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How I Discovered Liberal White Elitism / Tips and Tricks from One Unemployed Girl

October 17, 2011

Part 1: How I Discovered Liberal White Elitism

The epitome of Elitism.

I walked in the front door, and was immediately pounced on. Not by a lovable tiger, but by a vulturey woman who screamed ‘I am an artististe’ with every silver bangle that clinked against her wrist. She was the host of this mingle-and-meet-the-author pre-book event I was attending with my father. The author was an old journalist buddy of my father’s, and we were there as moral support.

The artististe bustled us into the kitchen. “Wine? Of course, I can no longer tell ages of young people anymore. Are you allowed to drink yet?”

“I graduated undergrad in 2010,” I said mildly, but inwardly I started to get a very bad feeling. The woman looked to my father, as he needed to verify my statement. He blinked.

“Yes, of course.” She simpered as she pointed out some of the more outlandish art on the walls; it looked as if I had just entered a very gaudy museum. Every surface was covered by kitsch or a modern art-inspired fabric; the windows were covered with stained glass insets, and there was a life-sized head of a woman in the foyer, with real human hair, a pink cashmere sweater, and a glass vacant stare.

I poured myself a tiny portion of her wine. Be damned if I was going to partake much of her hospitality. She watched me with beady eyes and pursed lips.

“Well! Besides living with your parents, what do you do?” (Yes, this is a verbatim quote.)

“I don’t live with my parents,” I said, while inwardly seething, And if I did, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, you judgmental toad.

“Good for you! Do you have a job?”

I grit my teeth. For a brief moment, I fantasized about how the conversation could go next:

Me: “Of course I have a job! I am a beet farmer by day, and a beat poet by night.” (I beat-box and make ridiculous noises for a few seconds)

Her: (awkwardly, this is so outside her white, privileged, liberal purview) What… do you beat about?

Me: Getting back to my ‘roots’ and the difficulty in dyeing.

Her: Do you like, uh, doing that?

Me: Beets working! (she still doesn’t get it)

Her: Ah… well, read any good books recently?

Me: (seriously) Yes, most of the time, I am quite well red.

If only.

“No, I actually quit my last place of employment to apply for graduate schools and internship programs in the Middle East.”

“Oh… that’s… really great.”

“Yes.”

Her lips twitched, and then turned to my father engaged in a discussion of his views on Grecian corruption.

I stood in the kitchen, by myself.

It was actually beginning to get to me.

This was hardly the first time I was interrogated and then dropped like I was contagious in conversation after revealing I was unemployed. It happens more frequently than not, when conversing with the boomer generation. And I am weary.

An "unperson."

See, what really surprises me about this whole twenty-something unemployment thing are the reactions of my fellow man to my common predicament. I expected those with conservative leanings to be dismissive of me, to judge my entire worth as a human being on my current employment status. They who espouse ‘pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps’ and ‘rugged individualism’ would of course judge those without jobs as being lazy and incompetent. I disagree with this stance, but understand it.

What I didn’t expect was this response, this instinctual response, from though who purport to be liberal. Because this woman, and those like her, can’t seem to help themselves when they tear me down, in speech, in tone, in body language. It would be almost humorous if it weren’t so painful to note the difference in treatment before and after my admission of joblessness.

The very validity of my presence in a room, in a group, is called into question. The rationality of my arguments, the originality of my ideas becomes suspect. I become a societal “un-person.” By not being neatly labeled into a profession, I lose my right to respect. I am not allowed to have respect from others and I am not supposed to feel respect for myself.

What gets me about unemployment is the unexpected accompanying shame.

So I stood there in that overly busy living room. I saw the smug, completely self-centered wealthy liberals coo about the historic backdrop to the author’s book. I saw the elitist author in his white linen shirt and his pressed chinos smile in ersatz modesty as he talked about his struggles, almost preening in the limelight glow of superiority that this circle of the middle aged managed to exude. And I felt no kinship to these people, my supposed people. Wasn’t I also a privileged, white, Jewish girl with a supposed familial emphasis on education and intellectualism?

….

Let’s switch gears for a moment.

Part 2: Tips and Tricks from One Unemployed Girl

"Well, maybe if I get a JD...."

Being unemployed is tough. No denying that. For me, not only did my sense of entitlement put up hell of a fight (but World, I graduated from the University of Chicago with honors! I deserve great jobs for high pay!) but I also had two extremely negative job experiences after university that definitely soured my outlook on the whole ‘join the workforce’ concept. Still, I feel that I have begun to assemble a bag of tricks that helps me stay cheerful, productive, and not completely bonkers during this trying time.

Drum roll please. Voila! Below are some of the lessons I learned on how to deal with unemployment in a psychologically constructive fashion.

