Quote of the Day:
In her new book, White Working Class, Joan Williams scolds her fellow professors, lawyers, and other professional types for their indifference and intolerance toward their less educated white fellow-citizens. She relates the story of a friend who tells her: “The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class.” Williams’s response: “A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Nor is minimum wage.” Later on in the book, she writes, “When I hear some environmentalists talk, I feel like I’m listening to my German Jewish grandmother calling Russian Jews peasants.
–Kay Hymowitz in "Deplorables for Dummies" in Commentary magazine
In her review of Joan Williams' book, Kay Hymowitz begins by noting that Williams isn't some cultural conservative who might automatically be sympathetic towards Hillary Clinton's deplorables. She is a feminist legal scholar who writes about gender. She hails from an affluent background but got a taste of how the other half lives when she married somebody who grew up in a pre-gentrification Italian neighborhood.
Williams' goal, according to Hymowitz, is enlightening her fellow progressives so that they cease to dismiss those they regard as their social inferiors and thus return the deplorables to the Democratic voting base, which Williams regards as their rightful home. In the process, she explains how liberals came to sneer at vast segments of the population. Hymowitz writes:
Liberals were not always so dense about the working class, Williams observes. WPA murals and movies like On the Waterfront showed genuine fellow feeling for the proletariat. In the 1970s, however, the liberal mood changed. Educated boomers shifted their attention to “issues of peace, equal rights, and environmentalism.” Instead of feeling the pain of Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck characters, they began sneering at the less enlightened. These days, she notes, elite sympathies are limited to the poor, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQ population. Despite clear evidence of suffering—stagnant wages, disappearing manufacturing jobs, declining health and well-being—the working class gets only fly-over snobbery at best and, more often, outright loathing.
Williams' book is broken down into answering the clueless questions members of her own stratum ask about the white working class. Two of the questions: “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?” “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals but Admire the Rich?” Here is the answer (as captured by Hymowitz):
Proud of their own self-sufficiency and success, however modest, they don’t begrudge the self-made rich. It’s snooty professionals and the dysfunctional poor who get their goat. From their vantage point, subsidizing the day care for a welfare mother when they themselves struggle to manage care on their own dime mocks both their hard work and their beliefs. And since, unlike most professors, they shop in the same stores as the dependent poor, they’ve seen that some of them game the system. Of course that stings.
White Working Class is especially good at evoking the alternate economic and mental universe experienced by Professional and Managerial Elites, or “PMEs.” PMEs see their non-judgment of the poor, especially those who are “POC,” as a mark of their mature understanding that we live in an unjust, racist system whose victims require compassion regardless of whether they have committed any crime. At any rate, their passions lie elsewhere. They define themselves through their jobs and professional achievements, hence their obsession with glass ceilings.
Williams tells the story of her husband’s faux pas at a high-school reunion. Forgetting his roots for a moment, the Ivy League–educated lawyer asked one of his Brooklyn classmates a question that is the go-to opener in elite social settings: “What do you do?” Angered by what must have seemed like deliberate humiliation by this prodigal son, the man hissed: “I sell toilets.”
Williams was not, Hymowitz observes, always able to transcend her own class biases–Williams accepts that the non-affluent view of immigration is based on "fear of brown people," for example. But the book is attracting attention and Williams' natural allies are already calling her a "racist" for daring to look seriously at the concerns of working class white Americans.