Let's Talk About Class

November 13, 2009 4 Comments

One of the most intense and unique pieces of the Making Money Make Change (MMMC) conference, is the Money Stories session. Picture a room with 70 young people with wealth (accumulated, inherited, or earned) and/or owning class privilege sitting in a large circle. Each person gets 60 seconds to “tell their money story.” Questions that guide this storytelling include:

  • Where did the money that you and/or your family come from?
  • How is your or your family’s wealth connected to histories of racism and capitalism?
  • What have you done to move some or all of that money to social justice movements?

I have been a part of this circle for the past three years and have found this task scary, challenging, and powerful. For young people with wealth who are often encouraged by their families to keep all information related to money private, and who are living in a society where the systems that create such gross wealth disparity are rarely discussed, the simple act of telling the truth about these histories in a public setting is no small thing.

Last year was the first time that folks who do not identify as wealthy or owning class, who are at MMMC as partners of participants, as workshop presenters, or as speakers sat in for the Money Circle session and listened to these stories of accumulated wealth and class privilege for an hour and a half, but did not speak. Needless to say, this was an experience that brought up difficult emotions for everyone and we ended the session without a space for making meaning of it, sharing reactions, or having an intentional and productive cross-class dialogue.

This year the space will be structured differently, and in preparing for it, a number of questions are coming up that I’m curious about and would love to know your thoughts on.

  • Is it possible, or even desirable, to attempt to establish a “no judgment zone” or a “safe space” for cross-class storytelling about money, class, and wealth?
  • What are best practices for creating spaces for productively uncomfortable spaces for people with multiple class backgrounds to speak truthfully and go deep with each other?
  • If you were to tell your “money story” (whatever your class background) in a public setting, which pieces of your story would you leave out or include based on the class backgrounds of the others in the room? What would help you to be both vulnerable and feel supported?
  • What are the conversations about money, wealth, and class that you’ve never had and would like to have with colleagues? With friends?

I believe there is great potential for this kind of raw storytelling. It can expose the truths about our personal experiences and about our collective realities and it can facilitate relationship-building from a space we honor each others’ humanity. It’s messy, but let’s step into it.

Some groups, other than MMMC, that I know of who work on cross-class dialogue:

4 Comments

  • Jen – thanks for sharing. This is a powerful (and potentially explosive) topic. I’d be happy to share my thoughts w/you off line if you wish. Let me know.

  • Melinda says:

    Jen, this is powerful work. So glad to have your voice, networks, and experiences to add this to our community conversation. One thing that stands out to me in light of your brilliant questions is what seems to be a (pre?)occupation with the comfort level of the storytellers that this community seems to have. One one level, I get it and appreciate the costs and risks of vulnerability. On the other, I resonate with your term “productively uncomfortable”, for is elucidates the reward available to the storyteller whenver s/he exercises the courage to share from one’s personal narrative. In sunm, perhaps a focus on what is to be gained by sharing one’s story , rather than focusing on what there is to lose, is a key worth considering here.

  • Liz Laneri says:

    I think those are great questions. And to be more specific, these are great questions to ask those directly who have not yet joined the circle (young people with wealth). Find the forum that’s comfortable for everyone. It sounds like that’s exactly what you’re doing but to your point, some people might be reluctant, because it can get messy and uncomfortable.

    I, myself would be open to telling my story, but some the story comes with denial and a little bit of hesitancy. Not sure what I’d leave out and what I would be open to sharing until I was in that situation and had the opportunity to sit down with people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

  • malik says:

    I believe that the first time non-wealthy listened in was in 2007. It was a profound, humbling, illuminating, terrifying, gratifying experience that was also funny, insightful, respectful and honest.

    I agree about “raw storytelling.” I love to hear the uncensored, unhindered versions of people’s lives, experiences and pasts. As a dear friend said, “we all carry so much baggage.” Not negative baggage, just impactful elements of who we are that our society and culture rarely invite or embrace. We are socialized at home, in school, in the middle class to lessen the underbelly of our families, our choices and our pasts. Rather than be saddled with judgement and regret, having spaces that invite the whole truths and raw truths are rare. They become unique moments that too few of us get to know.

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