birth control/condoms,or show up to their court date/case manager meeting/doctor appt/job interview etc.  And I believe in redemption, and second and third chances and trying not to judge people too harshly. But we also need to take care of ourselves, and our communities, and our leaders/clergy who can get overburdened easily. I will also use this opportunity to plug support for funding/volunteering for transitional programs that help people get out of poverty and give support to people who need it (recovering addicts, mentally ill, disabled folks etc) rather than the bare minimum emergency services that are often the only thing left after budget cuts.

(See Rose’s post on Homelessness to better understand the need for transitional services, and the flaws in current shelter policies.)

Blog Posts on Paganism/Magic & Money

Why Free Events Discriminate Against the Pagan Poor by Sable Aradia

I wanted to like this article, I felt there were good intentions behind it but way too much sloppy political and economic thinking.

Ruadhan has a great response here: LOLbertarians & Rampant Classism on Patheos

A Poor Magician is a Poor Magician & Poor Magicians, Good Magicians by John Beckett

No One Will Be Turned Away for Lack of Funds, and Money is Bad, Right? by Pagan Activist

Some views from Atheists/Humanists:

How to Make Organized Atheism More Accessible to the Poor

June 26, 2014 at 1:34 am 4 comments

White Deviance, Pagan Angst

Earlier for one of the “D” posts for the Pagan Blog Project, I planned on writing about how the Neo-Pagan movement is, in part a manifestation of white deviance. I realized though that I did not want assume knowledge on the part of the readers about sociology or Critical Race Theory, the lens through which I’m approaching this.  Social deviance is a sociological concept- it means straying from social norms of what is considered social acceptable and expected behavior in a given culture.

Critical Race Theory, and its offshoot of whiteness studies, views race as a social construction and seeks to critique and deconstruct race as a social category. Blaargh- see I can’t define it very well, so go read the above link!

There really is no one concept of “whiteness” or “white culture”- it will become apparent from reading the blog Stuff White People Like that is reflective of a certain kind of white people- it’s a pretty spot-on description of Unitarians actually! Who society considers white and who gets white privilege has changed over time- at one time only English Protestants were considered white, but as various European ethnic groups assimilated and become upwardly mobile they became “whitened”.

Still there are typically standards in a given social context of what a “proper white person” looks, dresses, acts etc- middle or upper-class, educated, heterosexual (or “straight-acting” homosexual), cis-gendered (non-transgender) Christian (or atheist/agnostic/secular in some contexts)  White people who do not conform to these norms are stigmatized as white trash, rednecks or with various other labels, and people of color who do not fit into these norms are typically stigmatized even more.

Anyway, since most whites have at most a symbolic ethnicity– a watered down identity based on nostalgia for the Old Country, certain foods, holidays etc. if they feel unsatisfied or not included by dominant forms of white culture they create their own subcultures to identify with- some are more deviant, others more accepted. Skaters, goths, punks, hippies, geeks, GLBTQ+ subcultures and so forth.

When people of color pursue an interest in mostly white subculture- even one that prides itself on being progressive, they frequently encounter racism. Because whiteness is such an unexamined “norm”, Pagans, geeks et al. often do not realize that they are pursuing a different way of being white, thereby excluding non-whites with interests in those subcultures.

Being a hippie or being a “bohemian” both in the United States and Europe has frequently gone along with appropriating aspects of Black and indigenous cultures- particularly in music, dress and spirituality. While these white deviant subcultures tend be seen as threatening to the white dominated social structure at first they are often co-opted by the very institutions the white deviants are trying to reject.

Instead of truly critiquing, examining and challenging the dominant power structure, white deviant subcultures end up becoming the rebellious children of Big White Daddy- be it of the government, business, media, church. We give up the privileges that come with conformity but are shocked when we are mistreated by society. If the social cost comes too high we may go back home to Big White Daddy. And he might give us crap for not going to church, or having the right job, or sexual behavior or hobbies or what have you. But we still have that option- our brothers and sisters of color do not. (Nor do our trans* friends who can’t “pass” as cisgender, or our disabled friends that can’t
“pass” as able-bodied or neurotypical.) That is the profoundly alienating contradiction that they must face- can they really trust these rebels?

When we talk about getting Paganism to be accepted in the “mainstream”- are we really unconsciously saying “I want the cultural definition of acceptable whiteness to include Paganism”? How do we instead, make examining and challenging whiteness a part of our Paganisms?

April 18, 2014 at 1:05 am 2 comments

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