Tuesday, November 06, 2018


Repeatedly, categories of people I used to belong to claim in print that they are shrinking.  "The Middle Class is dying!" they claim, assuming always that they ARE the middle class without thinking much about what that means.  Then they say, "We'd love to take in all these other ethnic groups and income levels, but we don't know how to reach them.  We are baffled that they impose their standards which we don't understand, but they have a different way of thinking and we want to know what it is."

It seems obvious to me and others that the big Middle Class institutions: universities, department stores, libraries, symphonies, public schools, public health, hospitals -- on and on and on -- really are shrinking.  All the things civilized people depend upon, public everything with a clear barrier between all that and what is private.  Remember when movies were public?  Remember when teen parties were private?

My copy of "Elderberries" just came.  It's the newsletter for retired UU ministers and their partners.  I'm sure they are lovely people who have done a great deal for others.  They're all about my age or older.  I only am acquainted with a few of them because I knew them when they were beginners, younger than thirty in most cases.  "UURMaPA is a primary holder of memories from recent UUA history. But we are humbly reminded how many of those memories are fading with each passing year. The UU Rainbow History Project is inspired by that reality, stirred by the fact that it will soon be 50 years since the 1969 Stonewall Uprising."

They don't really mean it.  If you look at photos you'll see they are all white, recent people mostly female, and prosperous.  You can't see sexual orientation but it's a bit irrelevant at this point anyway.  The reason they are white and prosperous is that their congregations are white and prosperous.  Religious institutions are covertly based on socioeconomic class.  When gays began to be prosperous, they were welcomed.

What the true outsiders want when they come to the gates is to be prosperous, respected, and employed.  They wouldn't mind white, at least in some cases.  The group in "Elderberries" reflects the level of education necessary when they went to seminary.  Many of the women came in late with older and various undergrad preparation, echoed in low residence, seminar-based, possibly liberal Christian MDiv's.  (Master of Divinity).  For a while there was a movement towards D.Min's (Doctor of Ministry) but it was poorly defined, thesis-based among people moving towards experience-based, and it didn't catch on.  Theology gave way to therapy.

The Atlantic Monthly this issue includes an essay about being highly educated on reservation.  It's by Sterling Holy White Mountain, who is just beginning enrolment at Stanford U, very elite.  He has previously finished an MFA in Iowa.  It's worth reading but then read this vid essay about the same people:  http://nativenews.jour.umt.edu/2013/?page_id=30  (Some of these people were my students from the Sixties.  Sterling was never my student but both his parents were.)  

They are struggling with a law passed just as I came in 1962 that is based on a mythical concept about the metaphor of "blood quantum."  The idea claims that when a "full-blood" Blackfeet marries a "full-blood" white, the result is a "half-blood" person.  (You can't say "breed" because it is a stigmatized word.)  Partly this idea of "blood" comes from slavery, when a very small inheritance from African-Americans meant a person could be enslaved.  Partly it comes from the idea that if belonging is based on "blood," in the natural course of events, people will try to marry white for the advantages and will simply disappear.  None of this is true.

The point I am trying to make is that either deliberately or by default, groups define themselves socioeconomically.  UU ministers, esp. in the past, ran a class and education gauntlet to prove they belonged.  Blackfeet must prove their genealogies -- there is no blood test, no genome requirement, for being Blackfeet.  The great irony is that Sterling, pursuing education, has become different from the rez people, who are only half of the enrolled Blackfeet anyway.  He doesn't fit anymore, can't find his kind of sophisticated literary life in Browning, MT.  Maybe in Seattle or LA where there are developed Blackfeet communities of "ex-pats."

Neither do I fit with the UU ministers anymore.  it's not a matter of sexual orientation, but rather the social categories.  I live a threadbare life in the same place Sterling was born and raised, so I'm more like Sterling in some ways.  But unlike in others.  In fact, I haven't found many if any people like me.  But here's the payoff: when citizens go to the polls today, is that their group?  What is the group of Americans like?  Is it matter of inheritance or education?  Is it what your face looks like or where you grew up or what you wear or what kind of accent you have?  Must you speak English, which is an immigrant language from centuries ago?

No one in the UURMaPA excludes me -- so far.  Except that economic level keeps from going to the "club meetings" in very nice places.  A 1988 change in my understanding of congregations and ministries -- that ministers can only be employed in places with there are enough of the right socioeconomic kind to support a building and professional ministry -- and I don't want to live in those places.  Most of the "members" are very nice responsible college-grad people who do a lot of thinking, to the point of being stereotyped as living in their heads.  How many Mexican peasants crossing the border fit this idea?

I know who does: technically adept Asians with high grade educations, but not in humanitarian disciplines.  The STEM people.  These youngsters have to be restricted to keep from from taking over Harvard, a UU enclave for many years.  They believe in "group" rather than individual, and family counts -- not free love.  In UU photos I see almost no Asian faces, fewer than the African-Americans, and no indigenous people at all, though I know that UU's pride themselves on high regard for "Indians."  

Nice middle-class people in Valier know less about "Indians" than UU's have learned from books,  but what they do know is based on experiences that were not always good.  Whites must defend coming here and taking land only a couple of generations ago,  One educated woman assured me that tribal history was not important -- only "ours."  I get excluded from both sides.  But both sides are a little doubtful about excluding me when they remember I was married to a rich famous white man.  But that was a long time ago.  

Like Sterling, I'm supposed to be publishing by now, getting rich and famous.  Sitting around in a very nice setting sipping high quality coffee.  The main reason I'm not has nothing to do with local -- there's an excellent coffee place in Conrad, only thirty miles away.  It's not about race or money.  The real reason I'm not busy being rich and famous is that I'm writing.  I'm a writer.  I know because I write.  And I'm world-wide because I write about the whole planet.  In fact, I'm cosmic.

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