I admit it. I’m well-educated. One of those “effete intellectual snobs” Spiro Agnew called out back in the Nixon days. Might even be lumped in with those “elites” Trumpland disdains, if you mince a few words.
I copped to it recently, while listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross, reveling in the sound of some British actor reciting Shakespeare in robust, round tones.
That’s the English major in me, showing. Graduated cum laude. My degrees — an MA came late in life — are gifts that keep on giving. They enrich my life. Or, the study that earned them does.
Statistics say I made more money because of that. It’s probably true. I say it just makes my world a little bit bigger and more interesting than it would’ve been otherwise.
One thing I know for sure is that my parents worked their asses off to send me to college, wherever it would take me, afterwards. Not to make me a snob. They didn’t encourage or tolerate that kind of behavior. They just wanted to earn me the freedom to be whatever I chose to be, as long as it was light years away from the Jim Crow world they’d run from.
And it is their success that I’m proudest of. Their dream I’m living. And that I refuse to disparage that dream, no matter what Trump and his fans call me.
Theirs was the generation that lived through share-cropping, white hooded “night riders” and the Great Migration up from the South. My father rode freight trains for a while, looking for the perfect place to begin again.
He landed on the Chicago’s South Side, where he met a shy young woman who worked in people’s kitchens, like the women in Raisin in the Sun. The movie version was shot, in part, in our neighborhood. It was Lorraine Hansberry’s neighborhood.
But we were not like the family in her play. I’m not sure how, but my family navigated safely past the dire straits many of my neighborhood pals were in. There was something different about us.
Part of it was living with a bona fide member of the Black Elite. That was my godfather, Dr. James M. Scott, twice named the Mayor of Bronzeville and founder of the Ida Mae Scott Hospital, the first Black owned and run hospital in Chicago.
He and the wife he named that hospital after were the ones who pointed the way. Got my mother thinking about ballet and charm school and piano lessons to keep me off the streets evenings and weekends. Showed my father how far a “Black” man could go .
The other motivation was just a yearning to “overcome.” They’d come a long way from lynch mobs and the back of the bus. But they still had a long way to go. My fifth grade teacher, Mamie Till Mobley — mother of Emmett Till who was lynched at the age of 14 — never let us forget that the journey was far from over.
So they put all their dreams on my shoulders, and then stood me up on theirs to give me a boost. My mother deliberately refused to teach me how to make the delectable dishes she’d cooked in white folk’s kitchens to keep me from working in white folks’ kitchens myself. I regret that every single day of my life. But I admire her stubborn determination.
My father, an elegant, even-tempered and equally determined man, worked his way up to a management position at the post office and eventually saved ‘way more money than any of us knew until his death. All the while living a life many Black men of his era could not even imagine.
Had the pro golf world not been segregated, he might have been his era’s Tiger Woods. He and his pals in the all-Black Chicago Postal Golfers, offered a hefty financial contribution to young Wood’s early career, in fact.
But when a Jewish friend of mine revealed, decades later, that the tailors from whom my father bought his custom-made shirts was one of the most exclusive — and expensive — in Chicago, even I was stunned.
I’d gone there with him to pick up boxes of shirts as a child. And it hadn’t seemed like a big deal to them or him. The owners were always doting and delightful. That they did not treat even some white people this way was a shock to me.
He transcended race and “caste,” my father. He just refused to be “classified.” And taught me that I could do damned near whatever the hell I wanted to do, too.
So nothing I did later, as an adult, surprised him all that much. The early Rolling Stone, Creem and other pieces I sold before I graduated from college. The Chicago Sun Times years. The three books. The big move to the Southwest where I married a Hopi artist and had some of my most remarkable adventures — and his only grandchild. And briefly returned to journalism at the Arizona Daily Star.
That was what all his hard work work was really for, to buy me those tickets to wherever I wanted to go. To turn my back on their hard work and hope by repudiating the education and “excellence” they demanded I pursue…what an insult to them that would be.
And you know what? There are a whole lot of white folks whose parents did the very same thing. White people of my parents’ generation who worked hard to give their kids a better life.
And I have a feeling they’d be pretty sad hearing Trump dump all over their dreams, too. They came here from other countries, a lot of them, so that their kids could do what I did. They worked insufferable jobs like my parents did, to escape poverty and powerlessness just like my parents did.
They weren’t afraid of knowledge, they cherished it. Because they’d seen what happens when people start ridiculing and then persecuting the learned. They know what happens when it’s illegal to read some things. To say some things. Even think some things.
My father stormed a beach in Normandy to end a war we fought against some people who did those things. A lot of brave men did.
Trump dodged the draft, apparently — bone spurs, the official excuse. Influence, the excuse most accept. And though he apparently attended the Wharton School of Finance where “his father’s prestigious status played a major part in Trump’s acceptance into the university,” he didn’t really need college. He had money. And all that influence.
And BTW, if he’d read a book or two since then, he might know that the Oxford Dictionary says the “elite” are:
“A group or class of people seen as having the most power and influence in a society, especially on account of their wealth or privilege.”
Damn, Donald. Sounds more like you than me.
This is an edited version of a post which previously appeared on Medium.