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Acceptable Disdain

January 10, 2011

We have begun our annual musical production that my daughter participates in every year. It is a five-month ordeal and requires many volunteers putting in numerous hours. This year I have a more important position (a.k.a. V.I.P, [lol] than last). I am now cc’d all the top echelon memos and such and have been seeing stuff that I wish I haven’t. For example, one woman’s daughter has just completed her second PhD. I have now heard for the fifth time how wonderful this woman is because she has completed her second PhD. Naturally, my first thought goes to a student’s paper I read while working in the writing center when I was an undergraduate. She made a very convincing argument how Billy Budd of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd is held up as a good person worth defending simply because he is handsome. Combing through the text, there is not one tangible example of anything he has done for anyone that makes him worthy of this noble perception. He is simply perceived and promoted as good because he is handsome. In the military one who is quiet and takes shit jobs and endless red tape without complaint is usually considered a “good guy.” Honestly.

After about the fifth time I was told how wonderful so and so’s daughter is for getting her second PhD, I asked, point blank, “Do you know her personally?….If not….What makes a well-fed person who successfully eats a bigger piece of pie than most everyone else, more worthy of my admiration than the scores of hungry and starving people who never even get to see the pie?” Of course, I am met with a dazed and confused look, followed by a moment of silence and then the chance of actually getting an answer sealed shut by a physically turned body and changed of subject.

I can tell you for a fact; it is socially acceptable to have disdain for the poor and less fortunate but it is forbidden to have disdain for the privileged. Safeguards have been put in place to silence any disdain for the over privileged, —-from shaming, to accusations of bitterness, resentment, and jealousy, to the defacto default, accusation of laziness.

  1. la redactora permalink
    January 10, 2011 8:00 pm

    I read a funny comment from someone, Michelle Ree, I think, saying that having gone to private schools all her life made her realize that there were plenty of rich, spoiled, not too smart white people who were all doing just fine for themselves with plenty of pie and would be circling the pie right on down to their children. Whereas poor black children who actually had talent and drive–well you know how that goes.

    Now that I am at a similar ‘institution’ I basically realized the same thing. There are plenty of butt-stupid male Phds walking around, and plenty of butt-stupid white students too, getting As and Bs because of low standards, and who unfortunately will be our future overlords.

    And your last paragraph, and what you asked that woman–well as you would say, LMAO!
    You probably stunned the pants off them.

    • January 10, 2011 8:26 pm

      Can you imagine the tour guide of the jungle adventure turn to everyone and exclaim, “Look everyone, the bear made poo-poo in the woods, let’s all give it a round of applause!”

    • la redactora permalink
      January 14, 2011 3:17 am

      I’ll think I’ll call you left-field Kitty from now on, but yes, it is just about the right metaphor ;-).

    • la redactora permalink
      January 14, 2011 3:22 am

      lackluster and entitled

      Thank you for phrasing that far better than my ‘butt-stupid.’

  2. January 10, 2011 10:09 pm

    God, it is so true that one is always accused of jealousy and laziness if she’s unwilling to kiss the asses of the privileged. I only ever hear that “crabs in a barrel” talk from people who were either never in a position of disadvantage or perhaps overcame hardship only to look down on people who are now suffering their past travails. And I can’t really relate to either. I’ve definitely surpassed the social status of my parents, but I wouldn’t have done so without their help, encouragement and sacrifice, and I definitely don’t look down on my cousins and other family members who didn’t have the opportunities that I had.

    I noticed the same thing you noticed, redactora, when I was in school – that the (especially white) people who came from families where everyone going back 3 generations was college educated and belonged to the merchant class or higher were all lackluster and entitled. And anyone “beneath” them who noticed was automatically written off as a “hater.”

    • Alex permalink
      January 13, 2011 5:32 am

      soulsis I agree. Poor white people are often secretly ashamed they don’t have the middle/upper class status they believe they deserve. The convenience of racism is that it lets them believe they are not the lowest class. In a capitalist society, the poor are shamed and their internal shame can influence negative behaviors like racism, materialism, and violence.

    • January 13, 2011 2:00 pm

      That shame may influence negative behaviors with the poor, however, I think it is essential to keep the focus and the scorn on the class that actually benefits and perpetuates racism, materialism, and violence on a greater scale, and that class is people with money. For every 100,000 “welfare queens,” one corporation and its rich CEO can be listed that commit mass racism, materialism, and violence in its every day practice/production. The middle class and above, along with the media and society’s help, keep the focus on the poor even though the biggest chunk of racism, materialism, and violence is accomplished by those who have.

  3. Linda Radfem permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:37 am

    Thanks for writing this, Kitty. These things must be said and these people must be challenged. The person you mention was basically demanding that you show your support for the status quo and you stuck to your principles which is really hard to do when it marks you as a dangerous type. I admire what you did.

  4. Pseudoadrienne permalink
    January 11, 2011 4:09 pm

    It’s unfortunate, but not suprising, that it’s difficult for a woman– especially a non-white, lesbian, etc– to attain tenure and command the respect that’s she has worked years to earn from her “collegues” and even her own students. I noticed how my classmates in college would treat the professors differently because of their sex and race. I clearly remember one of my criminal justice professors, a black woman in this case, becoming extremely frustrated with the class because people were talking through lectures or playing around on their phones. Nevermind that the white male criminal justice professor who would come in after her class was finished didn’t or rarely had such problems.

