Some people use intellectualism as an escape from real life. I wonder what would have happened if she had talked to E and tried to straighten him out?
Kim,I could have talked to E about it. And I did seriously consider it. However, there are a few considerations. I'm a graduate student with interests that span enough of sociology and economics that I would be certain to run into E again, potentially in a situation where he would be making a decision that might affect my employment, conference acceptance, or acceptance of a paper in a journal. Potentially saying "hey by the way, white trash isn't a compliment where I come from" might have started a congenial conversation where we both learned someting. On the other hand it might have started an unpleasant discussion that would have attracted a lot of attention from the other people in the room (most of whom were not present for the original conversation since we arrived early). Given the importance of the people in the room for potential future networking, I calculated that the risk of creating a scene that would reflect negatively on me was probably higher than the likelihood of having a conversation that was beneficial. I've learned from observation that you've got to pick your battles. If you fight every instance of ignorance that pops up you get a reputation as being problematic, you know that person whose always yelling "class" or "race" or "gender" in a crowded theatre. People stop listening to you. And in a setting where networks are everything it can potentially have negative career implications.
Sarahliz -- Yeah, I agree with your evaluation of the situation -- and it stinks-- (I probably would have done the same thing if I were thinking clearly, but I'm more the open mouth insert foot type). That said, it's still interesting to speculate how he would have reacted if someone had gently explained it to him.
Judging from my experience, when confronted he would take it as a frontal attack and be offended- it is, after all, a challenge to his sense of expertise. I first ran across this phenomenon 30 years ago. Although the company was less elite perhaps than Sarahliz describes- this was Indiana, after all- it was thereby even more jarring; one would have thought that just living in Indiana would have made the point by osmosis.Sarahliz is also quite correct about the importance of that network. Watching it work here for 30 years, let me predict what Saraliz will witness: some of those people will run for state or even federal legislature, and will design programs that cannot possibly work because the central concepts are flawed- but when opposed, they will say "How can you possibly pit your judgement against Professor X- he quite literally wrote the book on white trash! There IS no rational opposition to this program- you're just an evil Republican who doesn't care about poor people." When the working poor vote against these programs the elite will say- and this is an actual quote- "These are simple people; they don't understand where their true interests lie" And another three decades will pass, and Sarahliz will be writing similar words to another grad student writing in 2036 about academics who still haven't learned.
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