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Opinião | Seu sucesso provavelmente não se deve apenas ao mérito

Ezra Klein

Eu sou Ezra Klein, e este é “The Ezra Klein Show”. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Então, quando eu faço essas introduções, tento ter um tópico específico que estou seguindo, algo para estabelecer o argumento principal ou a questão principal do show, mas isso não é possível hoje. Não faria justiça a isso. Há muito neste show para eu resumir em uma ideia. É, como diria meu convidado, muito espesso e é ótimo. Tressie McMillan Cottom é socióloga da Universidade da Carolina do Norte em Chapel Hill. Ela é autora do livro “Lower Ed” e depois da maravilhosa coleção de ensaios “Thick”, que foi finalista do National Book Award em 2019. Ela ganhou uma bolsa MacArthur “Genius”. Ela é co-apresentadora do podcast “Hear to Slay” e é apenas uma daquelas pessoas que você pode fazer qualquer pergunta, qualquer pergunta, e obter uma resposta brilhante e interessante. Preparar-se para isso foi intimidante porque seu trabalho é simplesmente vasto, de pesquisas acadêmicas sobre como as universidades com fins lucrativos criam desigualdade, a extensos ensaios sobre Dolly Parton, essas análises de como a beleza funciona na América contemporânea, a percepções sobre os papéis que agem e azáfama atua na economia americana, tudo, tudo, tudo mais. Mas, em parte, eu só queria entender como você aborda tantos tópicos diferentes de maneira construtiva. Por exemplo, qual é o seu processo para ser capaz de dizer algo útil à medida que avança para essas diferentes áreas? É muito difícil encontrar algo inteligente sobre o que dizer, mas como você vai ouvir, também há uma ideia que vibra no centro de muito disso, e é assim que as estruturas de status reforçam as hierarquias da vida americana de quem está sendo ouvido. e quem viu e por quê, mas honestamente esta é uma daquelas conversas que poderia ter durado mais quatro horas. Espero que você goste tanto quanto eu. Como sempre, meu e-mail é [email protected]. Aqui está Tressie McMillan Cottom. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Então, algo que sempre admiro no seu trabalho é a variedade de tópicos sobre os quais você pode escrever e a variedade de tópicos sobre os quais você escreve e esse monte de registros que você faz no Twitter, Substack e trabalhos acadêmicos. Então, eu queria começar aqui. Como você se treinou para escrever de tantas maneiras diferentes?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Oh cara. Eu gostaria de poder dizer que me treinei para escrever de várias maneiras. Acho que o que acontece é que, em primeiro lugar, sou uma pessoa muito curiosa. De qualquer forma estou nesses espaços. Sou uma pessoa da internet para o bem ou para o mal, certo? Cheguei à maioridade como pessoa pública e gosto do diário ao vivo, certo? No entanto, tenho acompanhado o desenvolvimento desses espaços como qualquer outra pessoa, creio eu, da minha geração. Isso é onde. É onde estávamos saindo. E quando estou em um espaço, isso é antes de ser um sociólogo ou acadêmico. Quando estou em um espaço, sou o tipo de pessoa que dá um passo para longe, um passo para longe. Estou vendo do que estou participando, não consigo desligar. É quem eu sou e o que sou. Então, faz sentido para mim que, se estou no Twitter, também estou pensando no Twitter, certo? Estou pensando, por que todas essas pessoas estão aqui? O que o público está olhando? Sobre o que é isso? E isso se reflete nas coisas que me interessam. Isso é uma coisa. Acho que me treinar para escrever para esse público, entender isso é uma coisa, ser justo. Entender tudo como um gênero é outra coisa, e chegou a um ponto em que percebi que isso é como aprender a escrever um ensaio de cinco parágrafos, correto, em oposição a uma longa peça de não-ficção criativa. Cada meio tem um gênero e, em parte disso, descobrir algo é muito divertido para mim. É como, ok. Deixe-me ver se consigo fazer isso. Não posso fazer todos eles, para ser justo. Definitivamente existem alguns gêneros, especialmente aqueles que tendem mais para o visual, porque eu sou um tipo de garota textual. E eu simplesmente não gosto do visual e da edição, mas um pouco disso é divertido para mim ver se consigo misturar o gênero. Em primeiro lugar, posso capturá-lo? E então posso remixar um pouco? Posso fazer uma redação que pareça a roda livre do Twitter? Posso surpreender um público que pensou que estava sendo apresentado como um ensaio em primeira pessoa com um pouco de pensamento empírico? Posso apenas surpreender as pessoas? Isso é parte da diversão para mim.

Ezra Klein

Como os gêneros mudam sua maneira de pensar? Quando você se senta e começa a escrever o histórico acadêmico em vez do ensaio pessoal, os tipos de pensamentos que você tem mudam?

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim. O que muitas vezes acontece é que me sento e há algo sobre o qual quero escrever ou sobre o qual sou obrigado. Isso também acontece às vezes. Tipo, eu só tenho que escrever sobre isso. E uma das primeiras perguntas que me faço é: qual é a velocidade apropriada para esse argumento? Então, na verdade, acho que uma das coisas que acontece ao gravar em logs diferentes é que você fica muito mais pensativo sobre se isso deveria ter sido apenas um tweet, o que é totalmente justo, certo? E eu acho que é justo dizer. Às vezes começo com uma discussão e direi que isso não é substantivo o suficiente para esse gênero. E às vezes eu retrocedo, como os editores ou as pessoas com quem estou colaborando e digo, todos, acho que só queremos escrever um artigo rápido e seguir em frente. Uma das coisas pelas quais os acadêmicos são responsabilizados é bagunçar e complicar coisas simples, e eu realmente acho que poderíamos ser um pouco liberados se admitíssemos que às vezes o que transformamos em um trabalho acadêmico provavelmente deveria ter sido um ensaio em primeira pessoa ou um tweet ou algo intermediário, mas às vezes o estado nos impulsiona mais do que a pergunta que fazemos. Mas eu sento e digo, ok, qual é a velocidade certa para isso? Qual é o gênero correto? Quando saberei que esse argumento acabou? Gosto de um argumento completo. Gosto de me afastar de alguma coisa e dizer que deixei tudo na quadra, e às vezes são 240 caracteres. Às vezes são 20.000 palavras e, estando em sintonia com isso, essas são as opções. Essas são escolhas. Eu me pergunto muito quando me sento e começo uma discussão. Qual é o tamanho correto?

