The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Black Success, White Backlash

black success white backlash

Elijah Anderson writing on white backlash in The Atlantic:

For the past 16 years, I have been on the faculty of the sociology department at Yale, and in 2018 I was granted a Sterling Professorship, the highest academic rank the university bestows. I say this not to boast, but to illustrate that I have made my way from the bottom of American society to the top, from a sharecropper’s cabin to the pinnacle of the ivory tower. One might think that, as a decorated professor at an Ivy League university, I would have escaped the various indignities that being Black in traditionally white spaces exposes you to. And to be sure, I enjoy many of the privileges my white professional-class peers do.


But sometimes these signifiers of professional status and educated-class propriety are not enough. This can be true even in the most rarefied spaces. When I was hired at Yale, the chair of the sociology department invited me for dinner at the Yale Club of New York City. Clad in a blue blazer, I got to the club early and decided to go up to the fourth-floor library to read The New York Times. When the elevator arrived, a crush of people was waiting to get on it, so I entered and moved to the back to make room for others. Everyone except me was white.

As the car filled up, I politely asked a man of about 35, standing by the controls, to push the button for the library floor. He looked at me and—emboldened, I have to imagine, by drinks in the bar downstairs—said, “You can read?” The car fell silent. After a few tense moments, another man, seeking to defuse the tension, blurted, “I’ve never met a Yalie who couldn’t read.” All eyes turned to me. The car reached the fourth floor. I stepped off, held the door open, and turned back to the people in the elevator. “I’m not a Yalie,” I said. “I’m a new Yale professor.” And I went into the library to read the paper.

Fewer Black Americans and minorities are poorer than 50 years ago, and more than twice as many are rich. Substantial numbers now attend the best schools, pursue professions of their choosing, and occupy positions of power and prestige. Add the democratic shifts to the mix and its easy to see how white America feels threatened.