Thursday, April 26, 2012

Celebrate Social Class Diversity

Will Barratt, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership
Indiana State University

Celebrating social class diversity brings us face to face across the divide of our differences.

In the US we celebrate lots of things.  Summer brings an array of nationality and ethnicity festivals and different cities, towns, and neighborhoods vie for the best festival of its type.  These festivals reinforce national and ethnic identity, introduce guests to important cultural practices, and, if it is a great festival, introduce everyone to important foods.  These celebrations bring us face-to-face across the divide of our differences. 

Are there social class celebrations that bring us together?

When my wife and I were doctoral students at The University of Iowa we lived outside the small farming town of Wellman, Iowa.  Our neighbors, Gordon and Lois Schlaubaugh and their sons, took us to the 1980 4th of July celebration in town.  The celebration featured all of what you would expect, singing the national anthem, a prayer for the hostages in the embassy in Iran, 4H and FFA exhibits, baked goods, local cookbooks for sale, and great homemade food.  There was a tractor pull which was a serious event in Wellman.  Each family cheered for their tractor brand, red or green, reinforcing their brand loyalty. 

I would argue that this 4th of July event was also a social class celebration, and the Schlaubaughs’ invitation was a welcoming hand of friendship extended across the divide.  Iowa doctoral students and an Iowa Mennonite farm family experienced a moment together.  I don’t know if it was their Mennonite generosity that moved them to invite us, but even now I recall that shared moment.  In their on-going generosity and welcoming hospitality we went out to dinner in towns near-by, we went out for ice cream, and we spent time in their home.  We tried to reciprocate, we brought them things we picked up when the spent the summer in Salzburg, Austria, we sent their kids post cards whenever we travelled, we had a dinner party for the neighborhood, and we pitched in when there was work to be done, like making apple cider with their antique steam powered cider press.  We continue to exchange holiday cards, and we see each other occasionally.

What are social class celebrations?  I would suggest that almost every celebration has social class overtones.  The opera and ZZ Top concerts, demolition derby and Formula 1, dinner out, bowling, prom, and sporting events all have social class overtones.  All of these are social class celebrations of a sort. 

Invite someone who is not like you and welcome them to a celebration that is authentic to your social class of origin. 

Say “Yes” when you are invited to a celebration that is not authentic to your social class of origin or to your current felt social class.

Say “Yes” to welcoming others to your events.  We have all been unwelcomed somewhere and we know where that leads emotionally. 

To welcome someone means to make guests comfortable, to show guests the shared unspoken rules of the event, to comfort guests from too much conflict.  In being social class celebration host you may be surprised at what you learn about your own celebration.  I was placed at a celebration dinner table set with an array of flatware, glasses, and implements of feasting one evening, and I realized from watching my tablemates that they were uncomfortable with the table setting.  Remembering those times when I was confused I did what I could to make them comfortable.  We all had a great evening, bridging the social class table setting divided.

To be a guest in a social class celebration that is not authentic to your social class of origin means to be uncomfortable and to be a host means to be a guide and to make others comfortable. 

If social class is personal, if social class is like any other diversity, then bridging the gap needs to be personal.  It needs to start with you and me, and it needs to start today. 

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