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June 11, 2007

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Kerry Reid

Hmmm . . . in my experience, lefties are no more averse to using the "friends and family" network to get ahead in the social/work strata than anyone on the right of the spectrum. And those informal privilege networks, as we know, have a lot to do with who is able to get a foot in the door at a lot of places -- academic institutions, publishing and media houses, law firms, nonprofit arts institutions, etc. They may be "uncomfortable" with this sort of classist privilege, but not enough to turn it down for the sake of giving a less-privileged (but equally or more qualified) outsider a shot. They'll call out George Bush for his cronyism (as they should, of course), but generally remain silent when it operates in their own little spheres.

Katha Pollitt, in writing about the lack of minorities on staff at alternative left-of-center publications several years ago, described it thus (it's in her essay "Affirmative Action Begins at Home," anthologized in the collection "Subject to Debate"):

"People are slotted -- and carefully slot themselves -- into remarkably precise positions in a complex class, racial, and social order that then determines what they see and what they know . . . . For the denizens of the tiny cocktail party that is liberal journalism, it's the other denizens, plus their friends, classmates and former students and interns, plus all those people's grown children and their friends, all twined together in an eternal golden braid of networking and schoomze. The workplace is white because the the social world is white, and vice versa. Merit doesn't really come into it."

I wrote for a weekly alternative paper in the East Bay that covered Oakland (one of the most vital African American communities in America) and Berkeley (the city that unironically believes itself to be far more enlightened and liberal than any other in the country). Care to guess how many African American staff writers and editors the paper had? Yes, that would be a goose egg. But there were a few guys who got hired because their dad used to work there, or because their dad was a friend of the editor, and then those guys would hire their buddies -- the ones who liked the same books, bands, etc. that they did. (Much like an attorney at a corporate law firm might hire a fraternity buddy or his kid, or someone who golfs at the same club.) Did all of these people have journalism degrees, or extensive professional writing credits at the time they were hired as editors or writers? No, but they were in the braid. "Someone we know," and hence we're comfortable with them on a social level going in, whereas hiring people from different races, financial classes, etc. might lead to moments of social discomfort. And lord knows we have a constitutional right to be comfortable.


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