Quakers, inclusion and class

The attender who took me to my first Quaker meeting was a member of an association of working class academics. As the daughter of a miner she found that certain attitudes and assumptions in academia were less natural to her. Possibly that produced diffidence contributing to her delay in applying for membership. I know some Quakers have working class (WC) origins because they have told me, rather than because I have observed particular traits in them, and such observations are invidious.

There is a great difference between the child whose family inculcated a great respect for learning, and who progressed to the adult section of the library at the Working Men’s Institute (“The ‘Stute”) after reading all the children’s books; and the Quaker with a violent past who said to me “I grew up in a plague zone, and I caught the plague”. Possibly what they would both lack in childhood, and I had, is an idea that society is basically good, and set up in their interests, but even that is a huge generalisation. There is privilege here and it is difficult to put my finger on what it is. The generalisation has some use, but putting people into two Classes, six or seven, will obscure idiosyncrasies.

Class is wealth, status, education, attitudes and behaviour. There is strength in class diversity: with it, we able to speak directly to more people, and have more different perspectives.

At the diversity and inclusion gathering, I met someone else downwardly mobile, with middle-class origins, and working class jobs. It made me feel slightly less inadequate. I begin to think of what in my background might be thought of as “class” rather than idiosyncratic family background. I took copious notes, and can’t remember what exactly was said when I noted “Working class people can have deep rich spiritual lives”. It depends who’s saying it, doesn’t it, how you react to that. I am shocked it needs saying. It could be the amazed ejaculation of a MC Quaker seeing a WC Quaker minister: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. I think it was the comment of a WC origin Quaker who felt Quakers need to hear that.

How much of our practice is MC culture rather than Quaker spirituality? The Guardian and Radio 4 were mentioned as the MC indicator, but one who often cited The Guardian in ministry had I think a WC background. I don’t like “The Archers” either, but that started when I imagined myself MC.

How much of our practice is influenced by whether we are introvert or extravert?

What gets in the way of connection? People stereotype others, and judge whether they are competitors. We were told to share the joys and difficulties of our class journeys, and I have suggested that to my LM. I feel it will bring out hidden depths of diversity we already have, and help us know each other, but in the workshop we shared pain of internalised judgments and changing to fit in. A Southern child was ostracised as “posh” in Lancashire. A man lost his accent in an MC job.

Sharing the pain of these internalised judgments is a risk. I am hypersensitive to the possibility that my hearers may judge me the same way. After all, it is my judgment, so it feels right to me.

Our speaker, Lynne Cullens, an Anglican priest, found systemic barriers to achievement as the child of a lone mother in Ordsall. She said despite her degrees WC Anglicans could instantly recognise her as WC. When I met a criminal lawyer he said the clients needed to see him as on their side of the desk, with their understanding of their problems, sorting those problems out. I got better at that, doing benefits appeals with people. Lynne could see motivations MC people couldn’t. Why would you get a large telly on credit when behind with the rent? The MC social housing workers could not understand. Lynne suggested you want a sign of status even for a moment, when money was always tight and the rent arrears hardly more disastrous than other continual money problems.

In the CofE, MC people reporting on WC concerns can seem like anthropologists. We talk of hierarchy, upward and downward mobility. As a lone mum she can inspire other lone mums. People like people who are kind and compassionate. A working class church thrives with working class leadership, as with the last Anglican church I joined.

Local Friends did not like the diversity survey, with open text boxes. “If you treasure it, measure it”; but they made a quantitative result difficult. But then, Quakers might be resistant to stating “socio-economic group”, and with an open text box could give an idea quite how resistant, and produce the categories we might use later.

I got the impression that a Friend thought gender recognition reform would mean a sudden flood of “men in women’s spaces”. We are there already; whatever damage we might do, there should be evidence that it has been done; but the lie is that there is a sudden change, and a threat.

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