Growing Up Poor, and Classism in RC

I am a white raised-poor female doing middle-class work and am three-fourths of a century old. I still struggle with raised-poor distress recordings. I lived in poverty from my infancy well into my twenties and after that was often a paycheck away from being poor. Now as I’m growing older, with my work slowing down and without a pension, I am faced with how to not end up poor once again.

I experienced early traumas—in the womb, at birth, and post birth—that installed patterns that include “not being liked,” “not having value,” “not being significant,” “not wanting to be visible,” and “people wanting to kill me.”

Living in poverty for over twenty years reinforced the pre- and post-birth distress recordings with abandonment, neglect, and deprivation. No one expected anything of me or let me know I was significant. My father was an alcoholic and a sex addict—and a lovely man. My mother was our savior—kind and loving but also stuck in powerlessness and with few resources. The six of us children lacked team spirit; it was “everyone for themselves” and “get out of this the best way you can.” Today we love each other, and fight to be with each other a few times a year.

I was aware of classism and its effects on me. I felt shame and humiliation for my poverty (yet somehow maintained an optimistic outlook on people and life). I knew people were uncomfortable around me as a poor person, and I stayed away from middle-class environments when I could. I didn’t understand middle-class “rules”—how one should act, talk, and look in each situation. Sometimes I still don’t understand the “rules” and break them with my directness. I was taught to be kind and polite but not “nice.”

I grew up around other poor and working-class young people and somehow could see that others were oppressed, especially by racism, and knew that it was wrong.

I did not grow up emulating [copying] the middle class like many poor people do. My “style” has been an amalgam [mixture] influenced by African American, Latino/a, white working-class, and white upper-middle-class “styles” as well as the women’s liberation movement.

I’ve fought my entire life against the early distresses “to have significance.” Two things have happened: (1) I have achieved some interesting and impressive accomplishments; and (2) I have stayed small and unsure for long periods and not been able to express my full potential, which I’ve known is considerable. (I would have been a much more powerful RC leader had I been able to step out of my “insignificance.”) Oh, and somewhere along the way I learned to be articulate vocally and in writing.

The following are a few examples of how I have experienced classism over the years in RC (and outside of it):

  • Leaders will start telling me things rather than asking me what I already understand. In most cases I’ve already known what they are saying—I’m pretty [quite] smart.
  • RCers often get frustrated when I dramatize my insignificance. Feeling insignificant is a deep hurt, and it feels very real to me at the time. Impatience doesn’t help; in fact it makes me feel ashamed and I withdraw. It’s better to hold out how great I am, what I can do, and so on.
  • I have rarely been asked to take on [undertake] a leadership challenge in RC. I am judged for occasionally “leaking” anger; people conclude from it that I am not a reliable leader. (Every leader I know has dramatized anger, more than once. We need to encourage work on anger. We are all angry!)
  • The majority of Co-Counselors in most U.S. RC Communities are middle class, and it continues to be a challenge for me to find my significance, especially when RCers have done little work on classism.

I will persist, reach out, and speak up about the everyday unaware acts of classist (and sexist) oppression. I will also find broader support from raised-poor and working-class RCers, who don’t get so confused by my distresses and can see my power and encourage me.

I would love to hear others’ experiences of growing up poor. They are different for each of us.

MacClurg Vivian

Rochester, New York, USA

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
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Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:49:42+00