Ezra Klein

Eu sinto que costumava ser capaz de me fazer essa pergunta. Eu cresci como um blogueiro e sou uma pessoa da internet.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim.

Ezra Klein

E ele escreveu publicações pequenas e longas. E eu juro para você, não posso, não importa o quanto eu tente agora, escrever algo que tenha entre 280 caracteres e 1.800 palavras.

tressie mcmillan cottom

É um ou outro?

Ezra Klein

Perdi completamente o registro, como no meio. É como um livro. É como um longo ensaio ou é um tweet.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim.

Ezra Klein

E Deus não permita que você tenha 400 palavras que valem algo a dizer. Então, não consigo parar.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Porque aí você tem vontade de falar, parece um gostinho, né?

Ezra Klein

sim.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Eu chamo esses saltos. Eu tenho muitos desses. É algo como 350 palavras ou algo parecido, e não tenho certeza para onde isso levaria. Acho que o que você está pedindo é que tenhamos o Blogger de volta. Acho que é isso que você sugere que façamos.

Ezra Klein

Bem, sempre peço que recuperemos os blogs. [LAUGHING] Há uma nostalgia, muitas vezes, entre as pessoas que dela surgiram, pela Internet das coisas.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim. A velha internet.

Ezra Klein

Você acha que isso é nostalgia ou você acha que algo se perdeu?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Hmm. está bem. Agora trabalho com muitas pessoas na Internet. Estou em uma escola de informação em uma universidade. E muitos dos meus melhores amigos são essas pessoas, então eu quero acompanhar com cuidado. Acho que havia um clube e uma camaradagem, mesmo entre pessoas que discordavam politicamente. Houve uma classe de pensadores, uma classe de escritores que surgiu na web 2.0 que parece, sim, perdemos algo lá. Havia uma humanidade lá para melhor ou para pior. A humanidade é complicada, mas havia a sensação de que essas ideias estavam ligadas às pessoas, e havia coisas que direcionavam essas pessoas, há uma razão pela qual eles escolheram estar naquele espaço antes de se tratar de perseguir um público em um plataforma e transformá-lo em um influenciador e traduzi-lo nisso – antes de tudo o que aconteceu, a profissionalização de tudo. E é isso que acho que falta quando sentimos saudade dessa Web 2.0. Acho que eles são o povo da máquina. Dito isso, eu sou muito resistente à nostalgia como uma coisa porque geralmente o que nos torna nostálgicos é um momento que simplesmente não foi tão bom para muitas pessoas. Então, geralmente sentimos muita nostalgia em um momento em que não precisávamos pensar muito sobre quem estava faltando na sala, quem não estava na mesa. Por isso, quando converso com amigos, e principalmente com os jovens que vêm atrás de nós, seja na internet ou em espaços de escrita, pensamos que aquele momento foi horrível para os jovens queer. Eles falam sobre buscar pequenos espaços seguros no mundo da web 2.0 onde ainda fosse muito bom ser homofóbico, por exemplo, nesses espaços e nossa linguagem informal e como estruturamos esse tipo de coisa. E eles adoram poder deixar essa parte para trás neste novo mundo de tudo o que a web é agora, uma nova web consolidada e desagregada. É por isso que sou tão resistente à nostalgia. Ao mesmo tempo, eu digo, sim. Eu também rio e falo, sinto muita falta de ter um blog. De certa forma, voltar ao boletim informativo e ao Substack fazia parte disso. Sinto saudade de ter um lugar onde posso colocar pensamentos que não se encaixam em nenhum outro discurso ou gênero, e queria um espaço onde pudesse conversar com pessoas que realmente interagissem como pessoas reais. Eles não estavam agindo como bots, trolls ou qualquer que seja a sua personalidade na internet. Então, quer dizer, eu digo que sou resistente à nostalgia. Eu só tento não reproduzir, mas até fico um pouquinho. Sempre terei uma queda pelo Blogger, que coincidentemente é meu primeiro espaço “onde posso dizer” no Blogger.

Ezra Klein

Sim, eu também.

tressie mcmillan cottom

[LAUGHS] Sempre serei um pouco romântico sobre isso.

Ezra Klein

Mas acho que você também está certo sobre essa crítica. Algo que, apesar de tudo isso, posso transformar em nostalgia, algo que acho que muitas vezes passa despercebido na conversa de hoje é que a conversa nunca foi tão ampla.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim.

Ezra Klein

As pessoas falam sobre coisas que não podem dizer, mas nunca foi tão amplo.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim.

Ezra Klein

Nunca houve mais espaço permitido para coisas que você poderia dizer.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Assim é.

Ezra Klein

E as pessoas nunca ficaram mais irritadas com a sensação de participar dela. Não quero dizer nunca, mas de um modo geral, tem uma intensidade nessa conversa que é diferente, e não acho que essas coisas sejam alheias, certo? Acho que é a extensão da conversa e o fato de haver tantas pessoas que você pode ouvir que faz você se sentir desconfiado, inseguro e inseguro, e o bom é o ruim.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Exatamente. Uma das coisas que gosto de falar às pessoas é que acreditamos que ampliar o acesso em qualquer área, aliás, fazemos com tudo. É uma forma americana de abordar o mundo. Acreditamos que a expansão do acesso irá expandir o acesso nas condições das pessoas que se beneficiaram com a redução, o que é contra-intuitivo. Expandir o acesso não significa que todos tenham a experiência que eu, privilegiada, tive na fala. Expandir significa que estamos todos igualmente desconfortáveis, certo? Isso é realmente pluralismo e pluralidade. Não é que todos vão entrar e ter o mesmo conforto que o privilégio e a exclusão trouxeram para um pequeno grupo de pessoas. É que agora todos se sentam à mesa e ninguém sabe exatamente o que dizer das outras pessoas. Bem, isso é justo. Isso significa que todos nós temos que ser atenciosos agora. Todos nós temos que considerar, oh, espere um minuto. É isso que dizemos nesta sala? Todos nós temos que repensar quais são os padrões, e essa foi a promessa de ampliar o discurso, e é exatamente isso que conseguimos. E se isso significa que não tenho certeza se devo deixá-lo começar uma piada, provavelmente é uma coisa muito boa.

