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The Pretension of the Bourgeois Intellectual
I had an interesting interaction with an academic the other day who will remain nameless.  I attempted to suggest that the language they were using was exclusionary, much like academia itself and was immediately told that I was "talking down to them" and that I was elitist for not believing that poor folks couldn't understand their language.  I pointed out that language and intelligence weren't that same thing and that there were many genius poor farmers and just as many idiot PHDs, not the mention that poor and working folks don't want to speak that language.

Anyway, it got me thinking of my own journey from working class roots to a stint with the intellectual bourgeoisie, a stint which I was never really qualified for - too grimy and rough around the edges.  My time at Berkeley was probably the most transformative experience of my life, despite the repeated slights about my accent and general redneckness.  I loved every minute of it.  My advisors let me read and write whatever I wanted to write about, and I did so, voraciously.  I read anything that I could get my hands on from black radicals to Marxists to orthodox economists to community development experts and it expanded my mind and changed me in ways that I'm not sure that I understand now.  But, subtly, I abandoned my working class roots and adopted the pretension of the bourgeois intellectual.


My dissertation is virtually unreadable.  While I am proud of the ideas, it is probably the single worst thing that I have ever written.  I wanted people to think I was smart; I wanted to wow them with sentences like "habitus produces and is produced by a structuring structure and a structured structure," which looking back is nothing more than jibberish or could at least be stated that "the way the world is structured shapes the way human beings think and act."  Same concept, readable sentences.  I wanted to be accepted into the halls of academia as a tenure-track professor; I wanted people to respect me and to think that I was smart.  I also thought that being a redneck and being in those spaces were mutually exclusive and they were, but not for the reasons that I thought.


There are no working class people in academia.  In my 11 years there, I met fewer than a dozen and all were in undergrad at Auburn.  When I got to Berkeley, I thought that I had to abandon being the strange redneck creature with a supercharged brain.  But, I could never truly abandon it.  Redneck is in my blood and there's no way that anyone was ever going to see me as anyone but that, no matter how hard I tried.  And, predictably, no one ever hired me, which, as it turns out, is a blessing in disguise.  Academia is not the place for me.


I've kinda come full circle and now I embrace who I am and where I came from.  I love working class white Southerners, aka rednecks, even though our culture is so fucked up that it seems beyond repair.  This last statement is not a license for anyone to talk bad about us and if you do, you will receive an earful from me.


Back to the academic in question.  Just because you know all the justice lingo and know how to get cool academic jobs about justice doesn't mean that you are cool with the people.  Writing a book or a journal article is an awesome accomplishment, but 99% of that shit does absolutely nothing for us and is totally divorced from our reality.  I'm trying to put food on my table and bring a couple of folks with me and you being able to disaggregate your identity (whatever the fuck that means) don't amount to a hill of beans to me.  It also doesn't help us in the slightest bit.


I don't blame this academic because this type of inaccessible language gets tenure and promotions while not using it will get you fired (I have seen this first hand at Berkeley), but we need engaged academics who can write theory for us that can help us shape what we do and produce research that justifies our arguments.  We don't need academic navel-gazing about your "positionality" or your "situated knowledge."  I don't give a fuck who you are, if you are in a permanent, well-paying academic position, I got news for you, you ain't oppressed and if you want to come deliver papers and drive for Uber for me while I read a bunch of interesting shit and write about it, I'll switch with you right now.  We need your help, but we need better research and we need to have access to it.  We need hard-hitting stuff that can help our movement achieve real, tangible victories.