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On Intersectional Solidarity
The Cultural Responsiveness Organizational Self-Assessment

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Having fresh in my mind the conversations I had recently in Arcata with Executive Directors of the Far North Region, and with many colleagues at the Annual Membership Meeting, I have the sense that our field is looking in the mirror—exploring options and being willing to move toward a more just place for all, that some of us might call a path to equity, or perhaps collective liberation.

Being a woman of color myself, I navigate every day “that” imaginary continuum, experiencing privilege in some areas and oppression in others. I hold with clarity and gratitude aspects of both locations, looking for opportunities to exercise my responsibilities as an agent of change. Just as I do, you too occupy at different times, either dominant or subordinate positions of power relative to different individuals and relative to different contexts. Therefore, developing intersectional solidarity to advance social justice agendas need to be bold and consistent. We need to uncover implicit bias and recognize and confront explicit biases every day. We need to support each other in radical ways. We need to step out of our comfort zone, and seek and learn deliberately and intentionally.

DOMINANT

(Power to change conditions, but “blinded” to problems & conflicts)

Responsibility/Opportunity:

Listening, Empathizing, Responding

SUBORDINATE

(Little external power, but have insight into problems & conflicts)

Responsibility/Opportunity:

Naming, Speaking Up

It is in this spirit that I want to invite you to explore the Cultural Responsiveness Organizational Self-Assessment (CROS), and to read the first of a three part document created by Showing Up For Social Justice.

Part 1

This living document was created by the SURJ poor and working-class group as an act of love and commitment to our common desire, across the class spectrum, to bring white folks into action, dismantle white supremacy and engage with the complex struggle and beauty of collective liberation.

Some framing: White people working together to dismantle racism is critical work. Attempting to do this work without acknowledgment and thoughtfulness to how class affects folk’s experience of race limits a true understanding of what is racism and what is classism. Working to dismantle white supremacy and to end structural and interpersonal racism doesn’t mean we can avoid talking about issues of class privilege. On the contrary, if we don’t become bold about what cross-class solidarity work means as white folks yearning for racial justice, our work will be less effective and our wins short-lived.

With this is mind here are some examples of common sticky spots that class privileged whites come upon when working across class:

  • Conflating Race and Class. Assuming that all white people have access to wealth erases white poor and working class people. Referring to communities of color with an assumption of poverty erases the Black middle class and other class privileged people of color. These two systems of oppression use similar tactics and have always been intimately linked, however they are not interchangeable.
  • Scapegoating. Through subtle or direct means, operating with a bias that assumes working class whites are somehow more racist than white folks with money reinforces classism. This scapegoating takes responsibility away from middle and upper class families who have often accrued wealth through exploitation and takes emphasis away from the damaging policies and practices put in place by wealthy whites that structurally reinforce both racism and classism.
  • Discomfort around conflict. Recognition of conflict and figuring out disagreement is very different across cultures and classes. White, class privileged cultures often carry a value that avoiding conflict or being ‘nice’ and ‘polite’ are the better/only ways to talk about difficult things. This value is not universal and can sometimes stifle needed dialogues.
  • Outcome over Process. Sometimes the desire to create action can override the process of thoughtful and intentional planning. When intentionality breaks down, group norms will almost always default to those with the most privilege/power calling the shots.
  • One right (controlling) way. As is true with whiteness in general, within class privileged circles there can be an attachment to things happening in a particular way. The sense of what is the right way is informed by folk’s class background and status. Attempts to control or micromanage the details can push out poor and working class involvement/leadership.
  • Attempting to homogenize. Just as whiteness can attempt to subsume everything into a false perception of sameness, class privileged cultures often do the same. Creating cultural norms around language, dress, actions etc. that cater to middle and upper class comfort. Bringing working class folks to the table without changing the class culture of the table in question will often be short lived.
  • Palatability. Choosing only working class folks who are college educated or otherwise assimilated into middle/upper class norms to be a spokesperson/reference point around class. 
  • Convenience. Recognizing class dynamics when it’s convenient but treating it as off topic when brought up in a way that challenges power or requires long term investment in our lives and communities.
  • Masking/False Scarcity. Presenting as though stressed about money from a false sense of scarcity, not a lived experience of not having access to enough. This can be done in an attempt to relate to working class people or to assuage guilt, confusion, a lack of exposure to cross class learning spaces, or a combination of them all.

Resources
What is Classism?- Class Action
Invisible Walls: What Keeps Working Class People Out of Coalitions- Linda Stout, Class Matters

 

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