Ezra Klein

sim. Jennifer Richardson, a psicóloga de Yale, certa vez chamou isso de democratização do mal-estar para mim.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim.

Ezra Klein

E eu acho que é uma linha muito boa. E algo que sempre me faz pensar é que há muitos de nós que surgiram em uma iteração anterior, não apenas da internet, mas do jornalismo ou da crítica cultural ou seja o que for, e havia certas coisas que ele selecionou. . Sabe a que me refiro? Houve pessoas como a ‘Nova República’ dos anos 80 que foram selecionadas por reduzir drasticamente a redação de ensaios contra-intuitivos, provocativos e um tanto ofensivos e, simplesmente, esta era requer virtudes diferentes, e essa é a conversa que eu quase nunca ouvir as pessoas fazerem.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim.

Ezra Klein

Que talvez apenas na nova internet ou agora, para estar em uma dessas posições muito públicas e privilegiadas, você precisará desenvolver um conjunto diferente de pontos fortes e competências e como manter uma conversa e como falar com as pessoas. eles são simplesmente difíceis. Vai ser muito difícil.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim. sim. E a natureza humana resiste ao aprendizado. Quer dizer, ninguém sabe disso mais do que as pessoas que ensinam para viver. Mas, apesar de tudo o que valorizamos o aprendizado e a educação, a natureza humana realmente tende à inércia, e cada camada de privilégio que você atribui a alguém torna isso mais verdadeiro. Então, o que fundamentalmente, eu acho, estamos dizendo às pessoas é: quem alcançou algo onde parte da promessa de realização era que eu nunca terei que aprender nada novo, certo? Essa foi a promessa, certo? Agora sou o editor. Sou o guardião ou algo assim, e a promessa disso é que nunca mais terei que me preocupar em aprender algo novo. E então chegamos a eles e pensamos, não. Você tem que litigar novamente. Você tem que repensar qual é o seu papel, e agora existem pessoas que podem responsabilizá-lo por isso de uma forma que nem sempre foi o caso. E descobri que isso é verdade em todos os espaços em que estive, em todas as organizações. É verdade para mim. Ninguém gosta de ser lembrado de que ainda não terminou, que ainda tem trabalho a fazer. E é isso, eu acho, o que estamos fundamentalmente dizendo às pessoas, e elas resistem porque essa é a natureza humana. Acontece que algumas pessoas podem resistir de uma forma mais agressiva do que outras.

Ezra Klein

sim. Yuval Levin, que é esse pensador conservador, certa vez o ouvi dizer que quase todas as mudanças são geracionais. A maior parte da mudança real que acontece é quando uma nova geração chega e eles são capazes de mudar. E ele não tinha pensado nisso antes. Mas agora, quando olho para, digamos, o Congresso, e vejo como o Partido Democrata em particular está mudando, ou vejo o que está acontecendo no discurso online, parte disso me parece: sou de uma geração diferente . Até mesmo alguns dos jovens escritores agora, e você se sente um pouco deixado para trás. Há mais mudanças de geração em geração do que dentro de gerações, e talvez seja exatamente por esse motivo.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim. Nada é engraçado para mim do que quando eu percebo que escrevemos tudo isso. Fizemos todas essas coisas. Descartamos todas essas teorias de mudança e então as pessoas acreditaram em nós. Isso é literalmente o que aconteceu. Você tem jovens que disseram, espere um minuto. O gênero é um espectro? está bem. Estou vivo como um espectro. E nós dizemos, não, mas não foi isso que quisemos dizer. Realmente, o que aconteceu fundamentalmente é que nós hipotetizamos e imaginamos todas essas coisas, nós as escrevemos no éter e então ficamos surpresos que as pessoas realmente pegaram e viveram isso. Isso acontece mais rápido, como você destacou. Devemos isso à Internet. As gerações agora têm quatro anos e meio, mas isso acontece mais rápido, então nos sentimos mais velhos mais rápido e nos sentimos obsoletos mais rápido. Mas estou muito inspirado por pessoas que, em uma geração, resistiram a se tornar essa pessoa mais velha. E só estou dizendo, ok. Vou apenas dobrar minha aposta, certo? Acho que temos uma escolha. Você pode se tornar a Angela Davis do mundo ou, tipo, OK, estou ouvindo. Cada nova geração chega e eu ouço você. Tenho que seguir em frente e vi Ângela fazer isso em tempo real. Como se um jovem se levantasse na platéia e fosse embora, e agora dizemos “sibs”. E ela diz, estou com você. Entendido. Tipo, apenas pegue e você deve ir embora. E acho que temos uma escolha. Você pode se tornar aquela pessoa dentro de sua geração que vive naquele espaço estranho, ou você pode se tornar a pessoa, não vou citar um nome, mas você pode se tornar a pessoa que não vive e resiste. Só não quero que escrevam sobre mim assim mais tarde. Então, estou realmente fotografando para o modelo Angela Davis.

