All Articles Tagged "classism"
My Conversation With Legendary Historian & Artist Nell Painter: A Must Read Interview For Black Women
Nell Painter, an Ivy League educated woman, has had a very celebrated career. From her published art and literary pieces to her tenure as a professor at Princeton University, this 70 year old Houston, Texas native, has seen and experienced enough to pass along her wisdom to the next generation. In an exclusive interview with MadameNoire writer, Zahra, she shares some of her insight on the imaginary concept of race, succeeding as a black woman and being optimistic. She stops short of kicking Zahra in the butt, trying to get her to grasp certain concepts. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t read all the way through.
This interview takes place at Nell’s Newark, NJ studio.
Zahra: I’m oversimplifying here but you said in 2003, before you retired, that black women scholars are somewhat invisible when it comes to positive recognition. I think black women and positive recognition have a contentious relationship in general.
Nell: I think that’s a very good way of putting it. That it’s a fraught relationship. That black women scholars cannot take recognition for granted even if they do all the things they are supposed to do. But on the other hand, I can’t complain about my career. I had a wonderful career. I was rewarded. So clearly you can’t say that if you do all of the right things no matter what you will not get rewarded. Social scientists say that optimists and pessimists go through the world differently…that pessimists see the world more correctly but optimists get more stuff done because they just keep at it.
Zahra: Uh huh. Wow.
Nell: If you try more, you get more. The other side of it, and this is something that artists say, is if you’re not getting turned down multiple times you’re not making enough applications. Pessimists will say “My god, what are my chances, which are miniscule” and not bother to try. I think that’s the kind of relationship between recognition and black women. That you have to be an optimist to think something’s going to work out and just keep trying because if you concentrate on the really awful actual facts of life, then you’ll just crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head.
Zahra: (laughter). That’s where I end up at times. I want to talk about place. For some reason, place came to me when I was thinking of you. Where do you feel comfortable? I mean it’s hard to feel at home sometimes.
Nell: You know it’s almost a commonplace that we don’t feel at home.
Zahra: The human condition?
Nell: I wouldn’t go that far. But I think it’s an American condition. Part of it has to do with so much migration in our history. So when I think about my friends and myself and my parents, everybody’s got migration/immigration in their past. That just sets us up for feeling either that our roots are shallow or that we have no roots. All of that is to say that I do have a hard time feeling at home.
Zahra: Even you?
Nell: What do you mean even me? (laughs).
Zahra: For me, you’re a celebrity.
Nell: That’s sweet.
Zahra: You know we put our celebrities on a pedestal. So even you! I am taken aback by what I have read of your parents: their intellect, values and longevity. We know that there is a very social reason for inequality and some argue a genetic basis for it, but I wonder if we should not talk more about parenting.
Nell: Well it depends on what the conversation is. The last time we met I kept trying to shake you out of going so quickly and easily into categories because the categories you’re using, the categories Americans use, are so gross. Gross in the sense that you can’t think of yourself in a sophisticated, careful, sensitive way if what you’re saying about yourself or thinking about yourself applies to millions and millions of other people.
Zahra: I mean, Nell, that is so true right—the social construction of race. It just is. It’s so delicious to me, what you just said because I’m a thinker. BUT damn it when I live my life I’m living in these categories, perceptions, taxonomies. We are constantly checking boxes.
Nell: Actually, we are not constantly checking boxes.
Zahra: Hmm. That’s true. I’m thinking job and school applications.
Nell: These are things that you do at most three times a year.
This past weekend, Kelly Price posted on Facebook and tweeted about the poor customer service she and her husband experienced with United Airlines. Now, the singer/actress has started a petition on Change.org blasting what she called the “classist, racist practices hidden in corporate code”.
It started on Saturday night when Kelly Price says that a United Airlines agent in Houston named Stephanie asked her to go to the back of the coach passengers line. Kelly says she was in the line with the Premier and First class ticket holders and that Stephanie didn’t check her ticket first before sending her to the back of the “other line”. The singer alleges that Stephanie then helped the “nonblack man in a suit” instead of her. Kelly tweeted that the co-workers stood by while the agent yelled at her and when Stephanie realized her mistake (and that Kelly was indeed a Premier and First Class ticket holder), she didn’t apologize.
The Queens native kept it classy and filed a formal complaint with United Airlines, but she didn’t stop there.
She has started a Change.org petition titled “Demand United Airlines Treat ALL Passengers Fairly”. According to the website, she is petitioning: The President of the United States, The U.S. Senate, The U.S. House of Representatives, The Governor of CA, The CA State Senate, The CA State House and Jeff Smisek President United Airlines (United Airlines).
Her petition reads:
Profiling passengers is a common thing with air travel. The world has changed and traveling has not been the same since 9-11. The discomfort and sometimes annoying process of getting from here to there is a cross we all bear in this country to insure the safety of all Americans when we travel by airplane. Unfortunately, some use this as a bullying tool.
