I didn’t have a way to say why it made me uncomfortable when people picked on George W. Bush for his accent or his language, or called him a “hick,” when they seemed to suggest that the main problem with this racist, sexist, homophobic, extremely wealthy white man was that he was not sufficiently sophisticated or urban; still didn’t have a way, years later, when Palin was talking about “Real Americans,” to pinpoint the obvious vulnerability she was exploiting (you called us hicks, you made costumes out of us, you made jokes out of us, you have a bar in your big fancy city and it’s called “Trailer”: of course we want to hear that the “coastal elite” is worthless, of course we want to hear that we’re better than you, that we’re “real”) and to speak about why the further invocation of “hicks” and “trash,” by liberals, seemed so very destructive.
This post by Sady Doyle over on Tiger Beatdown is probably the best thing you’ll read about class and maybe also Occupy Wall Street this week. This particular part stands out to be because it reminds me so much of interactions I’ve had with people who have not known many hicks, rednecks, or white trash folks, and have been very comfortable commenting on them. My perspective on this is different, based on the experiences I’ve had, and I think she did a very good job of explaining why that sort of talk is so toxic. Dehumanizing people, no matter who they are*, is never going to bring about the world you want to create. It will only ever make it harder to get there. That’s true 100% of the time.
The post, and the comments section on the post, also open up a conversation about the Occupy movement that I think will need to happen: Namely, that the concept of “The 99%” has the potential to be a flattening one, and that is dangerous. At Occupy Austin, one of the discussions has been what to do about the Ron Paul people, who are legion in this city and who have been hanging around at City Hall. I don’t want to say that they’re being treated as though they’re unwelcome, but, um, that kind of is what is happening. And I’m hardly a Ron Paul supporter, but if this movement is to consist of “The 99%,” then they are included in that group, right?
It’s a weird, tricky thing. I get that you don’t want this thing that you feel ownership of to be taken over by people with whom you disagree. But it’s bigger than you, or your politics, or whatever preferences people have. 99% incorporates people you disagree with, too. It incorporates people who have a hell of a lot more money than the poorest demonstrators, and people who have secure jobs that they like, and who possess all manner of class privileges, and who do not speak in liberal-progressive language, and more besides. One of the things I’ve found most encouraging about Occupy Austin was how diverse the assembly is — yeah, lots of dreadlocked white dudes, but a lot of people of color, a lot of women in prominent roles, a lot of people who shake up the stereotype and have the potential to make this something that isn’t just white-dude-led. But viewing the participation of people who don’t conform to a view of “The 99%” as an oppressed group because they all, at the very least, have big student loans, as a problem — that seems to be dangerous.
If it’s The 99%, then that’s damn near everybody who ought to be welcome. Because if it’s just the however-many-percent-of-the-99%-who-call-it-Faux-News-and-otherwise-dismiss-half-the-country-as-rednecks, then this thing isn’t going to work. The thing that Occupy Wall Street and the satellite demonstrations have going for them is that, fundamentally, it feels new. If all of the petty social orthodoxies are going to be a part of it, then that’ll go away pretty quickly.
*Even Green Bay Packers fans, god damn it.