Ezra Klein

Deixe-me perguntar sobre sua própria mudança geracional. Você tem esta linha que eu amo, onde você diz que todos os seus ensaios começam com uma pergunta de por que eu e não minha avó. Conte-me sobre sua avó.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Obrigada. Eu adoraria falar sobre minha avó. Tenho pensado muito nela ultimamente, em parte porque me mudei de volta para a Carolina do Norte, e é onde minha família está, e é por isso que estou ficando com saudades de casa e porque estamos presos em casa. O que mais há para fazer? Mas minha avó fazia parte disso, conversamos sobre uma mudança geracional, uma mudança geracional radical nos Estados Unidos da América, realmente, acho que no mundo ocidental quando pensamos sobre o quão central os Estados Unidos são para essa definição. Ela é a cauda da geração da Grande Migração, os negros que saíram do Sul apontam para o Norte e Oeste apontam com milhões de outras pessoas, abrange cerca de uma geração e meia de pessoas se usarmos a grande definição de gerações, mas eu acho que algo realmente é consistente com aquela geração particular de afro-americanos. Eles são aqueles que tomaram decisões realmente fundamentais sobre ficar ou sair. E minha avó foi uma das pessoas que partiram, e provavelmente ela era o menos provável dos membros de sua família que deveriam partir. Quer dizer, essa não era uma mulher corajosa. Eu amo tanto ela. Ela é tão doce quanto poderia ser, mas esta era a mulher que tinha 19 fechaduras na porta. Ela não era exatamente uma pioneira e aquele espírito pioneira. O que ela era pragmática, no entanto. E se os empregos estivessem no norte e fosse para onde você estava indo, mas penso no quanto ele provavelmente teve que lutar contra sua natureza para fazer o que tinha que fazer. Ela era criativa. Acho que recebo muitas das minhas energias criativas dela, uma grande leitora, que todos somos uma família. Mas mesmo em uma família de leitores, minha avó era a leitora, uma leitura realmente ampla. Ela leu qualquer coisa, e acho que também consegui arrancar dela. Muito agnóstico de gênero, e eu não me importo. Vou ler qualquer coisa. Eu peguei dela. E então, quando penso no porquê eu e não ela, todos aqueles instintos que herdei dela e todas aquelas coisas em que ela me socializou, ela é apenas, para mim, o exemplo concreto de como você pode ser tudo que uma cultura valoriza E não estar no corpo certo para a cultura valorizá-lo, e isso moldará o limite da sua vida. Pelo que entendi, é assim que a desigualdade e a estratificação se parecem de uma forma muito real. Minha avó deveria ter tido minha vida, basicamente.

Ezra Klein

E que vida ela teve?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Ele teve uma vida difícil. Ele se mudou da zona rural do leste da Carolina do Norte, onde a vida difícil significava parceria parcial, alugando no verão para pegar o fumo que sobrava depois que as máquinas chegavam. Ela entrou em trabalho de parto com minha mãe no meio de um campo e quase não sobreviveu ao parto. Então ela deixa isso para o Harlem, que teria sido uma época emocionante em todos os sentidos, mas outra transição difícil, condições de vida pequenas e apertadas, muito diferentes daquelas de onde ela tinha vindo. Por muitos e muitos anos, ela deixou de trabalhar para famílias judias como empregada doméstica para, novamente, trabalhar no setor de confecções e sempre tentando conseguir algo que fosse um pouco melhor do que a posição anterior, e então ela finalmente voltou para casa. Carolina do Norte, como muitos negros faziam na migração reversa, e naquela época ela estava cansada de criar e cuidar de pessoas e ser uma cuidadora, e ela realmente passou os últimos anos de sua vida lendo, e eu acho que foi o mais pacífico coisa que ele já teve em sua vida. Viver aí à beira da mudança social, por mais que gostemos de escrever sobre isso e romantizar, viver é difícil. Então ela teve uma vida difícil.

Ezra Klein

E então me diga por que você e não ela. Que pergunta é essa?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Acho que essa questão é sobre os limites de como internalizamos o sonho americano. Acho que ninguém acredita em mobilidade mais do que os negros. Ninguém acredita mais na promessa deste país do que os negros, e ninguém tem menos razão para acreditar nisso do que nós, e acho que manter essas duas ideias ao mesmo tempo é provavelmente o motivo pelo qual nossos resultados de saúde são tão ruins quanto são. Eu acho que viver naquele espaço liminar entre as coisas deveria ser melhor, mas não é, e constantemente tentando esbarrar nisso, apenas tentando encontrar uma fenda, tentando entrar lá. E penso no que estou perguntando quando penso por que eu, e não ela, espero permanecer firme sobre o quão contingente é tudo isso. Eu nunca quero unir meu senso de identidade e minha identidade com algo que eu não controlo. E parte de ser negro e mulher neste país é que mesmo quando você tem muito sucesso, você simplesmente não controla os termos do seu sucesso. Meu sucesso é sempre limitado por quão bem as outras pessoas podem imaginar a possibilidade de mim. Quando as pessoas não podiam imaginar minha avó, ela simplesmente não era possível, sabe? Esta é uma ótima leitora que se saiu bem na escola e é empregada doméstica. Eles simplesmente não podiam imaginar nada mais para ela, então estou sempre muito ciente disso e nunca quero esquecer, que não importa o quanto eu trabalhe, e sim, talvez você deva trabalhar duro ou algo assim , e então você investe em si mesmo e desenvolve suas habilidades. Sempre quero deixar bem claro que posso fazer tudo isso. Posso fazer todas as coisas certas e ainda não funciona, e acho que essa é apenas a base do meu trabalho de tentar explicar isso a outras pessoas. Muitas pessoas que, pela primeira vez na vida, estão reconhecendo que fiz tudo certo e não deu certo. Talvez isso não devesse acontecer. E o que está basicamente se tornando mais verdadeiro para mais pessoas é que mais pessoas se sentem como minha avó do que jamais imaginaram ser possível para elas.

