Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Class and snobbery

Prudie's response to letter-writer #1 would make perfect sense - perfect! - had the letter-writer said that, on account of his possible future inlaws being Catholic and lower-middle-class, he figured they'd be rabid anti-Semites. In that case, yes, he's being a snob. Or if not a snob, just incredibly sheltered. If the guy has never left a liberal-well-educated-culturally-Jewish sphere, his assumption that upon leaving the bubble, he'll encounter pogroms would be, if not reasonable, attributable more to ignorance than snobbery.

But! He is telling Prudie that they, as in, this particular family, have "a penchant for saying alarmingly inappropriate things about Jews and other minorities in my presence." He's not judging families like this one, but a specific set of real-life people. This is not prejudgment. It's judgment, plain and simple.

Why, then, does he bring up the difference in class? My guess would be that the man was raised in the age of "your privilege is showing" and wants to make it clear that he respects, from a distance if not in his own family, the right to say things that it is their own cultural tradition to express. Now, one might argue his ignorance is showing - one hears at least as much anti-Jewish venting from well-educated types. Or that he's being patronizing. But if he's mentioning class at all, it's to explain why he puts up with their comments in the first place.

Meanwhile, there's a glaringly obvious answer Prudie missed: the guy is jumping the gun. He doesn't mention how long or how seriously he's been dating the child-of-a-bigoted-home, nor how old either of them are. Something about the importance he places on their families' attitudes, his choice of "beautiful" as the trait he's most drawn to in his girlfriend, and the fact that he doesn't seem to have dated much, makes me think they're both very young. It doesn't seem from the letter that this is a couple about to get married. I'm picturing a boy of about 19, projecting and overanalyzing and otherwise using a college relationship (because college is where Young People of Different Backgrounds Meet For the First Time) to think through all the possibilities his life might have in store for him. If a young woman had written the letter, Prudie might have pointed out that she was thinking too far ahead, as women are wont to do. But young men are also guilty of this behavior.

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