Quaker diversity

Edwina Peart is measuring how diverse Quakers are. A friend thought the survey badly designed. Rather than the tick-boxes I see on job application diversity forms, there is a blank for whatever words you wish. So if she is measuring how many working class people there are in the Society, she first has to decide what the words used mean.

Class is difficult. George Orwell called himself “Upper-lower-upper middle class”. I think of myself as “lower-middle” class, which for me is a matter of attitudes ingrained from my upbringing. People are capitalists through their pension funds or savings, as well as workers. Pierre Bourdieu defined social, economic and cultural capital: Social capital is the resources you gain from being part of a social network and social groups; cultural capital is non-economic resources such as knowledge, skills and education; economic capital is money. I was familiar with five classes with class C divided between C1 and C2, but a BBC social survey resulted in seven classes from Elite to Precariat.

We still think of class as a matter of family origin as well as current status. Family origin affects social and cultural capital, both the groups you are in and the ways of relating that show your membership. My Friend from a family of miners was in an association of working class academics, and felt that social signifiers she had or lacked disadvantaged her in her profession.

The survey question is “How do you define your socio-economic status (class)?” It could produce all sorts of answers- by origin or current income/savings, or in terms of the five letters or new seven classes. To approximate a quantitative result, you would have to assign those verbal answers to a particular box before counting the boxes.

The survey will not confirm or deny the statement “Quakers are all middle-class”- which can feel excluding to those of us who are not, even if the speaker is lamenting the fact. It can be an expression of those social signifiers, the subconscious ways we decide who is most comfortable to talk to. It may give an idea of how we think of ourselves rather than an objective view.

I found out about the survey from the AM assistant clerk Membership. I don’t see how it can be a representative sample if it is voluntary, and publicised haphazardly.

For sex there is the Tabular Statement. The word “other” produces an element of uncertainty: I have said I want to be classified as “Woman”, but some trans people would definitely be “Other” and some would be revolted by the idea. You might be uncomfortable classifying the Attenders in your meeting, but some people might not want to be asked. It can be unpleasant putting these matters of identity into words. They are implicit, in our body language and our relations, but not stated.

Most people mould ourselves to fit the social groups we belong to, minimising our differences. Differences which should not be relevant in a worshipping community matter to us.

The survey asks “How would you describe your gender?” It asks for “gender”, not “sex”, and some say they are different: sex is a matter of reproductive organs, gender is cultural, so my gender is “feminine” rather than “woman”. The survey won’t produce numbers, so much as different stories of where some people are.

I am a trans woman, but don’t really want classified as one. See me as a person, not by that characteristic. There is some latent transphobia in the Society. No-one will refuse to worship with a trans woman, but some trans women have left, or been ejected. Being trans affects the way I am in any dispute with others. It affects the way I am seen.

If as a white person I said “Quakers are overwhelmingly white” that could seem excluding. I love YM. I can start a deep conversation with almost anyone. I spoke to a man with a different skin colour, and that was not his experience. Do we feel “colour-blind” while in fact being slightly less open to talking with people of colour? We would not ask the “Where are you from, no, where are you really from?” question; are you as open with all Quakers you meet for the first time, or does colour or class make subtle differences? I have heard that “colour-blind” is impossible for a person of colour, for you wonder how important your own colour is to the people around you.

I fear I am less open with people of colour, and my self-consciousness might make it so. I know diversity is of value to the Society, for different voices, different perspectives, different experiences enrich our common understanding. And groping for understanding, when hearing another I try to find what in my own experience fits what they are saying. Hearing that difference is difficult.

It asks national identity. Mine is Scots, as I was brought up there; English, as I had an English parent and have lived in England for many years, and British. I don’t know whether any other Quaker would specifically name those three, or whether there is a relevant difference between me and someone putting Scots and English, or British.

The survey will unearth some of the stories that we tell, and perhaps a quantitative survey would not attain the objectivity it pretends to. You can take it here.

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