  1. You are unemployed- congratulations! You’ve joined the currently 9.1% of Americans who have no job right now (a much higher percentage for those recently graduated from college). First step to beating the unemployment blues is to catch up on your sleep. You have probably been pretty stressed for a while now. It is important to give yourself at least a few days rest and recuperation before “once more into the breach, dear friends!”-ing.
  1. Use another person to bounce ideas off of and hold you accountable. Right now, you have the luxury of a little bit of space to think. Do you want to try to get back into the field you just left? Or maybe try a new line of work? Travel? Go back to school? Brainstorm with someone else to expand your list of options for the future. Don’t censor even the most impossible seeming options, not at first. Dreaming big is important to finding one’s true path.
  1. Focus on what you are going to accomplish every day, as concretely as you can. This will enable you still be productive and move forward, even on days you wake up in a panic because you can’t think of a single reason to get out of bed in the morning. By having concrete things to do, you won’t get overwhelmed as easily.
  1. Make a timeline for yourself, a calendar, and stick with that. This will give your unemployed-state a sense of finitude and make it more psychologically realistic that you won’t be unemployed forever.
  1. Structure your day/week. Work during the week and take off during the weekends to give your life a sense of rhythm. Have places to be, people to meet. Work outside of the home to continue to maintain the work/home divide. Wear business casual clothing to maintain your own sense of self respect in your professionalism.
  1. Remember to have fun. You don’t have to punish yourself for being jobless by not seeing friends, going out, having a good time. Try to choose less expensive entertainment options, sure, but it is healthy to not put your life on hold while you try to find a new job.
  1. Increase input to balance output. It is a lot harder to make cover letters, resumes, meet people, network, write, and essentially create anything if you have no stimulation coming into your life. Increase stimulation, aka input, according to your needs. Feel the need for constant social input? Work in more populous cafes, or get a small temp job as a waiter. Need intellectual stimulation? Audit a class, attend a lecture.
  1. Take care of your body. It’s really easy to get depressed and lose sleep, not eat right, not exercise. Don’t do it. It lowers self-esteem even more.
  1. Stay away from poisonous people. It has to be said. Some people, when they hear that you are unemployed, don’t make a big deal about it and treat you just the same. Others attempt to make you feel terrible about yourself or judge you. You need a supportive network in your time of need. Don’t even bother with people who seek to tear you down.
  1. Maintain high self-esteem. You will get through this, and this doesn’t define who you are or even more importantly, who you will become. Many successful people had a terrible time in their early twenties finding work. You are not a job title or lack thereof. You will overcome.
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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Philip permalink
    October 17, 2011 11:00 AM

    I think you’re finding not so much that liberal elites are dicks as that old(er) people forget what it’s like to not be where they are now, whatever their political leanings. Boomers grew up in what, the 60s-80s? Their economic slowdowns were child’s play compared to this one, and besides, they’ve passed beyond that point in their lives – and so they just can’t wrap their heads around the current situation. In either case, it’s definitely a problem with them, not you. Also, the particular individual you describe sounds like she has issues, what with the underage question. But the general point is, I think, important: obviously there are some adults (I’m imagining your parents fall into this category) who understand how the world works, and that being (gasp) unemployed a year after graduating college in no way reflects on your personal worth, but a lot of them are simply stuck in their own mental ruts.

    Also, your list of tips reminds me a lot of how I dealt with my time just after graduation. I’d add that treating unemployment like a 9-5 job itself is counterproductive: spending too much of the day looking for employment ultimately just hammers in the feeling that you’re adrift at sea. Block out time even in a normal day to “work” on non-employment related things, and even to just relax: after all, you need to keep self-esteem and physical/mental health up (see #s 8 and 10). Also, #3 is incredibly important: short-term goals that are achievable are vital. And finally, be patient. Jobs do not turn application around overnight; many jobs will not take you; time will pass. This does not reflect on your value or worth, and you just have to roll with it.

    Good luck. You’re a very competent, incredibly smart individual, and things will look up.

  2. October 17, 2011 12:18 PM

    Very good piece. I especially loved the puns. A couple thoughts if you don’t mind.

