Via Ta-Nehisi Coates, here’s a segment from this week’s Bill Maher show in which Alexandra Pelosi, fresh off her trip to Mississippi to interview racist white morons, turns her cameras on no-count black welfare recipients in New York City. Watch:
Here’s TNC’s reaction. Excerpt:
Pelosi’s commentary is worth listening to. She evidently is declining to understand the critique, preferring instead to undermine it by proving that her sneering knows no bounds. But cruelty is cruelty and the fact that one’s condescension is of the rainbow doesn’t make one any less condescending.
Pelosi thinks she’s surprising by her willingness to unleash her quick wit against poor black people. But there is nothing noteworthy about offending “both sides,” a feat that can be managed simply relieving yourself on a crowded street.
Note well that TNC, a black liberal, was put off by Pelosi’s clip about poor and working class whites too. I share TNC’s view contra the paternalistic materialism of liberals like Pelosi, who believe that voting for one’s economic interests is the only thing that makes sense. I don’t see her questioning why wealthy coastal liberals would vote Democratic, against their economic interests. These people plainly and correctly believe there’s a lot more at stake in our polity than divvying up the money. Why should she fault lower-class GOP voters for voting their moral beliefs over their economic interests, but laud, or at least not fault, wealthy Democratic voters for doing the same?
Anyway, about this new video, maybe it’s where I’m from, but I’m not the least bit surprised to discover that both sides exist. I mean, that you have poor and working-class white people who believe stupid and despicable things, and that you have poor and working-class black people who believe stupid and despicable things. What, exactly, does one prove by showcasing this? I found myself watching that welfare-queen video, and thinking how much those people make me sick. I found myself doing the same with her previous video, the Mississippi one. What am I supposed to do with that emotion, though? Decide which group is more disgusting, and vote accordingly?
I’m not one of those people who believe in Victim Classes, whose members are not to be held morally responsible for their beliefs and actions because they are downtrodden, discriminated against, or what have you. Just because you are poor doesn’t give you the right to be immoral (e.g., racist, lazy). What gets people’s back up about these things is knowing that half the country sees cretins like those Pelosi interviewed, and finds their nastiest beliefs about the Other confirmed. Ah-ha, that’s how all white Southerners are! Or: See, that’s just like black people, isn’t it?
That’s not true, of course, but it’s easy to think the worst of people who are not like us. It’s easy to see the worst examples of a people, or a class of people, and think that they are indicative of the whole. But that’s too easy. It’s harder to see through the racism, the shiftlessness, the ignorance, the this and the that, to the real people beneath, and their dignity, however abused or self-degraded. This is something I struggle with. This is something my late sister, the schoolteacher, did not struggle with, because it was in her nature to try to see the dignity in every person, no matter how messed up and unrighteous. I will never forget her patient upbraiding of me for being scornful of the low marks her sixth-grade students made on a quiz I was helping her grade. She gave me the back stories of several of those low-scoring kids, informing me of the squalid domestic situations those children had to endure, and how for many of them, it was a triumph just to come to school at all.
I interviewed a couple of weeks ago a young black woman who was one of my sister’s students back in the day. She’s now very successful, and lives and thrives in California. She told me that my sister was the only adult who cared for her at all when she was a sixth grader. She had a really messed up home life (how messed up? three of her brothers are now in prison), and absolutely no help or guidance. Except for my sister, her teacher. S. told me how all the teachers who knew about her home life pitied her, but only Ruthie seemed to see through her awful circumstances and challenge her to draw on her inner resources and overcome it. And she did.
It would have been easy for Ruthie to take a paternalistic stance, and write S. off — either from a “conservative” point of view (“You can’t expect much from poor black kids”) or a “liberal” point of view (“You can’t expect much from poor black kids, bless their hearts”). But she didn’t do that.
I wish Ruthie were here to watch both of Alexandra Pelosi’s clips and give me her opinion. I’m sure she would recognize in both clips the fathers of many of the children, white and black, that she taught every day. I’m fairly certain that she would have been hard-pressed to find any redeeming quality in HBO spotlighting their moral and intellectual degradation. The hard thing — the really hard thing — is to love and respect people in spite of their wretchedness. I’m very, very bad at this. So, I think, are my fellow privileged Americans Alexandra Pelosi and Bill Maher.