I posted last week about the discussion group, and I felt like posting again this evening. As you may recall, we're discussion class issues, in conjunction with reading bell hooks' book Where We Stand: Class Matters. Tonight was an interesting discussion.
A person of color came this time, who hasn't been in the group before (I think she was out of town). It changed the dynamics a lot. (There's another person of color who's come the whole time, but most of us are white women.)
So, this first timer was talking about how she doesn't get proper class respect from some staff people on campus.
Now, as a white woman, I've learned that I don't experience racism as a person of color does, and I also know that as a middle class person, I'm probably missing a lot of what happens in terms of class disrespect towards other people, too. So when a person of color tells me s/he's experienced racism, I listen, and I don't respond by saying it didn't happen or that they didn't interpret what happened accurately. And I try to do the same with class disrespect, too.
But it struck me how very much she was arguing that staff folks should respect her for her class status, and how she talked about their interactions. She said, for example, that when she "orders" someone to do something, they should do it and not question it. I'm interested in how she used "orders," here, because it's not something I usually hear someone say. I don't "order" my students to do X or Y, nor do I "order" the handyman, the roofers, staff people or whatever. I tend to use "ask." And when I ask a staff person, I don't tend to be upset if s/he asks a question about it or makes a suggestion to do something a different way.
Another white woman was also talking about how irritated she was that someone didn't show her proper respect as a tenure track person and thought she was an adjunct.
I tried to ask something (carefully worded) about how we were being defensive about our class positions, and that the book really wanted us to question the ways we uphold status and privilege through class, but I didn't get it out right and/or it didn't get taken up.
Another white colleague was trying to ask something that was ignored, so I did the feminist strategy of looking intently at her and (when a pause came up) asking her to repeat her question because I hadn't quite understood what she was getting at. And then I understood, and it was a really good question, though I didn't have an answer, but then the first timer mis-recognized it (in the, is it Lacanian or Derridean sense, of meaningful mis-recognizing?) and went elsewhere with it.
It's so difficult, sometimes, to think about what was happening.
I'm guessing the first timer thinks I'm rude, racist, whatever for going back and asking the white colleague to repeat.
Maybe she thinks I'm rude, racist, whatever because I wasn't paying her proper attention?
I'd like to think I'm not racist, or even rude, but I breathe racism along with the rest of the culture, and I don't want to lie to myself about that.
I can't tease out how much of my response to the first timer has to do with me being racist or with me reacting to her personality.
I'm also trying to think about how I expect my own class status to be respected. For example, the adjunct thing. Why should I be treated more respectfully than another person based on my job? based on my degree? Maybe respect isn't the word? I mean, on some level, we should all be treating everyone with respect. But if my job is to do X, and their job is to do Y, then asking for Y shouldn't be a sign of disrespect or a power play. And my doing X isn't a sign of disrespect.
And yet, I can't say there's no racism on this campus (I've heard stories from every person of color I know here), or that the first timer hasn't experienced racism and disrespect. But I also felt a sense of disrespect based on class coming from the first timer towards the staff people. I don't know that one disrespect trumps the other, or outweighs it.
Unfortunately, while I've enjoyed talking with the group about bell hooks' book, and I've enjoyed much of the reading, I don't have a sense the hooks has as many strategies for changing things as I'd like. I want strategies for change, still. But not too hard, because I also want to protect my privilege, of course. :|