    Re: privileged, spoiled students expecting a parade for their “accomplishments”…

    There were a few Ivy-League bound [white] kids in my high school and naturally they expected groveling from the rest us. Of course they came from upper-middle class backgrounds and their parents had the resources to ensure they would receive the best tutoring from an early age and onward. And given this was a mostly white suburban school, of course it received plenty of funding, whereas its counterparts in urban areas did not and there are always stories in the local news about how terrible these inner city schools are, but fuck adequately funding them. Those schools are mostly populated by black and brown students and therefore they are expected- and *need* to fail in order to maintain the current broken school system in the U. S., which places mostly white and suburban schools at the top of their priority list when it comes to funding, because those privileged students are expected to succeed…simply because they’re white and socioeconomically privileged. So yes, it’s no wonder why some students succeed and others fail. And as mentioned above, simply because these kids succeeded in obtaining a PhD or going off to the Ivies doesn’t mean they’re the smartest or have any common sense. But that’s one of the luxuries of being privileged: you can be dumb and yet still receive accolades for your “academic success”.

  5. Level Best permalink
    January 11, 2011 4:15 pm

    Kitty, you are so laser-brilliant in your analysis. And I admire your active responses to this sort of thing very highly. As a working class person from a rural background, this sort of classism has always disturbed and sometimes when very openly and hurtfully expressed almost paralyzed me from responding. It’s we-got-ours-and-you’re-not-and-never-will-be-one-of-us, neener-neener garbage that the privileged just fling out there and are tickled when it conks its target square on the head and hurts. Although sometimes it’s we-got-ours-and-you’re-“well-spoken”-enough-to-pass-as-us-so-we’ll-gloat” garbage. My scholarship-provided education and ability to shop the 85% off racks for professional clothes often does psych these sorts out to the point where they reveal their classism to me because I pass.

    Billy Budd wasn’t necessarily all that deserving. Snow White and all the other beautiful princesses weren’t necessarily all that deserving. The kids of full professors I know that have gotten in good colleges and have the connections to actually get jobs and maybe tenure aren’t necessarily all that deserving. But we’re fully expected to subscribe to and noisily uphold the narrative that pretty and privileged people get the best because they are the best.

    You hit a nerve of mine in a really good way, Kitty. All three of you writers here are all so brilliant and capable of dissecting infuriating realities that just leave me sputtering. You can speak on my behalf anytime when classist affronts have left my jaw swinging on its hinges.

    • January 11, 2011 8:10 pm

      I think people often forget how many people fund education with scholarships and loans. I owe more than $35,000 in loans (and that’s having gotten 75% of my education paid for with scholarships). Much as my mother encouraged me to get an education, my parents didn’t have two dimes to rub together toward paying my way.

  6. TheRadicalSpinster permalink
    January 11, 2011 7:17 pm

    Besides, privileged women frequently receive more praise for their achievements than less privileged women, even when the latter have achieved just as much or more. So the same people who get so excited about 2 PhDs of a rich, white woman would probably find it hard to even acknowledge that achievement if it had been accomplished by a woman, who is not white and/or doesn’t come from a middle/upper-class background.
    Or if a woman, who does not rank high enough on the femininity-scale (appearance/size/ sexual orientation etc.), succeeds, her success is often enough met with indifference or even seen as some kind of “compensation”.
    In other words, if a woman, who is not meant to succeed, succeeds anyway, people will find a way to cheapen her success, but when an already privileged woman cannot squeez the last drop of praise and admiration out of people, that is considered a tragedy or a terrible offense.

    • Mary Sunshine permalink
      January 11, 2011 10:20 pm

      Thanks for that insight.

  7. January 13, 2011 6:16 am

    Ugh. I have witnessed the unwavering zombie-like faith in meritocracy at my college… My honors classes were filled with white, upper-middle class students, hardly any of which actually knew anything except how to extract cash from mom and dad and apply for scholarships even though they had the money for tuition. It was infuriating to me that because I was white, and “well spoken”, they sometimes let me into their little racist, classist club. Of course that led to me being horrified. They would be dumbstruck if anyone mentioned the fact that some people are talented and intelligent and still don’t succeed. Nevermind trying to convince them that racism and sexism are often behind it.

    RadicalSpinster – I agree that the success of non-privileged women is cheapened. I find that another way in which this happens is when the race or other status of the woman is tacked onto the rank, title, or position she achieves: Did you hear about that black student who graduated with honors? What about the lesbian prof who made tenure? The fat latina who got published?

    I have noticed that those adjectives are usually added by white, privileged people. I’m not sure if I am alone in this observation.

    • January 13, 2011 6:35 am

      No, you’re not alone. I had noticed that white people only mention the race of nonwhite people, and often in what seem to me situations in which it’s completely unnecessary, but I’m not sure I ever understood the social purpose that serves until you said it. It’s so true, though – great insight. You only ever hear white people bring up race as a way of marginalizing a nonwhite person or minimizing her accomplishments. I very, very rarely hear white people make explicit mention of white race, and the few times I have it’s been in a “white pride” kind of way.

    • January 14, 2011 4:47 am

      It’s just another way of othering people. It serves the purpose of making sure that it’s a “them or us” game. What I find disturbing is that I have asked people who do this why they do it, and they don’t even realize that they do it.

    • January 14, 2011 4:52 am

      As a side note, I’ve noticed that this goes hand in hand with the tendency to tack on the word “female” or “woman” to a professional title, such as doctor, lawyer, professor, etc. (Innit just a barrel of giggles that the title “Secretary” is NEVER mentioned like this? No one says “female secretary.”)

  8. la redactora permalink
    January 14, 2011 3:28 am

    Anyone who has been a woman in academia *knows* how difficult it is for women in academia. It is unfortunate that you have to defend your statement that way. Sorry, not sure if I phrased that correctly at all. My brain has been off in a fog lately.

  9. February 11, 2011 4:19 am

    I have a PhD and a lot of women do not approve of this. One should have an M.A. at most, and a husband and children. I know, I know. Sorry.

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