    1) It may be unfair to stereotype liberalism (especially “liberal white elitism”) as being characteristically disinterested in unemployed people, to the extent of dehumanization that you mentioned. I’ve never known a true liberal to hold someone’s unemployment status against them, per se, but I’ve known several liberals, instead, to disapprove of a particular career choice or ambition as being unfulfilled (or unfulfilled in accomplishing a particular pet cause of that liberal). Certainly, this woman seems to be of a class that never really had to work in the first place, her privilege oozing out of every acrylic paint-filled pore. For her to then judge someone who clearly is looking for a job–instead of expecting for a job-fairy to deliver one like many of these similarly elite liberals taking up the Occupation of Wall Street as a sort of faux-protest against a vaguely defined and even less understood “capitalist plutocracy”–is to clearly fail to take up the core values of liberalism, which include compassion, a belief in solving hurt in society and most importantly not blaming the people who get the short end of the stick.
    2) It may be equally unfair to stereotype conservatives as blaming the unemployed for being unemployed. If conservatives blame anything for unemployment, it is the restriction of employment opportunities through various government regulations. At least, I’ve never met a conservative who faults people for their own unemployment, unless they complain about unemployment while simultaneously choosing to be unemployed (say, a student).

    It sounds like this woman is not a liberal or anything else–she’s just judgmental. Which unfortunately you find from people on all sides of the class/privilege/political/ideological spectrum.

    Needless to say, you being unemployed is far from shameful. Unfortunately, talented, smart people today are completely powerless against a bear market that simply is not providing many employment opportunities. It is not your fault, or the fault of Wall Street. Our generation is bearing the brunt of the decline in American manufacturing, globalization, massive growth in the technology sector, and (if I may be so bold) overbearing regulations that do more to destroy jobs than create them. But ultimately, you are 110% qualified for any job you apply for, and it’s only a matter of time before you find something that will motivate you, challenge you, and allow you to cater your unique talents to provide a value to society and to others, which is more than this paintbrush-flinging, hair-pruning, judgement-touting alcoholic will ever do.

  3. October 17, 2011 12:20 PM

    I will add, based on reading Philip’s comment, that now is probably the best time to be unemployed. As a young 20-something, you have only to look forward to economic and personal growth and future prosperity. The future is yours to lose.

    Anyway, miss you tons, let’s catch up sometime. Good luck on your search.

  4. Sam K permalink
    October 17, 2011 12:41 PM

    Get a job, hippie

  5. October 17, 2011 1:34 PM

    Awesome. I think we’ve all done a lot of quick growing up in some sense, and it’s really humbling to realize just how complicated and weighty unemployment is for so many people in so many ways. Well said, Luca!

  6. Ted permalink
    October 17, 2011 1:42 PM

    A person who looks to your parent to have them decide what you are and are not allowed to do in spite of you being a grown woman? Which does this sound more like: the bad king in some quasi medieval story or a liberal person?

    I’m curious how you decided that this woman was a liberal, when the only interactions you have are her dismissing you due to having no job and dismissing you for having your father present. Maybe you knew her before hand. Maybe you can tell me lots about her politics. Maybe she has told you stories of her time with the freedom riders. But in this piece, you tell me that she looked artsy, so she must be a liberal.

    Oh, and she was white, too. I’m not sure if that meant double liberal, or just tacking on the white part? I mean, what would have happened in this blog post if this was some black woman? Or a man? Or someone who’s house was decorated in a different fashion?

    Is liberalism a set of politics? Or is it interior decorating?

    And in response to some of the other comments: your income in your twenties is a strong indicator of your income later in life. So, you know, this is just a great time for us to unemployed.

    I also question what regulations are destroying jobs. I think the problem is that people in other countries are given shitty wages and no benefits. Once unions and a rule of law to protect workers from abuse spread, would American companies be so psyched to flee to other countries?

    I guess my whole comment can be summed up for everyone by: good stereotyping you guys!

  7. October 17, 2011 3:27 PM

    Ted- This was the only interaction I wrote about in this piece because it was the most recent, but it is in no way atypical or unusual. This woman, like most of the others I have interacted with similarly, consider themselves champions of liberalism. This woman creates politically orientated films for a living, often focusing on poverty stricken minorities. In addition, she happened to be female and white and Jewish, which as my demographic, made the disconnect between us more striking, hence the emphasis on her ‘whiteness.’ Other individuals I have spoken to have worked at women empowering non-profits, the Center for American Progress, and other liberal think tanks. I think I know when someone is politically liberal, and I resent that you seem to doubt my ability to distinguish in this fashion and am reduced to stereotyping. Ted, I know you love to do this, but please don’t be inflammatory for the sake of pissing people off. Thank you.

    Everyone else- thank you for your comments. I always appreciate knowing that I have readers.

  8. Ted permalink
    October 17, 2011 4:02 PM

    Hey, if you appreciate me not saying “inflammatory” things, why do we get zero portrayal of the woman? Why didn’t you tell us that she makes liberal films for a living? What you gave us (or me, if no one else feels like being included) was her appearance and home decoration. Do you want me to comment on things like this as if I am a reader, or as if I am some friend of yours? Because I feel like, when you say something about culture and politics, you don’t want me to nod along because we know each other. Neither would I expect that of you.