Ezra Klein

Às vezes, ouço uma fala quando estou fazendo o show da qual sei que não vou me afastar por muito tempo, e o quão bem eu me saí é o quão bem as pessoas podem me imaginar sendo um deles. É uma maneira extraordinária de colocar isso. Você diz algo em Thick onde escreve e, citando, smart é apenas uma construção de correspondência entre as habilidades, o ambiente e o momento da história de uma pessoa. Eu sou inteligente no caminho certo, na hora certa, na ponta certa da globalização. Conte-me sobre isso porque acho que enquadramos a inteligência culturalmente como algo que atravessa o tempo, o espaço e a sociedade. Fale comigo sobre ver a inteligência como algo contingente.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim. Acho que amamos essa ideia porque acho que é uma ideia sobre nós mesmos, que há algo verdadeiro sobre a natureza humana que será tão fixo quanto uma relação matemática. É uma maneira muito pós-iluminação de pensar sobre isso, mas sim. Deve haver um inteligente, que você reconheceria o gênio, não importa onde você estivesse na linha do tempo, certo? Não gosto desse programa, mas tenho um jovem na minha vida que está muito interessado no programa “Doctor Who”. Uma das coisas que acho interessante sobre “Doctor Who” é essa premissa. É aquela presunção de que não importa onde você caia no continuum espaço-tempo, você vai reconhecer essa pessoa como o médico, o cientista, aquele que sabe, certo? E não é tão verdade. O que uma cultura precisa de seu pessoal inteligente muda a qualquer momento. Podemos ter um sistema de valores muito diferente sobre o que constitui inteligente. O que quero ter em mente, e uma das coisas que espero que as pessoas pensem quando digo algo sobre combinar o quão inteligente você é, é realmente sobre o seu lugar no mundo é porque quero que as pessoas se sintam compelidas a pensar. sobre que mundo eles estão criando para outra pessoa, mas primeiro temos que reconhecer o quão vulnerável é nossa própria identidade. Se você construir toda a sua identidade com base no quão inteligente você é, acho que pode se tornar muito pequeno e egoísta pensando no mundo para todos os outros. E é por isso que tento apontar, tipo, se você acha que sou bom o suficiente, se você pensa, uau. Tressie é muito afiada, certo? Tressie é realmente brilhante. O que eu quero que você imagine é o quão fácil seria para você não pensar assim e para mim simplesmente não existir, certo? Eu ainda seria eu. Eu ainda teria meus talentos e habilidades, e fazemos isso com as pessoas todos os dias. Nós construímos um mundo que simplesmente não é permissível ou aceitável, e então eu também quero promover a ideia de que incorporamos tanto a ideia de inteligente quanto algo que uma pessoa é e que torna muito fácil para nós nos separarmos do coisas que tornam o smart é realmente possível, porque smart é como um problema social. Tornamos inteligente. Ficamos espertos com as escolas. Somos inteligentes com nossas decisões e escolhas políticas, certo? E se você acha que a natureza apenas cuidará dela e lhe dará um gênio único a cada rodada, então você não investe nas coisas que produzem inteligência. E uma ideia fixa de inteligência nos convida a renunciar ao contrato social de fazer pessoas mais inteligentes. Apenas faça mais expandindo seu entendimento sobre isso.

Ezra Klein

Uma das coisas que eu estava pensando é que estive pensando sobre a ideia dos estudos sobre deficiência, que deficiência é uma relação entre você e o mundo construído.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Sim Sim.

Ezra Klein

E estávamos conversando antes de começarmos a filmar sobre nossa visão, que você teve LASIK e eu tive uma visão negativa por oito anos desde que eu tinha cinco anos, basicamente. E em outro contexto, sou completamente inútil. As coisas que o tornam inteligente, como se eu fosse um bom leitor e pudesse escrever muito, não consigo fazer isso sem meus óculos, não há muito tempo na história da humanidade que não teria sido possível para mim. E mesmo assim, você pode ter tudo exatamente igual, mas apenas um lapso na sociedade ou uma tecnologia acomodatícia podem causar a você, e acabou. E, enquanto isso, não tenho nenhum senso de direção.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Mesmo!

Ezra Klein

Minha inteligência mecânica e física é muito fraca.

tressie mcmillan cottom

sim.

Ezra Klein

Eu penso o tempo todo sobre como eles teriam pouca estima por mim em outras épocas da história.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Mm-hm. Você tira coisas como bibliotecas, a palavra escrita e a imprensa, e meu valor social diminui significativamente. A propósito, aprendi muito com pessoas que estudam deficiência. E na verdade é algo que estava em minha mente o tempo todo em que respondi sua pergunta. Uma das coisas que mudou meu cérebro foi o fato de eu estar fazendo pós-graduação na Emory University, então tínhamos um grande contingente de acadêmicos fazendo estudos sobre deficiência e aprendi muito com eles. Mas um dia estávamos tomando café com algumas dessas pessoas, e o amigo Adam se voltou para mim. E ele diz, a questão é que não se trata de quem é deficiente. É sobre quando você ficará incapacitado. Todos estaremos discapacitados en algún momento de nuestro curso de vida, y tanto consumo de clase media, por cierto, y nuestra obsesión por la salud y el bienestar se trata de eso. Somos fundamentalmente, porque sabemos lo horribles que somos con otras personas discapacitadas, por lo que nos aterroriza convertirnos de alguna manera en discapacitados o en capacidades diferentes, ¿verdad? Así que toma tu polen de abeja y obtén tu magnesio, y bueno, vas a envejecer. Si nada más, su vista se va a ir. Vas a perder algo de tu movilidad, hablando de lo inteligente como una idea fija. La forma en que funciona tu cerebro va a cambiar. Somos tan vulnerables a la naturaleza, al tiempo y a la biología, y creo que nos aterroriza tanto porque sabemos que mucho de lo que hemos construido, nuestras ideas sobre quiénes somos, son en realidad mucho más vulnerables que nosotros. creo que son

