writing

Calm Down, No One Thinks Class is More Important than Race 

I’ve been in the community organizing and activism game for a long time. I was an activist in junior high, which is when I got a teacher fired for being both incompetent and bigoted by circulating and organizing a petition. I’ve been doing that work ever since. In high school, myself and other community leaders ended the racial violence that permeated our poor, but diverse campus. I helped bring the first Black History Month rally to our campus. I also intervened to get access to advanced classes for my friends, among many other fun stories I’ll save for another time.

When I got to college, I wanted to study and not be involved. But unfortunately, as one of only 12 percent of the Stanford campus that was poor and one of the 3 percent that was both poor and white, I sort of realized quickly that I didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Among my many acts on campus, I was instrumental in creating the first group for poor and first generation college students at an elite institution. I also forced Stanford to adopt class as part of their Acts  of Intolerance protocol and participated in creating and advocating for training for staff members who were dealing with poor and traumatized students. One of my last acts was to speak at a rally against Arizona’s “show me your papers law” as a working class person who implored others to fight alongside my immigrant neighbors and to fight racial injustice. As a teacher, my curriculum included the teaching of every single movement in the 60s and my signature unit was on the Black Freedom Struggle where I featured the Black Panthers. I also closed the achievement gap between my nonwhite and white students and poor and rich students in my first semester of classroom teaching. So now that I’ve stated my credentials, I hope you can hear what I am about to say to you. Race is a profoundly salient and destructive construct, whose systematic oppression has brought hell on earth for far too many. I will fight it, always. I would happily die for the cause of fighting it.

But if you think that my talking about class or my talking about being poor and white is somehow taking away from that fight or demonstrates that I think class is more important, you are being an unhelpful dick and I have to question your motives.

Do you know how many universities in this country even have researchers studying class as a category of analysis? I do. And it’s very fucking few. There is very little research that has been done and this is partially why I am not in a doctoral program. I was rejected from several schools because I studied class, even though my work also involves the study of race. 

Here’s how little we understand about class in this country: several of you require that I regularly provide evidence that I grew up poor. All the time. Everyday. Every fucking day for ten years, I have had to prove that poverty was a problem for me to self proclaimed socialists and Marxists.

Only one editor on the entire Stanford campus would accept my writing on class and I’m married to him. When I got to Stanford they wouldn’t even use the word “low income” because of the “stigma” involved. It took four years just to get them to do that. I hate interacting with most of the people who claim to be my ally because say things like, “those people are poor because they don’t work hard enough.” I spent four years just fighting to be able to say the truth, and most of my opposition came from people who claim to be helping the oppressed. 

And I get this. There are limited resources and people of color have suffered a lot and it feels like and has historically been the case that we’ve pitted these two against each other. I understand why that concerns people. I understand why  people assumed things and silenced me. That fear is real. 

But… I also think we are ALL adults who can do things differently and talk about both at the same time. And I also think that dividing us up, such that we don’t work together is exactly what the oppressors want. We can support each other at the same time. I can ride hard for people of color and also get justice for the poor. I can even do it with my white passing skin.

How do I know?

I’ve been doing it my whole life. 

Why? 

Because I’ve never lived anywhere where I was in the racial majority and my family is mixed and I’m also mixed. And this is true for literally every poor white person I know, including the bikers. And we don’t let people we love be oppressed without at least trying to do something about it. We see it as a communal struggle, regardless of how we personally identify. 

I am not asking to take anything anyway from anyone. I am simply asking, rather nicely, for a fucking seat at the table. Need me to do something to fight racial injustice? I will happily show up anytime. So if you could stop misrepresenting my position that would be great.

I’ll never forget the last night of the monologue show I put together my senior year while three of my relatives died due to substandard healthcare. We called it Wealth of Words and it was a  series of monologues where people simply spoke about what it was like to be poor at Stanford. During the Q&A, a very prominent activist for the Asian American community asked me if we “were engaging in class warfare?”

It’s funny how they only call it class warfare when it’s the poor fighting the rich, isn’t it? 

You want to tell people to check their privilege? Then check yours first. Y’all have been talking a big game about socialist uprisings, now is the time to see if you mean it. Because here’s what I know, the people that will be paying for the left’s failures to stop Trump are mine. The college kids at Yale are protected and sheltered. It’s my people who will pay the cost of this in their blood. I have played nice up until now, but if it’s the difference between hurting your feelings or having all of you hate me and preventing the deaths of my own folks, you might as well start hating me now. This is the last time I’ll be asking. 

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