    It’s fine for you to tell me to trust your judgement, if you’re telling me someone is a d-bag. You didn’t. You picked a whole category of politically active people and painted them with a broad brush.

    If I comment on your blogs, I’ll probably comment on the areas that I disagree with, or the areas where I find some shortcoming. We don’t need to have a dialogue about the areas we agree. I challenge you, in fact, to have a dialogue with the above people about how much you all agree. On the other hand, if you like, I can not read your stuff going forward, because I care about what you say, and will respond to it.

    I really don’t think you are reduced to stereotyping and am glad that you find the implication upsetting. Now incorporate the information that actually makes the woman a white liberal elitist in the piece. Because you didn’t.

  9. Ted permalink
    October 17, 2011 4:14 PM

    Also, do the beets thing next time.

  10. October 17, 2011 5:34 PM

    Ted, if you at all represent liberalism in the slightest, perhaps Luca’s broad brush categorizations need little qualification.

  11. Ted permalink
    October 17, 2011 5:57 PM

    I don’t actually think my political leanings are terribly relevant. We were given a political label for the woman, but no description of her politically. Couldn’t, from her description, she have been anything? What made her liberal?

    If it was the pink bust, poor taste crosses all boundaries.

  12. Philip permalink
    October 17, 2011 8:40 PM

    I would point out, Ted, that we weren’t just given white and artsy as descriptions: we were given liberal as well (although I agree with your point that she’s certainly not *acting* like liberal ideals would suggest she should). There’s no particular reason to assume that liberal was something Luca had stereotyped out of this woman’s whiteness or artsiness; she could know it – as it turns out she did.

  13. Asa permalink
    October 17, 2011 11:01 PM

    Know it from what? And should we depend on the author’s secret knowledge?

    Artsy is described for us. She shouts “I am an artististe.” She is hosting a book party in a house with “outlandish art on the walls.” Liberal is something we’re told. Nothing is given to support her having a “liberal purview.” She does nothing liberal, points to nothing liberal, says nothing liberal.

    No offence to Luca, who is no doubt the prettiest, kindest, smartest, most sympatheic lady in all the land, but we only have the word of the narrator making this woman liberal. Without being Luca, I only know that this lady is white and artsy and because of this, she is called liberal. Applying this formula to “this woman, and those like her” results in a stereotype. For example, I am white and artsy, as a result, this article defines me as liberal. However, if I am artsy and not white, I need a new formula. Philip, you say there’s no reason to assume that liberal was something Luca had stereotyped out of whiteness or artsiness, but that’s all we have to go on. Point to anything in her interactions within the article that suggest otherwise. We can only see how much Luca’s interacted with this woman from her later comments.

    My criticism isn’t of Luca’s judgement. It’s of how she presents it. What makes this article interesting is her ability to recognize her similarities to this woman, how they both fit into the stereotype equation of white + artsy = elite liberal, but they are not equivalent. She has the opportunity to show that the equation does not work — that there is a disparity even with such similar demographics, and that this disparity and whatever causes it is poisonous to our youthful idealism. But this is something she only starts to tell us in the many adventures of Ted and Luca arguing. In order to defend her conclusions, she has to break the binary that the party scene she’s described creates, and she hasn’t done that yet. What we have is unemployed girl vs. successful girl, but that isn’t what’s actually happening. We all know it. That’s why everyone will defend Luca and call Ted a dirty scoundrel. But she hasn’t told us what differentiates her from the elite liberal snob, and I’d like to see what it is.

    By the way, Luca — Come to New York! We miss you.

  14. October 18, 2011 2:02 PM

    I think that with any author, whether you know them personally or not, there is a certain amount of implicit trust in the way they characterize things. As an author, you simply cannot include every piece of ‘evidence’ there is out there- it disrupts narrative flow and complicates streamlining of a concept. In fact, part of an author’s job is to distill a concept or thin slice of life moment out of complicated, messy evidence. If, for this tale, I had included all my other encounters with liberals of a similar vein with exacting and complete detail, this essay would be over ten pages and dull to everyone. The point is, in any essay, with any author, there is a certain amount of ‘tell’ in addition to the ‘show,’ and you either trust the source or not.

    However, I see Asa and Ted’s point- designating something as ‘liberal’ without scrupulous amounts of detail is stupid to do when your audience is mainly liberal themselves and therefore more likely to take offense and less likely to implicitly trust the depiction. Thus, for this article, perhaps I should have spent an additional paragraph explicating how I knew this woman, as well as every other liberal who couldn’t react positively or neutrally to my unemployment, was in fact politically liberal. I think it would have bogged down the piece, but I certainly had the evidence and could have used it.

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