Ezra Klein

Pienso en esto todo el tiempo cuando cubro la política de atención médica porque la gente, durante estas peleas, hablará de, bueno, no lo sé. Como persona sana, ¿necesito tanto subvencionar a los enfermos? O comenzarán a hablar de los viejos y los jóvenes, y yo siempre grito durante estos debates. Estas no son categorías fijas. Entramos y salimos, ¿sabes? Eres joven ahora, pero algún día vas a ser viejo, con suerte. Y ahora estás sano, pero algún día estarás enfermo, y es gracioso. Es un lugar donde creo que nuestro entusiasmo por categorizar a las personas, es uno de los muchos que realmente nos lleva por mal camino. Tan pronto como comienzas a hablar en categorías, engañas a la mente para que fije los límites, pero muchas categorías son muy porosas.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si. Las categorías son realmente útiles para el pensamiento analítico similar. Me gusta, sí, me ayuda a rodear con mis brazos algo que es realmente desordenado, y me ayuda a darme cuenta, porque no puedes simplemente considerar cada eventualidad. Eso es solo un límite de la naturaleza humana, de cómo funciona la mente humana. Entonces, las categorías se vuelven útiles siempre que tenga en cuenta que eso es todo lo que eran, ¿verdad? Creo que tienes que volver a litigar constantemente. Espera un minuto, ¿cuál era la categoría que tenía en juego aquí? Hablábamos de la vieja Internet y del mundo que la gente extraña. Creo que una de las cosas con las que la gente se siente tan incómoda en este momento, por qué hay tantas – parece haber pánico moral tras pánico moral tras moral – tenemos muchos pánicos morales sucediendo en este momento, incluso difíciles de agradar separarlos, y creo que es porque se trata de un gran pánico moral por el que no creo que nos sintamos equipados para hacer eso. It is a moment, I think, in time when we are being asked and really pushed to rethink almost every meaningful category that we’ve kind of taken for granted.

ezra klein

I love that description of the moral panic. You talk in your book about thick descriptions and thin descriptions, and one of the things that feels to me like part of the moral conflict or the reason it feels so panic-inducing is we are having the thickest conversation possible in the thinnest mediums possible.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Bingo. I totally agree. So thick description is ultimately about asking as many questions of yourself as you’re asking of other people. So a thin way of engaging with the world is to assume that everybody has already made the decisions that you’ve made prior to the discussion, and all of your questions are going to be reserved for the object that you’re talking about, right, the people you’re talking about, the idea you’re talking about. I think that’s one way to think about it. We also think about thick description as being really evocative, and that’s true, too. Using language to really try to capture people’s experience of things, that’s also true. Whereas thin description usually tries to flatten differences between experiences because it wants to tell you about sort of a universal experience, right, that I can make you understand your connection to something by pointing out what’s universal in it. We think that we’re going to lose people when we start talking about the differences, by the way. And I’m not sure that’s true, and I try to show in my work that that’s not true, that you can absolutely seduce people into having a thick, nuanced conversation. It’s just going to take work on your part, right? I think you have to be dead on with craft. I think you have to be brutal about your empirics being accurate. I think you have to consecrate your own belief in yourself as being the universal storyteller. But I think if you do all of that, people will follow you into a thick, uncomfortable conversation that they did not know they needed to have, but the mediums you talk about, who’s going to do that, right? The economics of that are horrible, and I know that. I get it, but I think what we’re seeing is an unspoken desire for exactly that kind of work, but a media ecosystem and an attention economy that just cannot allow that to happen. That takes a lot of human beings, a lot of human power, takes a lot of willingness to embrace risk because you’re going to mess it up. You’re going to fail, and you’re going to piss somebody — right? This is just going to happen. There’s a lot of risk involved. And initially, it’s not profitable, but that is one of our struggles, I think, in the public discourse where we are trying to have that kind of conversation that I think people absolutely are attracted to even if that attraction feels like they’re angry about it, but that’s still desire for the conversation. I think they’re attracted to it, but we’ve only figured out the economics for very thin genre.

ezra klein

I don’t want to pick on Twitter and cable news here, which are two mediums that I operate in sometimes, but I will see conversations happening there, and I’ll just think, that is such an important conversation, and there is no way I’m engaging it in this medium.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Así es.

ezra klein

I’m not going to come within 1,000 feet of it in this space.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Same, never going to happen.

ezra klein

Whereas, in a podcast, there are things you talk about in a podcast that are a lot trickier because it has this quality of hesitancy. I got a reader email yesterday, actually. I guess it was a listener email, but they were emailing me to say that they listen to a show, and they just thought there shouldn’t be podcasts anymore. They thought podcasts were part of a ruining America because it was such a loose and messy form. People just talk. I mean, they prefer columns, which is fair, and I write columns. But as I was reading it, I was thinking it’s the exact thing I like about the medium, that messiness allows things to be thick. To take on these topics, you have to let things breathe a little bit. And so many mediums over time, particularly when they get professionalized, they trend towards this type optimization. You ask as little of the audience as you possibly can before letting go of them. And that works for scale, but I think it’s bad for understanding and very bad for your relationship with the audience.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si. I don’t think we have the luxury right now of scale and efficiency. We don’t have a culture right now for scale and efficiency that can be productive. That’s for a culture that mostly agrees on who and what it is is mostly functioning the way most people need it to function for a good life. We don’t have that culture. And so I tell people, maximizing efficiency is for very different political body and public discourse than the one we have. The one we have is trying to grapple with potentially massive social change and social transformation. That is a culture that needs messier, more nuanced places for public discourse. Trying to skip over that to get to the scale and efficiency part is how you become antagonistic to the audience. Even as y’all are sort of in a dance together, I think that thin stuff that is narrowed, asking the least from the audience, is actually fundamentally antagonistic to the idea of having an audience.

ezra klein

What are those spaces for you?

tressie mcmillan cottom

I mean, I think I’m in part trying to build that with increasingly thinking about micro media, of which podcasting is one of those. I tend to think of audio storytelling, which is a little bit broader to me. Thinking just about podcasting because I’m thinking about the different cultural traditions for telling oral stories, and that there has to be more than one way for us to capture those and share them and reproduce them. So audio storytelling just broadly excites me a lot as a potential avenue, and I think it’s all right if that never scales. I think that’s actually probably preferable. I think what we are in a moment for is a lot of micro media attempts to capture the parts of the discourse where people are willing to be called in to complicated conversations that, again, scale just might not be the goal. It might not even be preferable to desire scale in that arena. I’m still working out whether or not I think something like — I’ve been on Substack. I’ve been on Medium. I’ve done my own sorting, and that’s just way too hard. I don’t like running all the back-end, but basically trying to recreate the comment section of web 2.0, becoming a destination conversation place for people around an idea, and I think that’s what some people are doing with the newsletter model, and et cetera. So I’m interested in that. I’m not sure yet what I think that space does, but I like the experiment.

