Race and Class Grind

Been thinking about race and class recently in my encounter with a provoking Blue Oregon post by T.A. Barnhart.  Barack Obama just came to Portland, and stirred the spirits.

I was thinking about the experience of being poorer.  Not necessarily poor, or low-income.  Setting aside the complex definition of a "poor identity" (check out classmatters.org) and focusing on what existence is like when one feels, is, or acts out of a perception or reality of being poorer.

My experience with being poorer occured when my parents went into bankruptcy when I was 10.  We lived in a wealthy community, Lake Oswego (City website) , South of Portland.  I encountered talk and attention to money matters.  It wasn’t as scary as being out of college, 23, and making $8.50 an hour with nearly $20,000 in student loans, but it did instill an intense consciousness about my financial well-being.  Sometimes I feel over-anxious about money, afraid to suffer loss, and this can linger daily.  Working part-time, studying and accruing more debt.  Now planning life with a family, and moving into the workforce full-time. 

There was an intense class grind that we talked about as ministers in the Philippines.  They even used that word, grind, "hard" and I added my academic terms "subsistence" and "survival" to describe life for the mass poor.  These folks made up a super majority in the Unitarian Universalist churches.  Farmer, fisherfolk, urban working poor such as jeepney drivers, domestic helpers, buy and sell street vendors, and rarely a teacher.  The daily prayer discipline of the UU ministers, which I became very accustomed to after 6 months on the job, was more intense than being in morning prayer circle during my pastoral chaplaincy at Providence Hospital

Sudden death, jobs with low pay or swindling bosses, chronic health problems, long days of hard labor, loved ones working for 3-5 year tours overseas, all in extremely humble physical environment, near major highways with poor air quality, in homes cobbled together.  (UUA statement on Environmental Justice)

Within this context, we were ministering to folks who struggled in a daily, often painful grind.  Yet all was never lost.  Universalism was alive, optimistic, influenced by a belief in a powerful God of love and salvation for all, and a dedication to character so rich in the Unitarian tradition.  There are movements for justice, economic, social, racial, in the Philippines, just like in the US/Canada, which UU’s participate in.   (nice resource site from Columbia University)

Thinking about life under the class grind, from my own experience and from working "in the community", there is a certain mania, paranoia, a constant pressure that fogs vision and dampens our best selves.  Minutes become hours spent pondering, strategizing and preparing financially, does little to comfort and encourage our greatness.  It is not all worry, but the anxiety is there. (get more into the psychological aspects of oppression by checking out the Southeastern Cross-Cultural Issues in Counseling led by UU lay leader Dr. Leon Spencer).

I am struck by how similiar I’ve experienced racism, and how racism is articulated by many, many, many People of Color (DRUUMM definition), across the world.  I’ve heard stories from my extended time in Guatemala, Ireland, Philippines, India and Canada.  People of Color talk about "getting innoculated" from racism, which is slang for coming to an understanding of the power and privilege of race in the world.  Granted there are significant distinctions from place to place, but one of the common denominators is the "race grind" of living under various forms of institutional domination rooted in a history of white supremacy.

As someone who is moving up the so called economic ladder, with my ivy graduate degree and home ownership with low-interest mortgage, I don’t find myself compelled to escape the class or race grind (which I believe are inherently interconnected).  Instead, I maintain a daily prayer discipline that asks my heart and soul what I am doing to heal the suffering of the race and class grind at the root of roots, within our culture and institutions.

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One response to “Race and Class Grind

  1. I think it’s important for us to stop looking at race-based oppression from an Amerocentric viewpoint.

    Certainly in this hemisphere the idea of the supremacy of Europeans has reared its ugly head for hundreds of years, but so too has the supremacy of the Malays in Malaysia (one of the reasons Singapore seceded from Malaysia), the Han in modern China & Taiwan, the Japanese in Japan (the Japanese are sometimes referred to, by Japanese individuals critical of Japanese racism, as the “whites” of Asia because there has been such a strong cultural identity of Japanese superiority over the Ainu and other Asian peoples), Arabs in Iraq, Turks in Turkey…this is not a “white versus everybody else” issue; it is a universal human problem and until it is recognized as such, it isn’t going away.

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