What happened last week was the sort of incident that made me hope, with every tiny atom of my physical being and with every little metaphysical building block of my immortal soul, to leave Durham, North Carolina very soon.
In a restaurant that serves good wine, it’s inevitable that some people should get a little tipsy and start speaking louder than average. I’ve done it. We all have. But it’s rare to witness the drunken babbling of people at the next table suddenly refer to you and certain things you care about. I am usually spared this sort of insight. But not last week.
Last week, there was a table of local “intellectuals” sitting next to us. I can give you the general outline: not-quite-baby-boomers, obvoiously well-off, possibly academics, very passionate and articulate, but in an obnoxious way. The sort of people who wear “Organic Integrity” t-shirts on the weekends and feel they can “relate” to the poor of Durham. Those people.
There was this man, I think he thought he was Byron on account of his ridiculous hair. The man was leaning back in his chair and screeching out opinions on some of the Arab states. He was literally half a foot behind me, and as I began to tune into the conversation, I heard this:
“… All slave-owners, that’s what it is. Slave-owners with first-world pretensions. They recruit white people from Duke to come to Qatar and Dubai and legitimize them. It’s disgusting… All the money-grubbing Dukies are perfect for it… And they built this island in the shape of a palm, like it means something, like it will get other people to…”
As a Dukie who’s interested in working in the Middle East, I was getting ready to snap my fork in two. I was looking across the table at my (Arab) boyfriend with a kind of helpless rage. And it wasn’t even about the things he was saying – it’s this entire atmosphere of saccharine liberal egotism piously masquerading as generous concern for the well-being of the poor that I can NO LONGER STAND.
Oh yes, you drink your bloody “fair trade” coffee and give five bucks to the homeless guy on the corner and point a well-manicured finger at “capitalist oppression” and quote some rhetoric you’ve managed to absorb from a Spivak essay and think you’re such a crusader. OH SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
People like that say the want to change the world, and they haven’t a faintest idea how. They haven’t picked up an economics textbook in their lifetime, they don’t have patience for decent writing, and the only thing they’re good for is driving around town in their hybrids from posh eatery to yoga class.
I am tired and angry. I don’t want to change anyone’s mind. I just want to be spared from this one-dimensional social “activism.”