Intersectionality - Class + Race
Rebecca Gonzalez-Campoy (she/her), Beloved Community Communications Team
Race and class are tightly intertwined, there’s just no separating the two, says Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics during the last of the Intersectionality sessions held at Unity during February and March. Ask yourself, “What does a successful person look like?” Odds are a white male making six figures immediately, maybe even involuntarily, comes to mind. Like it or not, society teaches that our worthiness is tied to our proximity to masculinity, lightness of skin, Christianity, and procreative ability, says Wenker.
Historically, our capitalist economy revolved around stealing land (genocide of indigenous people) and exploiting labor (slavery) to build a strong economy. Today, that practice continues in a different fashion. It counts on angry white people blaming those on the margins for keeping them from the wealth they believe they should pursue and acquire. This diverts attention from the man behind the curtain setting up some to succeed and others to fail. We have to ask ourselves: who does our economy keep poor on purpose?
Wenker challenges us to consider our relationship to the elements of class: What is our access to wealth? What image do we strive to project? What values do we have around money, namely the concepts of cash, debt, and ownership?
Growing up, my father made what was likely a salary at poverty level or barely above it. He expanded his mechanic business and took on debt to do so. My parents did own their very modest home because my mother paid for it with a tiny inheritance. I had student loans to pay for college. I knew nothing about investing, financial advisors, or even saving account safety nets. Yet, the image we projected was one of the white middle class because of our education, home ownership, activism, and involvement in First Unitarian Church of Duluth. As white people, we had access to a good education, home ownership, and employment. We never had to code switch or learn a new vocabulary in order to move about work, school, church, and home.
I am now married, run a medical clinic in suburban St. Paul, and am completing my third year at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. My proximity to wealth has improved tremendously, although I’m still well acquainted with debt. Setting up an independent medical practice with a first generation immigrant from Mexico carries a huge price tag. While my husband’s family came to the United States because they wanted to do so rather than out of necessity, they lost any wealth they had along the way. My father-in-law couldn’t find work as a physician because he’d have to complete a year of residency training first, so retired at age 50 and his children had to provide for the family. So we’ve had to rely on loans and leases to start and maintain this clinic.
These days I’m wrapping up my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Half of my CPE peers are Black and brown men serving time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility–Stillwater, Minnesota’s largest level-four, close-security penitentiary. My inmate colleagues work with their fellow residents. I work with students and staff at Volunteers of America High School Alternative Learning Center in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s the last stop for my students to recover credits before they have to earn a GED on their own. Most of the students are Black and brown. They come from horrific backgrounds. It’s in these two environments - both ends of the prison pipeline - that I see plainly the impact of class and race. Dominant white society refuses to address the root causes of bad behavior - generational trauma, poverty, inadequate housing, food insecurity, mental health issues, and substandard education. I know that several of my students will eventually join my colleagues at Stillwater where they are likely to come out in worse shape than when they entered the prison system.
While Minnesota Department of Corrections professes to follow a restorative justice and rehabilitation model, that’s not what happens inside the prison. As one guard said to one of my fellow CPE colleagues, “My dog has more rights than you do!” Staff shortages and a lack of qualified prospects mean prisons cannot be choosy about who they hire. Thus the proverbial MAGA patriot often patrols alongside their “woke” colleagues. The disconnect between these two philosophies is jarring and caught in the middle are people whom society has failed. It’s the difference between investment in community and punishing the individual.
The United States justice system is a response to the freedom of slaves. With their emancipation in 1865, capitalism needed cheap labor to survive and thrive. Many legislatures in the South and the North enacted Black Codes - think driving while Black type of arrestable offenses. Put freed slaves in jail and then lease the prisoners out to local businesses and voila you have “slave labor.” In short, prisons replaced slave-holding plantations. And the hugely negative impact on families and communities of color reverberates through generation after generation. That’s who our economy keeps poor on purpose and how.
Wenker concludes the Team Dynamic series on intersectionality and race with this question: What is one thing you will permit yourself to practice?
I’m helping students and CPE peers to see their best selves and lift that part up, centering these gifts in spite of their trauma. Practicing the “God of space,” I give them the opportunity to tell their stories, helping them to identify their strengths and create a new storyline for themselves. Only then can they work to override white society’s efforts to keep them in their place.
What will you do?
To see posted recordings of the Intersectionality series, go to Unity’s YouTube channel Class and Race, LGBT + Justice, Intersectionality 101
 Davis, Fania. 2019. The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation. New York, NY.: Good Books.
Leave a Reply.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Rev. Karen Gustafson, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.