wJun 1, 2010

WisCon 34 Panel Write-Up: Class Basics

[My notes are very sparse. Feel free to use my notes + your memory/notes to make a For Reals Record. I'm just offering what I've got to the community at large.]

Panel Description: Of all the "isms" and oppressions in the United States, class is one of the least explored and least understood, and yet having an understanding of how class issues affect people here and around the world is vital. As with race, ability, and other issues, it is not the job of people who grew up dealing with class barriers to educate the rest of us, but sometimes we find folks who are generous enough to give their time to teaching. If you feel like you don't know enough about class, classism, and how class background and class privilege inform the world around you, come join us. Serious information, given with patience and humor.

Panelists: Debbie Notkin (moderator), Nisi Shawl, Jennifer K. Stevenson, Chris Wrdnrd

It was established at the beginning of the panel that the goal was for audience members to ask questions, etc.

Panelists were asked to described the kitchen of the place in which they grew up, and also answered why they decided to be on the panel.

Jennifer, who has written a novel (or possibly more?) about stage hands in Chicago, comments that she is intrigued by those people who to college and end up "not using" their education.

An audience member asks something to the effect of, "Can you explain the 'anger' that some people have for those who do have an education?" Audience member told that her question will eventually be addressed. [As a side note, I don't think it was directly addressed, but it sort of is further down when people are talking about different 'markers,' etc.]

A generational difference between the importance of certain class markers is discussed (I think by Nisi). For example, children of the middle class might find running outside shoeless "freeing," but parents in the working class class find shoe-wearing extremely important. For parents of working class kids, going to college is incredibly important in order for upward mobility. For Nisi, it was less important, because she got there and felt they weren't actually teaching her how to write, so she left.

At this point, Jennifer makes several weird comments. Debbie intervenes to note that we need to be careful not to equate education with intelligence.
Jennifer goes on to discuss how people who go to college learn to be "world citizens," and learn how to be in a different class (?). She also spends some time discussing the disparity between different types of stage hands - those who push boxes, and those who work on the more technological side of stage-work (I'm assuming this means lights, sound systems, etc.).

Thankfully, heyiya stands up and asks if the panelists can define "class," as it seems they are discussing different things. (This was much more articulately asked than that, so hopefully someone else has notes!)

Nisi says that class is defined by where you come from, and what you expect [to have happen in your life].

Jennifer says that when she was a kid, it was basically education. Later on, she learned that class was something different. She mentions health care as a marker. A weird comment is made about how people of different classes are "the same species but different species." (Unfortunately, this was after The Gathering and I don't remember the context.)

Wrdnrd mentions it as being the economic reality of her youth.

An audience member is called upon, states that to her class is defined by choices and ownership. What choices do you have? What choices have you had? What do you own? Your body? A car? Do you feel secure? Etc.

A book by Ruby Payne is brought up, although I can't remember which one.

Multiple audience members stand up to ask questions, usually prefaced by the establishment of their class background. It is clear that this is a raw issue for many audience members.

Someone in the audience asks about how to talk about class issues with her husband, who comes from a different class background than she does.

raanve stands up to discuss the differences in viewing signifiers/markers of class. People from different class backgrounds look for different markers to identify class. These things are not abstract - usually someone's house, their accent, etc. I think she was pointing out how to understand where people are coming from in discussions involving people of different class backgrounds (please correct me if I'm wrong!).

Nisi said it helps to say something like, "This is what this signifier means to me; what does it mean to you?"

Class can also be defined by answering the question, "Who accepts you as a peer?" (Cannot remember who said this), and pointing out that how you define yourself is not necessarily how the word defines you (in terms of class).

Someone else in the audience stands up to talk about how she raised her daughter while being extremely poor, taking free meals from churches, etc. Extra money that came their way was spent on passes to science museums, etc. Her daughter was eventually able to go to law school, and with help from wealthy people who took an interest in her, got a good job. She was embarrassed by her background, though, and eventually cut off contact to her mother, who hasn't spoken with her in something like 7 years.

I wish there was a better way to end the post, but I think that's all I remember. Toward the end, at least a few people stood up to say that they best understood how to discuss class/better understood where other people were coming from, and why some responses are inappropriate because they are overly defensive. Thus, I think that the panel was successful.

I was unable to make it to the other two panels focusing on class at WisCon this year, but at the end of our Studio Ghibli panel on Sunday, an audience member did ask us to discuss class! The seeds, they spread!

Hopefully, this will be the most incoherent of my panel write-ups!

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scribbled mystickeeper at 6:03 PM

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