ezra klein

I think a lot now about the way we’re all taught to want scale and the way that that’s often a false or counterproductive desire. I am somebody who is taught to want scale, and I got it, and I can’t tell you I’m happier for having it. It definitely affords me opportunities and all kinds of things, but I can’t tell you I’m happier for having it, and I know a lot of people who got it, and I can’t tell you they’re happier for having it. And it’s a funny thing, the desire people are given for a certain kind of success as measured by scale where scale takes away a lot of what makes these conversations and work joyous. And yet, it’s the way we are taught to measure, whether we are succeeding in these conversations and work. And so then you see now, I think, Substack and podcasts, you see a lot of people who’ve achieved scale actually fleeing to things that are smaller scale.

tressie mcmillan cottom

They’re to actually pare it down. I was about to say. So what you have is you got somebody with like a million followers on Twitter who has realized it’s actually horrible, and now they want to talk to 20,000 people more regularly in depth, and we don’t have a way to either capture the value of that — that’s actually, I think, part of what a lot of the more contentious debates are about. We don’t know how to value that. I mean, we don’t know whether we can say that’s worth a half a million or not, but I don’t think that’s about our inability to — we have the tools to capture how many eyes you have on it, how long people spend. So it’s not that. I think it’s what you’re saying. I think we are just resistant to the idea of valuating anything other than scale, right? I think it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine like a mid-term future where having 20,000 regular people who meet and talk about an idea is valued roughly equal to a periodical that has a mailing readership of 350,000 people. We don’t like thinking about it that way, but I think it’s entirely possible. [MUSIC PLAYING]

ezra klein

I got to read a lot of your work all at the same time to prepare for this, which is great, but something that leapt out at me was that a lot of your work revolves around this idea of status, how it’s developed and what it’s composed of. So how do you define what status is and how we construct it?

tressie mcmillan cottom

It’s a great question, and I think I would agree. A challenge for me, professionally, is that I write so broadly, and certainly the way other people experience it is broad. But in my mind, I’m always writing about one thing, and I’m always stunned that other people don’t see it. It’s just status. It’s just status. The thing is, status looks the same everywhere you go, but it wears a different outfit. So it’s always at play. It’s always happening. And so when I show up and I see status, it’s not that I’m the person who does race and gender or whatever. It’s just that I entered a room, and I looked around, and I went, oh, here’s what’s happening here. Here’s the status that’s at play. And sometimes that’s a little bit more gender than it is race. Sometimes it’s a little bit more class than it is race, right? But it’s always there. And the way I explain it to students and my audiences is status is the thing that is external to you that defines you as much as your identity does. So we love to talk about identity, right? We’ve got a whole language about identity, about self and our political identities and our racial identities and sexual identities. We don’t have as rich a conversation to talk about status, which, coincidentally, is some of the most powerful work that status does. It becomes so taken for granted that we never even label it, right? We’ll walk into a room, and everybody agrees who’s supposed to sit at the chair at the front of the room. That’s status, right? And that it operates a little differently everywhere you are standing. But if you learn how to identify it wherever you are standing, in many ways, you become one of the most powerful people in the room because you see what’s driving and shaping the decisions. But as a cultural critic, as a social investigator, you also become super important to the people who will never be invited to that room, right? So when I leave a room, I want to be able to tell people not just what happened, but I want to be able to give an informed opinion about why it happened, why it happened, and that’s what understanding status does. It means that when I leave the room, I can bring some of the people who will never be invited to that room with me by being able to translate the dynamics that happen in that room, and it’s a hard thing to do with American audiences. I travel, before times, I was doing quite a bit more international travel, and it’s so interesting. I can go to the UK where everybody gets this. Their language about social class is so refined that they get it. They may not have our same understanding of race and gender, but their language about class has really given them a public language of talking about status. In America, we only talk about status as race, and so our language is very, very atrophied, you know?

ezra klein

Yeah we want to ignore the idea that class is status.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Así es. Class is natural. Class is biology. Class is destiny. Class is family. We talk about it embedded in those things, family politics. We talk about it about values, ideals, having the right behaviors, but we don’t have any language to talk about it in this country. And since it is one of our biggest status differentials in this country, it means we miss a lot of what’s happening.

ezra klein

I think a lot about places where we have language that hides what we’re doing, hides, particularly, the way we actually treat people. We have language that venerates them as a way of not making good on what that language would say. So middle class, working class, essential workers, the military and veterans are huge in this. There are certain groups where we have an agreed upon political language. And if you were an alien who came to this planet and this country and listened to us talk, you’d be like, ah, those people they’re talking about, they have the most status, and they’re going to be treated the best. And then you look at how policy plays out, and it’s the exact opposite. And the language, we are pretending we have a different social hierarchy than we actually do.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Which is super important to our ruling ideology, which is merit. How else do you get people to buy into the idea of merit when their own lived experiences say to them every day that merit is not real, or certainly not as concrete as everybody says it is? Well, you get them to buy into it by saying you just need to get into the right category. And if you get into the right category — military veterans is one. It’s a big one in my world, like in education policy. We make horrible education policy for veterans. They have some of the highest rates of student loan defaults. The money that they’re given to go to college really translates into them going into high quality institutions, but you try to talk to somebody about making the GI Bill more robust, and they will have a public meeting in the middle of Capitol Hill. Everybody shows up. There’s the equivalent of bible thumping, and then they will all close the doors — and both sides of the aisle, by the way, will close the door and will agree to not do anything to protect veteran students, but the veterans believe that they’re protected, you see? That’s what matters. They believe. How else do you get somebody to sign up for something like military service when they’re poor and working class and from places with poor economic outcomes? You do it by saying, yeah, you won’t be rich, but everybody will value you, will give you status instead of money. This is one of the allures of becoming a police officer where status can far outstrip the economic rewards of being a police officer to take on the risk of doing the job. So really tightly closed status that does not have the economic power to go with it can actually become violent, frankly, but we don’t have a language yet to talk about any of that. All we know how to do is say this group of people deserves our deference and our respect, but we don’t have a commiserate policy conversation to talk about how we attach actual meaningful resources to it.

