Vassar, as always, shows the way. Republican/Conservative reticence (fear? shyness?) in approaching urban and minority voters is historic and self-defeating. Here I offer a story demonstrating framing the issue meaningfully to the target audience.
(Off-topic rant: I get danged tired of this ‘other’ nonsense. Twenty-odd years of military service, half as much time teaching students after retirement taught me this much: whether you’re sitting in your living room, at the gun range, in church or school, working at a job or food bank, or ringing a Salvation Army bell in front of Walmart, black, white, green, orange or polka-dotted, PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE. Yes, some may be union goons, others light-workers, but basically they’re all just people, simple as that. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. Here endth rant.)
Background: part of my work at the college was with ‘special populations’ (that phrase always annoyed me), people ‘from poverty’, or simply, poor folks. Many were known as generationally poor, their entire family tree being welfare recipients. Many were attending school forcibly, in order to maintain benefits, hardly a receptive student group. In order to better interact, the college sent me and a few others to a seminar by one Dr. Ruby Payne, a researcher and scholar on the topic of poverty. She was refreshingly down-to-earth, advocating pragmatic approaches, largely free of the bleeding-heart nonsense.
This was some years back, but one example she gave has stuck with me. She was/is a believer in economic, not morality-based, classes. In other words, some people come from great wealth, either earned or inherited; some people, perhaps the vast majority, are what we refer to as middle-class, and some folks come from or are in poverty. Three basic ECONOMIC classes, based on dollars and nothing else. No value judgements as to causation here. (I think Dr Payne splits it into 5 classes, using a working class and old and new wealth money, but whatever.)
Her basic premise was that in order to effectively interact with (or appeal to, or sell to) members of a given class, you must know what will resonate with them. Basic Salesmanship 101. But she illustrated the point by rubbing our noses in it.
We were all teachers and instructors, of one type or another. She pointed out by a show of hands that none of us were independently wealthy, trust-fund types, but neither were any of us generationally poor, public assistance clients. We, as teachers, mostly fell into that middle-class category. What do middle class folks value? Preparation, hard work, the desire to get ahead, be promoted, be successful and basically do a good job at whatever we’re doing. If you want to resonate with middle-class folks, these are the buttons you must push. Simple enough.
But what do people from poverty value? Relationships, community, family (more loosely defined than just blood relatives, currently described simplistically as tribe), sharing, matriarchy. (If you don’t believe me, Google Kwanzaa) What do people from wealth value? Preservation of capital, tradition, service, associations with like-minded others, public image.
Given this, it’s obviously easier to relate to people who are in your class, because you share the same (generally unstated, often assumed) values. And this is where (middle-class) instructors of students from poverty screw up. We, consciously or unconsciously, assume the members of ‘special populations’ share our values and proceed accordingly. And make little headway.
Consider this, if you fall into the middle-class. Which would you find more appealing: a class or seminar offering a way to improve your occupational skills and perhaps get a raise or a promotion, or a lecture on generation-skipping trusts designed to most effectively pass on immense wealth to your grandchildren? See my point?
Our reaction in the seminar was typical: wealth? What wealth? I love my grandkids, but right now I’m more interested in paying my student loans or saving for a mortgage down payment than worrying about bequeathing bucks to my grandchildren. Ditto the middle-class instructor emphasizing occupational skills to people who value those skills less than relationships, family and sharing.
Perhaps this will give insight to a certain community organizer’s recent comment about voting being the best revenge. I know most of us thought ‘Revenge? Against whom? And why? What are you so angry about anyhow?’ If your main concerns and values revolve around family, community and sharing, you’re going to buy into all this income inequality propaganda, because ‘they’ have stuff you don’t. Especially when Authority (like the President) insists it isn’t fair. We like to share what we have, we poor folks. Sharing is fair. Since you ‘rich people’ don’t share, we demand vengeance. (Besides, this is better than blaming ourselves or accepting responsibility) See, simple isn’t it?
Based on years of teaching my ‘special’ people, I believe the best way to frame the issue is an appeal to family. The desire to nurture childen, youngsters, is universal. Surprizingly, so is the concept of being a good role-model, a subtle appeal to pride. (Perhaps because of a lack, within the family, of good role models?) This seems to resonate strongly ie: what do you want your kids (nieces, nephews, grandkids) to see when they look at you? How can you become an example for them to look up to? It’s not at all trying to stigmatize poverty or welfare dependency, I wouldn’t go there at all. Much more a ‘be all that you can be’ theme, with an eye on how it looks to the youngsters. Plus the motivation of: as you become successful, you will better be able to share what you’ve earned and learned. This has always gotten their attention, maybe even sparked motivation in some, especially the females.
I’m not sure there’s a magic answer buried here, but I’m convinced of this: the avoidance we’ve been practicing doesn’t work, and won’t going forward. Much as I hate taking a page out of Rahm and Hillary’s book, sometimes it really is about ‘the children’. Given the genuine anguish of most mothers (and some baby-daddies) over the gang-banging massacres happening in urban areas, as people of conscience we must try some missionary work to reach this ‘special population’, even at the risk of leaving our own comfort zones.