On Campus
Sep 30, 2008, 06:05AM

Stuff Black People Don't Like

An academic conference for black students raises questions about the country's bizarre fascination with elitism.

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Photo by bsdj7.

I’m bored out of my mind at this academic conference in the Capital of Fashion Disasters. It’s for scholars of color who currently have or have had this particular national fellowship. In one of the sessions I meet my nemesis, a.k.a. The Harvard Girl. I typically loathe people from Harvard because almost all of them have irretrievable butt plugs deep inside their anal cavities. This one, who foams at the mouth for 10 minutes about how she goes to Harvard, isn’t different. Before the session begins, in predictable academic style we go around the room and introduce ourselves, saying what schools and departments we’re from, defining “what we work on” as the audience coos and nods in approval.

Harvard Girl: “Hi, my name is Amanda and I’m a second-year in African-American Studies and...um...what school do I go to? Oh yeah, HARVARD,” she trumpets brassily, as if she expects people to instantly pass out because no one else in the world has ever gone to Harvard.

I fantasized about slapping her with an academic journal, but then I realized that it’s okay; she probably just needs to get laid real real good during office hours.

As I sit in this wood-paneled room, intellectualizing with the brightest scholars of color from some of the hottest universities in the country when I could be doing something a million times less abstract—say, going fishing—I couldn’t help but ask myself: Have I become an elitist yuppie?
Yuppies (black or white) are people who come from money, whether new or old. Sometimes, but not always, they take care to let the plebeians know that they live in a completely different class bracket. They’re like, “Oh, you shop at Sav-A-Lot? I only shop at Whole Foods. Now pardon me while I run to dip my almond biscotti into my English Breakfast tea.”

But yuppies aren’t just people with money, taste and a swank pad—there’s an intellectualism attached to them, too.

One of the things people hate about yuppiedom is the elitism and pretentiousness that intellectualism brings to the table. Yuppies convene and reproduce one another at good schools, often private, have little or no connection to pop culture, and talk all proper and shit. Yuppies think they’re just so fucking neat for reading Shakespeare in an unknown coffee shop, for having read Kant in the original German, or for living in a cool loft apartment in an ultra-hip part of downtown, via Daddy’s Money.

Though I was not born into money, it’s true that during my few years at The World’s Greatest University, Ever, I seem to have acquired a pretty specific lifestyle: art gallery openings in New York, travel to various places, an immense amount of “free” time, an obsession with minimalist design, and a reliance on Whole Foods. I even have a metal bowl of gray stones on the bar table in my kitchen for added affect. But you know what? Random rocks in a bowl in the kitchen are fuckin’ dope.

The thing that drives elitism, though, is this artificial distinction between “high” culture and “low” culture. That’s the thing that pisses me off about elitist yuppie bitches: they often enjoy one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Because to them, high culture = smart, intellectual, inaccessible, exclusive. Low culture = dumb, stupid, predictable, passive, everybody’s in. I say, why not enjoy the best of both worlds? Who’s to say you can’t read Kant or go to a fucking museum and then go get crunk at the club?

Long story short, I don’t think I’m any more yuppie-like or elitist than I’ve ever been.      It’s hard not to become a product of your environment. That’s because environments are totally contagious. If people around you talk a certain way, you’ll likely pick it up.       If they dress or act a certain way, you’ll pick that up, too. Think of your environment as a good perm—it’s gon’ burn out all possible kinks until every strand of hair is the same. I guess I just don’t really care enough about proving to people that I’m smart or whatever to be all in your face like the Harvard Girl. What a twat. Besides, my cousin Courtnee and I still laugh our asses off at pretentiousness. When I got into The World’s Greatest University, Ever, she asked if I would go and I was like: “Girl, now you know I wanna eat cucumber sandwiches and ride horses with the white people, too, okay!”

The biggest problem with elitism and yuppiedom for me is racial stereotype. I fear that a lot of smart black people feel like they have to prove their worth in the world by behaving a certain way, like performing their intelligence or something. My grandmother always told me that I had to be 10 times smarter than my white schoolmates. Still, if you’re black and smart, you’re automatically an elitist by default. Your black peers ask you why you talk white, as if you’re abandoning the Black Cause or something through your education or cultural interests. And then your white peers say that they’ve never seen such a well-poised black. Trouble all around! Just look at Barry Obama, who gets cast as an east coast elitist even though I find him to be one of the most down to earth homies around. Is he an elitist, or is he just a smart black guy who happened to go to Harvard?

The good thing, though, is that no matter how much education I get, I will still get ghetto real quick. Don’t make me take off my earrings.

  • Hilarious and insightful article Madison! I especially enjoyed the Harvard Girl part - so true! At least she didn't say "Oh, I went to a school near Boston."

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  • Or worse: "school in Cambridge." ... Also I'm not if you're talking about yuppies or just snobs. A lot of yuppie -- in the traditional 1980s sense -- actually partake in pop culture, they just also consume luxury goods too....Eh, I think all meaning of the term has been lost. Can we replace it with "bourgeois"?

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  • That's the battle that is being fought every day in this country, the repulsion against elitism and snobbery and the need to keep intellectualism alive. No country can survive without intellectualism, and I hope people in our country see that soon.

