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Living Wage

By Micheal Greenwood

There is a lot of talk in Washington D.C. and elsewhere these days about increasing the Federal minimal wage to $15.00 from $7.25 which was set in 2009.   Today, inflation has made that 2009 dollar worth 72 cents.

Many states have already increased their minimum hourly wage.  Is your state one of them? 

To learn if it is follow this link, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/minimum-wage  or  https://www.epi.org/publication/labor-day-2019-minimum-wage

Even if your state does exceed the current minimum hourly wage of $7.25 an hour, is it enough to meet the cost of living where you reside?  To learn if it is, follow this link https://livingwage.mit.edu So when we talk about an hourly wage of $15.00 remember it still is not a living wage for most folks in the United Sates.


Stop the Hate Against AAPI Communities

AAPI month graphicSystemic racism and acts of terror towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have dominated media headlines in the past few months. Sadly, while hate incidents against the AAPI community have escalated in the past year, surpassing 6,000 reported incidents between 2020 and 2021, this not a recent occurrence in America.

Anti-Asian sentiments, oppression and violence date back centuries.

The United States imported Chinese workers in the 19th Century to build the railroad system. Once it was built, the workers, who had been cheap sources of labor for employers, were seen as competition by many White working class Americans. The anti-Asian sentiments led to Chinese men and their families being driven from towns, lynched and subjected to newly passed anti-immigration laws.

We have witnessed anti-Asian sentiments becoming increasingly hostile during the pandemic, escalating from verbal to physical attacks to most recently, mass murder.

The belief that Asians carry disease and that they should return to Asia no matter how many generations their family has been in America is often shared on social media. Many Americans also confuse the concepts of country and continent and label Asians as a single demographic, all from the same place. This diminishes the rich and varied cultural beliefs, values, religions and spiritual traditions of the Asian diaspora.

Rich Culture(s)

There are many ethnic identities, cultures and languages within this diverse group of people. In the United States alone, this racial category, according to the Census, refers to more than 40 different ethnic groups. Moreover, in the past 40 years, there has been a widening of income inequality among Asian populations, which has led to social and economic consequences for some. Education and income levels vary widely among Asians. Although they rank as the highest earning racial and ethnic group in the United States, the wide and rapid economic divide belies the growing class differences within this group.*

One lingering remnant from the immigration laws restricting Asian migration within the United states is that a large percentage of Asians and Asian Americans still live in states where there were major points of entry for earlier Asian immigrants, such as New York, California and Hawaii.

While Asian migration throughout the United States has been more prevalent since the mid-1960s, when these laws were overturned, there are still places in the United States where Asians are viewed as exotic and foreign, and not “real” Americans. It is not incidental that people of Japanese descent in America, not German, were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II.

Next Steps for UUs?

What does this mean for us as UUs? We at UU Class Conversations believe that remaining true to our Principles will help break down divisions along class and racial lines. Creating an inclusive community for all racial and ethnic groups begins with meaningful and productive dialogue aimed at combatting racial and class injustice.

What do you see then as next steps for this work?

* Pew Research Center, July 12, 2018, “Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly Among Asians.”

A Response to Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson

By Mike Greenwood

Sometimes I can approach a book naively as I did with Isabelle Wilkerson’s Caste. As I reserved the book from my local library, I remember thinking that “caste” is something I know happens in India but here, where I live? No way. Little did I realize or anticipate that I would be challenged again and again with her provocative premise that there is an unspoken caste system in the United States of America.

Caste was not a comfortable read especially given I read it in the context of Black Lives Matter vigils and protests, the trials of police offers who were acquitted of killing black men and women, and the reckoning by a lot of white folks that we have ignored systematic racism in our institutions and policies.

In the context of this crisis, Isabel Wilkerson laid out a case for systematic classism by identifying eight underlying pillars of a caste system and using examples, often from her own life, of how they operated in Nazi Germany, in India and within the United States. Allow me to share two of the multitude of examples she provides in her 496-page book:

  • Nazi Germany was looking internationally for laws to protect and promote the “superior” Aryan race, and identified an ideal model for their legal justification of bigotry and eventual killings – the United States of America and our Jim Crow laws. Wilkerson notes that even the German researchers from that time were “confounded by the lengths to which America went to segregate its population.”
  • Alongside tracing the history of caste Wilkerson traces the notion of race, because, as she explains, race is about caste. “Race does the heavy lifting for a caste system that demands a means of human division. Until the birth of the new nation of The United States of America, no one had heard of the word ‘black’ as a race. No one in Africa. Everyone there is African.” She adds that when, “People do cruel things against a person of different colour for no other reason than the colour – that’s racism. People who do cruel things to others in order to ‘put them in their place’ – that’s casteism.”

At times, I thought Wilkerson dwelled too much on how Trump and Republican policies supported our caste system. But reflecting back on my reading of Caste, after the January 6th insurrection, I understand why she did. Many of those policies kept a small minority encased in power and influence through their status and wealth. Finally, several months after reading Caste, I continue to question much which I never questioned before – questions as to how our laws, polices and white supremacy all support the walls of our caste system.

One Congregation’s Response to Classism Workshops

By Michael Greenwood

Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, Middlebury, Vermont

During the years between 2015 and 2017, the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Governing Board sponsored two Class Conversation workshops, “Organizing for Change: Addressing Classism In Your Faith Community” and “Create Justice- Not Walls: Class and Race in UU Settings.” Later, the congregation sponsored the worship service, Born on Third Base led by Chuck Collins author of the book of the same title.

As a result congregational members examined our policies, practices and norms. For example, from the minister to the sexton, we examined the equity of what we offered our employees. Were we equitable in our wages and more importantly the benefits we offered?  Was “passing the plate” an embarrassing component of the Sunday service? We noticed who was missing at our events – pay for dinners, the auction- and wondered why.
During the years between 2015 and 2017, the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Governing Board sponsored two Class Conversation workshops, “Organizing for Change: Addressing Classism In Your Faith Community” and “Create Justice- Not Walls: Class and Race in UU Settings.” Later, the congregation sponsored the worship service, Born on Third Base led by Chuck Collins author of the book of the same title.

In response, our minister Barnaby Feder with other key individuals in the congregation instituted the following changes.

  1. We made childcare an integral offering for every committee and small group meeting thus enabling single parents and families to attend without having to worry about providing childcare. This allowed them to participate in our congregational life outside of Sunday service.
  2. We shared our personal stories from the pulpit of how we had moved from one class background to another e.g. working to professional middle class or vice-versa from professional class to working class. The sharing of these personal stories dispelled the myth that even though we are a largely affluent white congregation in a well respected liberal arts college town not all of us were professionals earning a comfortable income with generous benefits.

Because these stories were public, it created a culture of inclusion – “there is no shame to your economic status as others share that experience with you.”

  1. We moved away from charging and advertising discounts for families in order to attend communal meals and concerts. If a donation was needed to offset costs, a “free will” donation box was left to side of the entry door.
  2. Perhaps the most significant change we made was ending our annual auction fundraiser where the highest bidder wins. Instead we did a Radical Love Giveaways event. Raffle items were displayed on a table with a collection container where tickets could be deposited. Every family unit received 10 tickets to deposit wherever they wished – weekend vacations, dinners, a midnight snowshoeing event, a watercolor, etc. How did this event work as a fun-raiser? Participants were asked to give 4% of their annual pledge. But everyone received their 10 tickets and the equal chance of winning that dinner or weekend get-away regardless if they contributed that 4% or not.

To be sure our work has just begun. But I, along with many others, look forward to finding ways to be more inclusive as an integral part of our personal and spiritual growth.

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