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Compliments, False Flattery, and Destructive (To Reality) White Middle Class Mores

June 30, 2009

Yesterday I received a compliment that I felt was genuine and did not acknowledge it.  I slept on it and decided I needed to make it known that I did hear the compliment. For me compliments are hard to accept.  Compliments are something that I have learned to be suspicious of because my family and surrounding people did not compliment freely.  A compliment was not given unless it was genuinely meant. There was no need to puff up someone just to have them puffed up. No need to act like something was what it was not.

It was not until I went out in the world and worked around white middle-class people and/or aspiring (not necessarily white) to be middle class people that I learned how compliments are used as a tool. How compliments are not always meant and are often used to manipulate people and situations.

My first full time job was in a very large hospital medical records department. Every day false compliments flew around from all directions. At first, I was caught up in the false compliments, and then slowly I began to see differently.  I could not understand why a person would tell another person her hair and clothes were very pretty just to turn around and ask others during their morning bagel and coffee if they had seen that hideous outfit so and so had on, –and what in the hell did she think she was doing with her hair. Alternatively, tell another person they were more than deserving of  a promotion, or capable of getting into graduate school, or even snagging a doctor for a date and then spout the exact opposite opinion when out of that person’s earshot. The behavior was not female specific either.  We had our token male homosexual (who had no qualms in leading an acid tongue fisk) and our few poor oppressed we are in the minority menz who relish in the false flattery and subsequent gossiping as well.  So spare me the “it is what women do” shit.

My job was to coerce doctors to do what the fuck they were supposed to do (maintain their charts to JCAH standards).  So doctors who wanted something or needed to get out of something, like reinstate their lost admitting privileges, complimented (or bribed, but that is another story).  On the other hand, employees (and my director) who wanted doctors to do things the doctors did not want to do, flattered, complimented.

It is really an uncomfortable position to be in for a realist, and even a more uncomfortable position for someone who can easily keep up with who said what and when.  I learned a lot of lessons in life working those seven years among those two-faced “I want to look like I am better than those white trash and blacks whose very existence fuels my false superiority” people.   For example, I learned that when in a quandary, certain people are offered up for sacrifice over others, and usually there are markers that determined who would be the sacrifice.

Call me crazy (I am aware of my use of this word), but I thought it was crazy-making when everyone and I mean everyone was telling one employee, Debra  that her new shiny engagement ring with the big fat-fat diamond was beautiful, and then talked behind her back and said first, the ring was not real and second, they did not believe she actually had a boyfriend much less a fiancé. I was glad to know I was not alone, (no, I was not above gossip) because I too was suspicious of the authenticity of her story, the genuineness of the stone and the existence of her so-called light-skinned 6’ tall dark-black curly haired college educated professional job having 280z driving boyfriend.  Then when Debra confronted me, after hearing someone else talking about her and then in an attempt to save themselves, blamed it on me, I admitted I said it.  I admitted it because it was what I thought and because I knew that so many other people had said it long before I did.  Therefore, I assumed they would admit to having taken part and it would be proven that I did not start the story. I was wrong.  No one admitted anything. Not a word. When the jury came back, it was I and me alone who had thought it, said it, and spread it. Even when I confronted people in private, mano a mano, they denied they had a part or refused to discuss it at all.   It was surreal. It was the first time I had witnessed collective lying and denying with no one willing to break ranks. It was disorienting because I was not confused, I was not in doubt, I was 100% sure of what I knew. The feeling is like the time in your childhood when you feel something or see something and when you mention it to the adults around you, you are told to be quiet or that you are wrong, that it did not happen.

Yes, it was the first of many lessons I would learn about white middle class behavior. Moreover, it helped me really understand how fragile the perception of superiority is, so fragile that it cannot afford the Truth. And people will go to great lengths to keep the perception going.  They will defend one of their own without being asked. They will lie.  They will misconstrue. They will feign innocence.  They will call  Truth vulgar and cruel.  They will accuse others of doing exactly what they are doing.  They will reverse reality without a thought in the world.  They will, for lack of a better term, suspend reality.

