Naive about Race, but Possessing Fine Table Manners

It can be difficult to find writing on First Generation College students that doesn’t begin from a deficit standpoint.  First Generation students are presumed to lack “cultural capital“, access to basic information,  family support, or resilience needed to be successful.  These attributes are all, of course, contrasted with the experience, knowledge, social capital, savvy, and ambition of more privileged students who are presumed to arrive at college well-positioned to succeed.

It could be helpful to question more often what we might mean by “succeed”.  According to one recent project, at least some of the academically gifted, wealthy, and culturally savvy students of Harvard University  lack the most basic understanding of people different from themselves, but this racist ignorance has in no way stood in the way of their academic trajectories.

Because, of course, it’s those occupying the social class of these very students who make the rules about what does or doesn’t prepare one for success.  Using the wrong fork at a formal dinner?   One need go no further in that job interview.   Say ignorant things about race? Accuse those pointing this out of just playing “the race card”.

Missing the cues about table manners hurts no one, but  can mean missed opportunities to support oneself even after doing well in college.

Are there any consequences for the racism of Harvard students, when those very students will soon be hiring, sitting on college boards, and voting for candidates supporting their understanding of opportunity?


Update: Tressie McMillam Cottom dialed it in on Twitter this afternoon:


3 thoughts on “Naive about Race, but Possessing Fine Table Manners

  1. Will Barratt March 4, 2014 / 6:50 am

    I found it interesting that the study of Harvard students did not ask about understanding people in different social classes. Casual or not, racism and classism are dangerous.

  2. janevangalen March 4, 2014 / 7:41 am

    Yes, Will. My understanding is that this is part of a performance that’s going to happen soon, initiated by one of the students. My understanding also is that even students of color are pretty high status at Harvard, which doesn’t of course protect them from racism.

  3. momsomniac March 4, 2014 / 10:30 am

    Reblogged this on db mcneill – Momsomniac and commented:
    Level playing field? Hmph.
    My moderate level of success professionally gives me hope that this can change. Thoughts?

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