Over the last week, I've been hearing a lot of things like this:
Some of it, of course, is driven by cultural and religious conflict: fundamentalist Christians are sincerely dismayed by Roe v. Wade and evolution in the curriculum. What struck me as I watched the convention speeches, however, is how much of the anger on the right is based not on the claim that Democrats have done bad things, but on the perception -- generally based on no evidence whatsoever -- that Democrats look down their noses at regular people.
I'm surprised--though I shouldn't be, of course--that any number of liberals who are (presumably) comfortable with concepts like unconscious discrimination and privilege when it comes to race, have not even stopped to consider that the same sort of thing might be operating here.
Let's be honest, coastal folks: when you meet someone with a thick southern accent who likes NASCAR and attends a bible church, do you think, "hey, maybe this is a cool person"? And when you encounter someone who went to Eastern Iowa State, do you accord them the same respect you give your friends from Williams? It's okay--there's no one here but us chickens. You don't.
Maybe you don't know you're doing it. But I have quite brilliant friends who grew up in rural areas and went to state schools--not Michigan or UT, but ordinary state schools--who say that, indeed, when they mention where they went to school, there's often a droop in the eyelids, a certain forced quality to the smile. Oh, Arizona State. Great weather out there. Don't I need a drink or something? This person couldn't possibly interest me.People from a handful of schools, most of them hailing from a handful of major metropolitan areas, dominate academia, journalism, and the entertainment industry. Our subtle (or not-so-subtle) distaste for everything from their entertainment to their decorating choices to the vast swathes of the country in which they choose to live permeate almost everything they read, watch, or hear. Of course we don't hear it--to us, that's simply the way the world is.
In the 1980s, I played on possibly the worst girl's basketball team in the state of New York. Every time another Catholic school kicked our asses (I believe one memorable game ended at 48 to 2) we consoled ourselves by making fun of their big, sprayed, permed hair, and the lavish eye makeup that ran down their faces when they sweated. We didn't know that what divided us from those girls was economic class--they were the children of plumbers and bodega owners, while we were the children of bankers and lawyers and lobbyists. We genuinely believed that we had simply been gifted with a better fashion sense.
But I bet those girls knew exactly what we were saying as we got on the bus. And I'm pretty sure they knew what we were really talking about.
Red America exaggerates the contempt, of course. It's also true that if you're expecting racism and sexism, you'll probably end up misinterpreting perfectly innocent remarks. But the fact that they aren't right in every particular does not mean that, in general, they've got it wrong. For one thing, in both DC and New York I've spent a fair amount of time listening to liberals make jokes about red states that would horrify them if they were told about blacks. But even if that weren't true, I wouldn't be the best person to assess whether there is prejudice or not. I'm so close to it that I can't see it.
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