On Saturday June 23, 2012 I was bullied by Stephanie a United Airlines employee when she assumed I was not a first class passenger and refused me service at the Customer Service/Rebooking counter in Houston. Even once she realized she was wrong she still ignored me and refused to help me. Her co-workers also ignored me. When I asked to see her name on her badge she hid it and began to scream out loud that I was harrassing her in an attempt to have security come an remove me. I am not a terrorist. I am not a criminal. Had Stephanie (The United Airlines Employee) been successful in her attempt to have me removed I would have likely been arrested and certainly not allowed to travel that day.
As American citizens we are entitled to each have the same civil liberties and basic rights. I want United Airlines to have mandatory Cultural Diversity and Tolerance training for ALL employees of their company. I want United Airlines to implement better checks and balances that insure their employees CANNOT misuse their “authority” with customers and passengers. I want a United policy that demands the immediate termination of a United Airlines employee who discriminates or violates the civil and/or consumer rights of a customer/passenger in either of these manners. Classist, Racist practices hidden in corporate code cannot be tolerated. If we don’t speak out this will never change.
After talking about her ordeal, Kelly tweeted: I wish I knew 600,000 miles ago what I know now about @United. 600k that would be the # of miles I’ve flown on YOUR airline in the last 5yrs.
600-thousand miles is a lot and I’d be interested to know if she’s had a negative experience in the past. United Airlines is the world’s largest airline but last year, in a story titled America’s Meanest Airlines: 2011, US News and World Report ranked United as the “Worst Major Carrier”. The LA Times reports that the latest statistics from U.S. Transportation Department show United is the most complained-about airline in America by far.
Kelly says her complaint isn’t about money or fame, but about her civil rights being violated and that no one (celebrity or non) should have to put up with that. More than 500 people have signed her petition so far. Given the track record of Change.org and the major movements it has sparked around the country, it’s likely this petition will reach the necessary eyes and ears in the corporate office, possibly sparking a change in the company…or at least getting Kelly Price a sincere apology.
What do you think about Kelly Price’s petition?
Alissa Henry is a freelance writer living in Columbus, OH. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaInPink
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It was a bone-rattling cold night in NYC, me and some friends had just left a lounge in the Meat Packing district of Manhattan. It was time to grab a cab and head back home. A male friend of mine was the chivalrous type and went out to seek our yellow chariot. Cab after cab after cab passed us up. Ten to be exact. He became increasingly frustrated, he hit one cab’s trunk and screamed, “I’m an effing doctor! We’re not going to the damn ghetto!” It was one of many nights reminding us that although we were all professional folks, we are all still black folks.
Once safely ensconced in a taxi, my friend went into a familiar tirade. He hates getting lumped in with “hood” black folks “who don’t know how to act right.” I cringed. It was nothing new from him. He often brags about how few black people live in his city and apartment building. He loves to call working-class black people lazy and he distances himself from any behavior that could be termed, “ghetto.” Always one to get a conversation going, I challenged my friend. I asked him why it should matter if he was a doctor. Doesn’t he believe that everyone deserves a cab home on cold night including someone from the hood? He answered that he understands why cabbies wouldn’t want to deal with ghetto people, but they should assume every black person is from the hood. I pointed out that unless he finds a way to staple his MD to his head, a racist has no way to know that he’s a doctor. That’s why EVERYONE deserves to be treated with respect regardless of educational background, income, or what neighborhood they come from. My friend and I just had to agree to disagree.
His perspective is not uncommon and it comes from a place of frustration. He’s not a bad person. He just lives in a world where he is forced to prove his worth before he gets respect due to the color of his skin. A white person dressed in jeans and a T-shirt can walk into anywhere and get respect. We can’t. A lot of black folks who work in corporate America feel pressure to be on their best behavior and not to “show their color.” So when a small minority of black people from “the hood” are loud and unruly, some bourgeois black people get angry at them for confirming stereotypes. However, racism is in the bones of America and no matter if black people all woke up tomorrow and were model citizens, it would still exist. Look at all the racism directed at our President and First Lady who have lived accomplished, principled lives. Racism is directed at all of us. And if racists lump us all together, that is the problem of the racist not the people who conform to their stereotypes.
The prejudice between bougie black people and folks from the hood runs both ways. There are working-class black people who think that bougie blacks who speak English and not Ebonics are “talking white.” This is also a messed up attitude. I had a friend who was the first person in her family to go to college. She became a successful lawyer. However, whenever she went home to visit her family, they tore her down. They said she had “changed” and “thought she was better.” Instead of celebrating her success they would say she was trying to “act white” Just because someone is trying to climb the corporate ladder, doesn’t mean that they are not proud that they’re black. While there are bougie people like my friend who look down on people from the hood, most don’t. Sometimes, they are glad to get away from their schools and jobs and let their guard down around other black people.
So, whether you’re a Harvard alumna or from around the way, we’re in this together. Let’s act like it.