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  • It's tempting, but I don't think you can generalize about Harvard graduates. The same can be said for alumni from Yale, Princeton, Brown, etc. It is an East Coast thing, though. Stanford and Rice, for example, are tremendous schools, but you don't hear a Rice grad say that he or she "went to a school in Houston."

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  • Madison, when refering to "the thing that drives elitism", I think you are actually refering to snobbery and/or bigotry. As is common these days, you seem to confuse the two. Going to Harvard or any other Ivy is actually a mark of success. Granted, there are plenty of smart people who don't attend Ivy league schools (and idiots who do), however, getting into one does display a certain drive which is often accompanied by success. It is the lumping of people together based on one aspect of their life, like you do with Ivy league students, which is the epitomy of snobbery/bigotry not elitism or yuppiedom. If one lumps black people together as a group and casts aspersions, do you not call it racism or bigotry? One other point, what makes you think that the biggest problem with elitism is racial stereotype? Can you back that up other than stating a different stereotype? Don't get me wrong, there are too many racists out there of which you may be one, but, I find it hard to believe that even the liberal academics of the world, many of whom have attended the Ivy league schools would agree with you.

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  • Very funny article. I am glad to hear that you have "yuppie" tendencies and aren't afraid to admit it. I, too, feel like I could be viewed as a "yuppie." For example, I own a low-back sectional that I bought at West Elm; I own a Weimaraner; and I drink espressos from a machine I got at Williams-Sonoma. To top it all off, I am white. (However, turtlenecks are off limits, I don't go there). I think the terms "yuppie" and "elitist" have become outdated, though, and are used way too often now. They seem to only be used when it is convenient for people. For example, great comment about Obama being considered an elitist by certain people. That term can quickly be pulled from its holster by people who don't like him, but they don't really have any reason to use it. Unfortunately intellectualism has fallen into the equation somehow, and if being intellectual is wrong, than I don't wanna get unwronged.

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  • Landlord: As for HYP being a marker of success, that's true. But...it's also a potential marker of your already acquired (financial) status. My favorite Ivy League peeps are the ones who come from middle classes (Families who make under 60k per year). And as for the problem with elitism being racial stereotype, listen to this: I once went to this art talk at the IFA in New York which is in an extremely pompous building. Yadda yadda yadda, there were a lot of rich white people, and because I was the only black at the talk, one of these white bitches treated me like i was there as "help." I was like OH NO U DIDNT! Also also, the thing I hate about the whole Ivy thing is when the value of an HYP education is getting a job "on Wall Street." In a Yale Daily News article lamenting the fold of Lehman Bros, the tone was basically that Yalies with Wall Street dreams had to find something else to do. WTF? Decline of intellectualism. If all you want to do with your Y degree is work "on Wall Street," your 4 years at Y are nothing more than an expensive country club. You dont, like, learn shit or anything.

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  • "Threels is right: "yuppie" is by now an antiquated term, a relic of the 80s, sort of like Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street." I don't think there's been a decline in intellectualism, although it's weirdly become a polarizing political term. Real intellectuals, which used to have a different popular meaning, don't advertise the fact or lord it over anyone's head. Ivy Leagues schools are still "feeders" for certain industries, but not nearly as much as even a generation ago.

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  • That was a good rant, but when I read your seventh graf, I got a little self-conscious. I go to a private school, read Shakespeare, drive an old beamer, and enjoy a hidden corner coffee shop every now and then. And if that's the case, then so the fuck what? That doesn't make me a yuppie or an elitist, it just means I got lucky and enjoy Shakespeare. The only thing I can really say I agree with you is this: the arrogance is a bitch. I probably would've been next in line to slap the Harvard Bitch. I'd probably also would like to slap anyone who goes college, regardless of where (but in particular, Ivy schools), and then turns around and acts like God blessed them to rule the world. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is this: I hate pride. Of any kind. People can say pride is a good thing all they want, but there's a reason why pride is the deadliest of the seven sins.

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  • i hate this kind of reverse snobbery. I think it is a huge misconception that snobbish behavior is only seen in upper class people. You see it in all people, except you just call it being an asshole when they're not rich. I use to work at 2 different places: 1) I was a waiter at a fancyish foreign food restaurant and 2) was at Wal-mart. I think individuals from all stripes have the same overblown sense of entitlement and undeserved individuality that is at the core of all rude and selfish behavior. But when someone you know is richer than you does it, you can call them a rich asshole. I had this same kind of chip-on-my-shoulder redneck notion of "rich assholes think they're better than me," and thought that working at wal-mart would get me away from the snobs and inconsiderate behavior. Well it didn't, and I got older and realized it is not a way to think of other groups of people. There is snobbery and "elitism" for every social class/identity you could invent in America. Since alot of this article has to do with ivy league types, I don't really know anyone from that whole scene so I can't comment on that specifically (I guess I don't know any because I'm so real because my mom still works on an hourly wage!!). But to say something like, "My favorite Ivy League peeps are the ones who come from middle classes (Families who make under 60k per year)" is so shallow, as if someones economic background is more important in a friendship than common interests and similar senses of humor. Like having your parents work in careers that don't pay a whole lot grants some great wisdom into life. There is a note of self-pity behind all this too that is a bit too much to swallow. If writing a essay like your writing a text message really makes you feel like your staying true to yourself and where you come from, I think its superficial. If this is excessively harsh, I don't mean it to be, I just get annoyed by this all the time and never really say anything. So thanks anonymous internets!

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