There is nothing feminist or radical about upholding white middle class mores.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2009 10:10 pm

    There is nothing feminist or radical about upholding white middle class mores.

    What’s ironic, of course, is that white women and the nonwhite women who love them are *constantly* pointing at black women for adhering to a black-male supremacist culture or way of thinking. But they *never* stop to think that their own culture and ways of thinking are just as *white*male-supremacist as black women’s are so often *black*male-supremacist. No, the only women upholding men are the black ones, despite the fact that white women are loyal to white men in all the ways they accuse (and, often rightly) black women of being loyal to black men.

    It’s fucking disgusting.

  2. atheistwoman permalink
    June 30, 2009 10:25 pm

    No, the only women upholding men are the black ones, despite the fact that white women are loyal to white men in all the ways they accuse (and, often rightly) black women of being loyal to black men.

    It’s fucking disgusting.

    It’s not just in the *bed* it’s in the *head* too. If your loyalty is to the upholding of the ways, laws, and mores, of white male supremacy, like the denial of reality mentioned in TFKG’s post, then you are doing more harm then good.

    • atheistwoman permalink
      June 30, 2009 10:26 pm

      There should be a “yep” right after that blockquote. Sorry.

  3. Level Best permalink
    July 1, 2009 4:23 pm

    Ye cats, the environment you’ve just described seems so incredibly toxic, so hellish. I’m a very “flat-out” person who doesn’t have an agenda. Tricky people are a horror to me, and I am, frankly, very ill-equipped to deal with them. I’m from rural working-class people; if they had a problem with someone, it wasn’t handled behind the person’s back. I remember when I was 8 being at a local agricultural event and a woman there ear-shotted me with some negative comment about my mother. I bee-lined to her, looked straight up into her face and told her she couldn’t talk about my mama like that. I suppose if I’d had her social sophistication I would have just ear-shotted her back, but I’m glad I dealt with it directly.

    What amazes me is how you show this sort of office subterfuge as specifically supportive of white middle-class mores. That really intrigues me and gives me a lot to think about. In fact, a lot of the posts here by you and Margaret at first take me aback and then help me to see differently. By which I mean “thank you.”

    • July 2, 2009 12:45 am

      You are always so very kind to us Level Best. I want to thank you for reading us.

      I suppose if I had to label what tricky people are to me, I would say they are a horror as well (especially because most of them would not in a million years consider themselves dishonest). But, since I have realized how to spot them (or see it in them after dealing with them) I just opt out from dealing with them. I know that is not always an option depending on one’s job and/or family, but, I do most certainly try to steer clear of them. And at times, if I feel like it, expose them for what they are. Or if I simply must deal with them, I keep everything very blunt, or as you say “flat-out.” Then they can do whatever they want to do with the information I give them.

      And there is a huge sincerity difference between people who “keep it real” and people who “call it like they see it.” The latter tends to be white middle class people who are appropriating some stereotypical image of being real, raw, honest etc (like a pretend slumming) for egoistical reasons. One can always tell because of the cruelty involved. Real honesty without any motive other than a person trying to work something out stings others because others may own it even though it was not assigned to them. In other words, they obviously have issues they should visit. The latter, is cruelty for cruelty sakes, as in, it gives the speaker/writer a rush/payoff in a selfish sort of way to passive-aggressively stick to people.

      Level Best, your childhood story is a perfect example of white middle class mores. And, did you notice you named it sophistication? See, that woman wanted to elevate herself over your mother, get a dig in, so she passive-aggressively talked about your mother. It is so typical. Very male behavior, very middle-class. Just think MRA. They set themselves up in a way to get their dig in, and when/if confronted they can deny it (and even make themselves out to be the victim of your “hostility”), because you see, she was not talking to your mother directly, or used her name specifically (I’m assuming). If whatever was really bugging her about your mother, why didn’t she talk to your mother directly? To top it off, this type of behavior is viewed as sophisticated by the middle-class. Meaning what? If you do not behave in the same matter, you are barbaric, uncivilized, —-beneath them, so should not be listened to?

