My Mazamet

Life at № 42

Author Didier Eribon: ‘What was difficult was not being gay but being working-class’ | Books | The Guardian

“What was difficult was not being gay but being working-class,” he says. ‘People who say they are proud to be working-class are really saying they are proud to no longer be working-class.’ I escaped my background but I was still ashamed to admit it or make reference to it. I was ashamed of my family, of their habits, even of the way my mother pronounced words.’

Then he felt ashamed of his shame: ‘I never came to share the values of the dominant class. I always felt awkward or incensed when people around me talked scornfully or flippantly about working-class people and their habits and ways of life. After all, that’s where I came from.’

This contempt, he continues, ‘is everywhere, almost conditioned, always a bit pejorative, demeaning, contemptuous or mocking. Even if it’s not violent, there’s a superiority. I feel attacked by this. When people speak this way about the concierge, that’s my grandmother; or the factory worker, that’s my grandfather; and the cleaner, my mother.’

Source: Didier Eribon, writer: ‘What was difficult was not being gay but being working-class’ | Books | The Guardian

Wonderful book if you read French, if not the English version comes out next month. His book is what inspired Édouard Louis (who I’ve mentioned many times before) to write his own story. And just as is the case with Louis, although I think the book is brilliant, I have a slight problem with the narrative.

I imagine Eribon would say, of course you have a problem with the narrative because you couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be part of the French Northern Industrial working class. True. But I do understand what it’s like to feel other. I’ve always been quintessentially foreign. All my cousins had national, cultural identities. They were a part of groups, cheered for teams, local and national – meanwhile I didn’t even have a language that I felt was mine. I was on my own. Neither bound nor rooted to anything by nature. That’s a double-edged sword, of course, because it also meant I felt (in my opinion rightly) that no one was bound to me. This made walking away from the first 20 years of my life and everyone who was in it very easy.

And that’s where my story collides with Eribon’s and Louis’. That’s not to say their identification of class as the causal factor in their sense of alienation is wrong, but I’m not sure the weight they give it is entirely justified. Being embarrassed of one’s parents crosses class lines. Many of my friends, who like me were sent to expensive schools, are embarrassed of our parents and families and wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near them. I can see how the class issue may compound alienation, but that happens no matter where one is on the scale. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been told I couldn’t understand one thing or another, because I don’t score high enough in the Oppression Olympics.

And now I present dialogues and adventures in mild racism:

E: (watching The Good Fight) Isn’t Christine Baranski the most elegant woman on television? She must style herself because she dresses in the same vein for every role.

M: You would think that. You know that singer from the talent program, what is he?

E: Venezuelan, I think.

M: No, but is he Indian?

E: Venezuelan, I’m sure.

M: But is he red Indian?

E: You’re not supposed to say red Indian any more!

M: Fine, is he Native Indian?

E: I don’t know; besides, we don’t have red Indians in Latin America, our Indians are a more yellowy orange colour.

M: Your Indians? Are these Indians you personally own and didn’t disclose when we got married? The envoy of political correctness has spoken.

E: I am politically correct. And that’s a good thing.

M: You think politically correct means whispering people of the gypsical persuasion instead of just saying gypsies.

E: Be quiet, I’m watching television.

 

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33 comments on “Author Didier Eribon: ‘What was difficult was not being gay but being working-class’ | Books | The Guardian

  1. Steve Ruis
    May 27, 2018

    Isn’t it just like the dominant species on this planet. we all felt alienated from the people who surrounded us when we were young. maybe this is a primary driving force in us to get out and do something different. (My goal was to be able to “move” in company of all levels with some grace and compassion.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      May 27, 2018

      Yes. I think it’s to do with baseline calculation. We feel we already have everything in the baseline, so it’s up to us to go out and find whatever we feel isn’t there.

      Like

  2. foolsmusings
    May 27, 2018

    I guess in general people are ashamed to be different. Whether it be gay in a straight world or poor in a rich world or vice-versa. We constantly need to measure ourselves against others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      May 27, 2018

      That’s precisely the point that’s been on my mind in relation to all this. In a sense every aspect of our very existence exists on comparative terms. You only know you’re tall if there are many people who are shorter.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kris Jennings
    May 27, 2018

    The boys did a diversity exercise recently in school: take a step forward if you’re male, white, live with both parents, don’t have a job etc ….until of course some kids were several steps ahead and others remained at the starting line.

    Well it certainly pointed out differences, while reinforcing a victim-villain mentality and shaming the “privileged” kids (like mine, who apparently have wronged all of their classmates through nothing they did but just by who they are. Isn’t that anti-tolerance training?!).

    I believe we all crave a sense of belonging with other people. And each of us must search for it.

