Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Inappropriately Touched by Class

I'm rereading Patricia J. Williams's short but powerful book Seeing a Color-Blind Future (Beacon, 1998), which as always offers up its rewards. For example, she wrote:
I was in England several years ago when a young Asian man was severely beaten in East London by a young white man. I was gratified to see the immediate renunciation of racism that ensued in the media. It was a somewhat more sophisticated and heartfelt collective self-examination than sometimes occurs in the United States in the wake of such incidents, where, I fear, we are much more jaded about all forms of violence. Nevertheless, what intrigued me most about the media coverage of this assault was the unfortunate way in which class bias became a tool for the denunciation of racism.

"Racial, Ethnic, or Religious Prejudice Is Repugnant," screamed the headlines.

Hooray, I thought.

And then the full text: "It is repugnant, particularly" -- and I'm embellishing here -- "when committed by a miserable low-class cockney whose bestial nature knows no plummeted depth, etc., etc."

Oh dear, I thought [32-3].
The assailant was a Chav, in other words.

And then Williams summed up exactly my objection to the denunciations I see of bigots as trailer trash, ignorant rednecks, inbred hillbillies, and so on; and to the use of the word "class" as praise, as in "Barack and Michelle have brought real class back to the White House, after eight years of that hilljack Bush."

I'm putting it in bold type because it's so important:
If race or ethnicity is not a synonym for either ignorance or foreignness, then neither should class be an explanatory trashbin for racial prejudice, domestic incivility, and a host of other ills [33].
Think of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party. (What is it with the Brits and fascinating fascism? And of course he apologized, just like Rush did.) Think of our high class private clubs that excluded blacks, Jews, and women from membership as long as they could -- even the Irish. Think of our best American universities keeping blacks, Jews and women out of their ivied halls for decades, and resorting to maximum quotas to keep their numbers down when they could no longer exclude them completely. Think of the fury of the putatively Anglo-Saxon old-guard faculty when the barriers came down after World War II, which they rationalized on coldly racist grounds. Think of our reality-based, educated Democratic liberals who determinedly support the murderous policies that their Democratic President took over from his Republican predecessor. (But he's so dreamy!)

That's what depresses me most of all: the self-appointed hope of our nation, indeed of our species, against the Orcs and Goblins, are not really any more rational or better-informed, or any more humane, than their Republican enemies. We're doomed. At least we're doomed if we depend on them. I'm not sure we have to; but then the question becomes, who's "we"?