  4. Undercover Punk permalink
    July 2, 2009 1:28 am

    I know exactly the kind of cruelty you are speaking of; but I’ve never thought of it as being related to middle class mores. I suppose that’s because I’ve lived amongst the middle class all my life–so I know the fake-ness well, I just assumed it was part of human nature. It makes sense, however, that those in the middle class would seek to maintain (or better) their position at any cost. I stay away from these assholes. They care more for social status than human feelings. They are NOT my friends and they never will be. (I’m a good Scorpio; I never forget what others prove they’re capable of.)

    More importantly, though, I wanted to say how much I despise false flattery. There’s no need to say anything at all! It makes ALL compliments suspect. And when people engage in duplicitous behavior, it prevents others from saying kind things even when they really mean it! It has a chilling effect on the warmth and mutuality of communications, which makes me very, very sad.

    When I have something nice to say, barring unusual circumstances, I make an effort to SAY IT. Sometimes my effusive compliments make others feel uncomfortable, which is not my intent. (In those cases, I usually try to make some gesture of sincerity to assure them that my motivation was not to be rude or inappropriate.) Sometimes people think I’m being an ingratiating fool. Sometimes people don’t like me for saying nice things. That’s OK, because I think it’s really really! really! important that we speak aloud the kind things we think— rather than holding them inside because of some people’s insincerity (or because suspicious on-lookers will assume that the complimenter has ulterior motives). It’s my hope that this practice will make the world a slightly less harsh and vulgar place…at least in my own little sphere of influence.

    Hey, I can dream, right?? :)

    • July 2, 2009 1:39 am

      I just assumed it was part of human nature.

      That’s just it, and that is why I am saying “white.” Because white is seen as the default for human. And it ties into Margie’s comment. White women have more difficulty in seeing their complicity with white male supremacy than they do in seeing a black woman’s complicity with black male supremacy, because they (the white women) feel like their behavior is simply human nature. Because to them, white is the default! If white women want to rid themselves of racism, they have to see what behaviors they practice that are white supremacist.

      Now, I am not saying that an entire office of say black women would/could not act in the same way; however, it has to be taken in consideration that those black women have been conditioned in a white society and have learned that if they do not act a certain way there will be unfavorable (to their upward mobility welfare) consequences. Who knows how anyone would act if we did not have a white-centered society.

    • July 2, 2009 1:40 am

      Yeah, what Margie, said. GO ON VACATION! Because you know, you got Zoe over there………………………….

  5. July 2, 2009 1:30 am

    Hey! Go be on vacation, Undercover Punk!
    :P :) :P

  6. July 2, 2009 1:47 am

    Ugh, Kitty, what an awful workplace. Sounds like everyplace I’ve ever worked. I always had a really hard time with that kind of behavior — though it was clearly encouraged by my mom who wanted upward mobility, it also just never seemed to suit my personality very well. Maybe I got that from my contentedly working-class dad’s family. In any case, I was always saying stuff that would offend other people even though I had no intention of it, and I really thought that honesty was the best policy. It’s taken me years of observing or being part of the dynamic you describe — where the person who is willing to say what everyone is thinking (usually me) takes the heat while everyone else pretends they never said that! — to be able to manage it even a little bit. It’s really crazy-making. But I also had to realize, like you say, that sometimes my pride in my “straightforwardness” covered up a lack of caring about other people’s feelings. Just because something is true doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be spoken — I’ve learned — and just because I think something is a problem doesn’t mean anyone else is going to care about changing it.

    Ah, the joys of working at home. :)

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