author – activist – faculty – mom
Today, I got my first essay published on VIDA’s website. VIDA is a literary organization for women, which is best known for keeping track of gender disparities in the literary industry. My essay is called “My MFA Career as a Recovering Prestige Fiend,” and traces my process of divesting from institutions that would look good on a resume and investing in institutions that would actually nurture me, a woman of color, writing about social justice.
Mostly what makes a college elite in this country is the fact that it is old. These institutions date back to a time when colleges were mostly attended by wealthy white men. The Ivy League. The Seven Sisters. These schools have old money names and wealthy alumni, but that doesn’t mean they offer a better education. Yet our perception of the old wealthy college brand as superior is a collective delusion, as much as it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people think these colleges are better, then they get more applicants and can be more selective about whom they let in. But their superiority is still utterly mythical.
Which is just like Donald Trump. His supporters like him because he’s wealthy. He has absolutely no credentials to become president. He has no political leadership experience. He’s not able to maintain a thread of logic. He’s a liar. He’s manipulative. He’s not well-spoken. He’s not actually a successful businessman–his epic failures have been well-documented. But he’s very rich. And bigoted. And in our classist society, wealthy becomes a stand in for quality, smart, leader, important, valuable, influential. Classism teaches us that wealthy people are just…superior. People in the US watch class politics from England, for example, and think we’re so much more “evolved.” But Trump is revealing the deep internalized classism of many poor and working class white people. Trump uses racism to appeal to them, and their vulnerability to such manipulation is profound. His followers don’t seem to be turned off by his openly contemptuous behavior toward poor and working class people. His audience is like the women at a gangsta rap show. When they rap about “bitches” and “hoes” their female fans assume they must mean someone else.
Internalized oppression is a very dangerous thing. It can have a woman of color writer venturing into the backwoods to attend a dangerously white writing program. It can have a fascist, misogynist, racist billionaire close to the presidency. I offer my story on VIDA as a cautionary tale. I can only hope Trump will prove equally anecdotal: may we look back at this election as a close call, a moment where the tendencies towards fascism were revealed (so they could be addressed) but not enthroned.