    On a side note—blue eyed redheads are the rarest combination in the world. There’s 3 of us in one house!! What kind of “specialness points” do we get?!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Anony Mole
      May 27, 2018

      I vote to turn the world into a meritocracy where all people are evaluated by a combination of three criteria: Kindness, Tenacity, Cleverness. No more ethnicity, race, religion, wealth or lineage biases.
      You can be kind but not very smart or dedicate and still score OK.
      You can be tenacious but not kind or smart.
      You can be smart but not kind or resolute.
      But if you’re kind AND persistent…
      Or determined AND intelligent.
      Or benevolent and ingenious.
      Or finally, kind, tenacious and clever!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        May 27, 2018

        That sounds like a world with a lot of work. I dream of a world where I can be unkind and lazy based solely on my ethnicity, wealth and lineage – oh, wait 😀

        Liked by 2 people

      • Anony Mole
        May 27, 2018

        You just want to be King. (Don’t we all…)

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        May 27, 2018

        Emperor, actually. I think it has a better ring to it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      May 27, 2018

      I couldn’t agree more. I think there’s a brand of activism that’s popular at the moment which actually does more harm than good.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Helen Devries
      May 27, 2018

      In my time that would have been reinforcing their sense of entitlement….

      Liked by 3 people

    • agrudzinsky
      May 27, 2018

      It’s not a “diversity exercise”. It’s “divisiveness exercise”. Has anyone sued the school yet?

      Liked by 2 people

      • The Pink Agendist
        May 27, 2018

        I’ll never understand how people don’t consider the logical progression of actions/events. What positive result could this activity possibly have?

        Liked by 1 person

      • agrudzinsky
        May 27, 2018

        The only outcome I see is to have students divided into two groups and make one group feel privileged and the other group feel disadvantaged. What’s most interesting, both groups can feel both ways, depending on the politics.

        Liked by 2 people

      • The Pink Agendist
        May 28, 2018

        Yes,it seems to be the creation or reinforcement of resentments. That can’t possibly create empathy or understanding. I imagine it has something to do with people having a more egocentric vision of the world. Only having experienced a single culture. The stories by the French authors make sense within the narrow scope of moving from poor provinces to Paris and circulating in bourgeois academic circles. In this context Louis’ story of having a hole in the window of his room growing up has great dramatic impact. But tell that story to someone from the developing world and a hole in the window isn’t something even worth mentioning.

        Liked by 1 person

      • agrudzinsky
        May 28, 2018

        All comes down to self-identity. The more definitions people add to their own identity, the more walls they build around themselves. E.g. people may identify themselves as “white middle-aged male” then add class, nationality, religion, marital status, political affiliation, favorite sports clubs. etc. Each additional definition is a wall separating an individual from the rest of the world. The fewer definitions we give to identify ourselves, the more open-minded we are, the easier it is to associate with other people. Perhaps, it is important to be aware of things like racism, antisemitism, homophobia, sexism, and other “identity issues”, but pointing them out to children and repeating to children that they are disadvantaged because of their race, class, sex, etc. is counterproductive to getting rid of these issues. It’s a paradox. The issue exists as long as people are aware of it, but you can’t get rid of the issue unless you are aware of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Bela Johnson
    May 28, 2018

    Well, I cannot understand the class issue either. I am perfectly comfortable living amidst working class people, and have never aspired to be anything but who I am, regardless of location or circumstances. I think blaming one’s class or parents or whatever is to some degree enjoying the supposed benefits of victimhood. Not for me, I am a survivor because I chose, as did you, to walk away and claim my own life on my own terms. And yes, sometimes it’s been strange and alien, but mostly it’s taught me how solid I am and how trustworthy. Selling myself out for whatever benefit I might have needed at the time has never been attractive. Saying no to my father was huge, but it just spilled from my lips, “My soul is not for sale.” Perhaps this says it all. Aloha, Pink.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      May 28, 2018

      Absolutely. I think at the heart of the issue is a trick of the mind. When we’re particularly insecure about something, that ends up being the prism through which we see everything, even if it’s not the prism through which the world is actually looking at us.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. I like anony mole’s yardstick 🙂
    Why? Because I think I would score pretty high, duh, so of course I think that would be a good measure. Ha-ha-ha.

    Kris Jennimgs, I was surprised you wrote about the “take one step forward if…” exercise. You wrote, “victim-villain mentality and shaming the “privileged” kids” I think that is a pretty odd take actually. Why would you call the other kids further back from the front victims, and your children villains? I don’t think most people think of your children with the benefits in life you have provided them (and good on you for that!) as villains. I think of it more as an exercise to show your children that they are fortunate in life through no efforts of their own but simply by circumstances of their birth, what family they were born into.

    I would retract my conclusions depending on the age of the children, if the kids are very young then I do agree with you as they are to young to process the point of the exercise, and then I would agree with your sentiments.

    I follow and interact with quite a few sociologists as their expertise was deeply important in the, particularly the court fight, for civil marriage for sexual minorities in the united States.

    There was one landmark study that made me think. The study showed that not just your own family, but the neighborhood you live in growing up, the area, city/town, gave you increased or decreased social capital for success in life. This is how it went, even if your parents divorced, if you lived in an area with mainly two parent families that never experienced divorce, you did better in life as a grown up.

    I think we do need to have these discussions and yes exercises, but age appropriate. Why? because those who struggle as adults should not be made to feel that they are a failure because they couldn’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Your privileged children will maybe one day be asked to provide free university education to economically disadvantaged students, they will vote on that through who they chose to vote for to represent them in government. They should understand from an early age how lucky they are and that not everyone is so lucky. Your families station in life, that station you didn’t earn, but were simply born into.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      May 28, 2018

      I think empathy is based on shared experience and a shared understanding of events. An exercise where people are forced to sit at the back of a bus, for example, or wear armbands (like the ones imposed by the Nazis) achieves that goal. Just pointing out who has more advantages (technically) doesn’t achieve much, in my opinion. It divides people a bit more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm, I don’t think so. I know with my own children raised like Kris Jennings children, a life of unearned privilege, would have benefited (age appropriate) from such an exercise. It does help the privileged children to see their privilege, something kids would not normally think about.

        No empathy is not based on a shared experience and a shared understanding of events. You have to be taught empathy as we are born completely narcissistic, look at any young child, it is all about them and if they don’t get what they want, hissy fit. Whereas we “might” learn empathy by osmosis it takes much longer and in many people it doesn’t happen at all.

        The whole point of empathy is to see and understand the other person’s circumstances when they live much much differently than you do. That is not a shared experience, you are living completely different lives. With your point of view we would all only ever gain empathy for people in our own social sphere, you said, “empathy is based on shared experience and a shared understanding of events” the whole point of empathy is to feel for people that you d not interact with at all. That I think is a teachable value.

        I don’t think you recognize, and hear me out, that we are ALREADY divided. You say this will divide us, but I say we are already divided, and teaching exercises like Kris describes help us to bridge that divide. Age appropriate Pink, age appropriate.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        May 28, 2018

        What I mean by shared experience is developing a deep understanding of what people go through. A person can’t really understand what it’s like to live in a favela without visiting one. A description is just not enough. In the same way, neuro-scientists like Dr. Mariano Sigman have written about how people donate more money to causes where they have more in common with those who will benefit. And Judges give more lenient sentences to people who they have more in common with (ethnicity, bio-type, socio-cultural and educational background etc.) Bridging the divides means making people put themselves in the shoes of those in other groups.

        Like

  6. I think class must matter much more to ppl who are French and British than to Americans. We were not raised in an environment with inherited titles and the like. My children were good friends with all socio economic “classes” of kids, from kids whose mother was a cleaner and another whose parents were a doctor and a dentist. This is why are public schools are so important and we should not promote public finding of private schools, schools public schools are a mixing pot.

    I am totally against home schooling. The children are isolated and when abuse occurs there is no trusted outside person the child can tell because the parents keep them captive and isolated. Plus it gives the parents an opportunity to brainwash their children, which is the whole point of homeschooling in the far majority of the cases.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      May 28, 2018

      Really? My experience in America was that social hierarchy exists, it’s just measured in somewhat different ways. As you mentioned in your other comment, postcode matters, the cars parents have matter, what clubs people belong to and so on and so forth. Do you remember a hilarious Everybody Loves Raymond episode called the Faux Pas about the Janitor?

      Like

      • Oh yes, social hierarchy does exist in America, it is measured in US Dollars.

        I watched the Everybody Loves Raymond episode and I completely didn’t get it. Watched it twice. I don’t get why this is funny. Maybe I needed to see a longer snippet of the episode?

        That is the whole point of school empathy exercises, to reach the kids outside of their parents control and teach them empathy, because they may not be getting that education at home. You were obviously raised wealthy, and by outside appearances it appears you are fairly well off today, I’m proud of you that you think deeply of others who are outside of your social class. It is obvious this is so, by your writings. Nothing wrong in wanting and acquiring the finer things in life, as long as we all do our part to lift up others who did not start with the same social capital we had. In particular I highly admire the rental rates on your rental units that you and Mike set. That’s helping people, people who maybe didn’t start out in life with the same advantages you and Mike had. It’s something I highly admire about you.

        You ponder things I never ponder, you think at a much higher level than I do, really a philosophers level, I’m not skilled in that, I’m more simple.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        May 28, 2018

        The interesting thing in that episode is their children become friends with the child of the school janitor – and they end up making one gaffe after the other, not quite knowing how to treat the issue. They’re trying to be nice, but under the surface are all manner of preconceptions and prejudices.

        Like

      • The Pink Agendist
        May 28, 2018

        And btw, thanks for the compliment 🙂
        It’s been an interesting experiment, and we’ve come to the conclusion it’s not just possible but actually easy to combine making money with doing something that’s productive and helpful.

        Like

  7. acflory
    May 28, 2018

    That dialogue made me laugh out loud, for real. 😀

    Class is not totally absent from Australian society, but we do like knocking off the tall poppies so our ‘working’ class probably look down on the indolent rich instead of the other way around. Not much shame that I’ve ever seen. I suspect that may be a hangover from the past that persists most strongly in Europe. Or perhaps in a certain age bracket. :/

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2018 by in activism, thinking aloud and tagged , , .
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