ezra klein

Si. There’s almost nothing more destabilizing in politics than a group that the way they are talked about and the way they talk about themselves in terms of merit and status is not recognized by society because it creates a deep sense of unfairness, of shame, of resentment for individuals for whom it happens to. I think it collapses a person’s psyche, oftentimes. But for groups, particularly when it’s a group that is told or actually has power, but then society isn’t treating it like it does or stops treating it like it does, that becomes, as you’re saying, it becomes very violent. This whole discussion has always been to me like the molten core of Trumpism. It’s this class of voters and Donald Trump himself who, on some level, have so much status and have had so much power. But then what begins to happen is not just a losing of power, but a losing of status, a feeling that the culture is turning on them, that they’re being disrespected. What motivates Trump is disrespect, the feeling that he’s not a winner, right? And the same for what motivates many of his supporters, and I do think this is why the fights over speech and cancel culture and all of this are so intense because they are, at some fundamental level, about who has the status to decide how they are spoken about, and then who has the status to not fear what it is they’re saying? And you can’t solve that with policy. It’s actually a question of social hierarchy.

tressie mcmillan cottom

A lot of people woke up to find that the merit culture that they have been operating in has been, for a very long time, an honor culture. See, we were supposed to be too sophisticated for our honor culture of ritual and honor, exchanges of prestige and status and privilege, right? We were supposed to be too sophisticated for that. And so you work hard and that the status will follow, economic achievement. And when that economic promise starts to collapse but the ritual of status remains, you really just have an honor-based culture where people will defend honor, will determine their honor in relation to other people. They’ll build hierarchies of honor within their own little corner of the world that might be at odds with another corner. That’s when we talk about the siloing effect of culture. It’s not that people don’t know that people disagree with them. It’s that they’ve built their own little honor culture over here. And if there are no economic incentives to leave it, why would you? If you can be the king— what’s the guy with the thing on his head, the horns on January 6th?

ezra klein

Oh, the QAnon Shaman.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Gracias. But if you’re going to walk around with horns on your head, I get to mock. So that’s an honor culture he brought of a subculture that had a set of rules where that actually wasn’t absurd, but if you divorce then some of the economic incentives for people to participate in that, all you’re left with is the guy with the horns on his head.

ezra klein

You did this research project about white deaths of despair that feels relevant to this conversation.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Very much so.

ezra klein

Do you want to talk about it a bit?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si. So our argument — my colleagues Arjumand Siddiqi, Sandy Darity, and I did — so we were responding to the documented demographic data points about change in white Americans’ mortality. One of the arguments had been that was due to several things, the opioid crisis, growing economic insecurity, job polarization, and access to health care. Well, one of the things that we actually find and argue in the data is that you see those deaths even in places where those indicators do not exist, where they have not experienced job losses, where they do enjoy access to health care and a certain amount of economic security. And our argument is that white people’s deaths of despair, as it has been called, is not as much about real losses in their status. It’s about perceived loss in their status, right? The perception of loss was enough to undermine positive health outcomes and health-seeking behaviors. That point you were making that people feel like they have lost status, whether they’ve lost it or not. Well, that’s not about actual loss. That is about perceived loss, and that we so under-appreciate how much perception matters to how much we’ll even accept facts, right? Most people will just accept the facts that match what they already believe, you know? Confirmation bias and et cetera. We’ve seen this in vaccine roll-outs, right, where people’s political identity shapes what information they will accept about scientific evidence. Well, that happens in every facet of life. And so perception is just as important as any universal belief system and what’s true and what’s untrue, and that that perceived loss is enough for people to not seek out health care or to engage in dangerous health behaviors. How else do you explain people arrested on January 6th who perceived loss of status? And they engaged in — if you think about self-selecting into a conflict with armed police as a dangerous health behavior, that’s one way to think about it. You can quite literally get hurt, right? They elected to go into this risky behavior that could end in loss of life, and for several people did. That’s a risky health behavior, and that’s about perceived status, and that we haven’t thought concretely enough about how dangerous privileged people will become if they just perceive that they have less privilege, not actual loss of privilege, but they perceive they have less privilege.

ezra klein

I wonder if one way of thinking, too, about this actual versus perceived is to think about base rates versus rates of change.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si.

ezra klein

You get this in economics all the time where people, particularly their politics, are much more driven by how their economic situation is changing than what it actually is. The fact that you’re richer than you were 10 years ago doesn’t matter in terms of a recession. If things are getting worse right now, you get really upset, and I think there’s something in this for white voters, for more conservative Christian voters, for more traditionalist Christian voters, where, still on top, no doubt about it, but in terms of groups raising and lowering their power in society, in terms of rates of change in status, the rate of change is bad. White people feel that they are not as protected as they were, not as powerful. Christian folks feel they don’t have the hammerlock on politics they did, particularly white Christians, once upon a time, and that people are very sensitive not just to rates of economic change, which we in the literature forever, but they’re very sensitive, much more so than we give them credit for, to rates of status change.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Yes, actually. I think that’s a great way to think about it, and it’s actually like — when we talk about socioeconomic status, the addition of the socio to the economic status is something that was being said in I think my old sociological literature, the 60s and 70s where we had something called like — we’d do these massive class structure and stratification tables. They said that people’s understanding of their economic position was conditioned on their social position, basically. We got away from that understanding when we thought that there was more equal opportunity access to economic positioning. Well, yeah. That makes sense when you got a lock on something like male privilege in the workplace, but once women entered the workplace, we expected those things to level off. So it isn’t that those things stop being true. We did, however, stop studying them that way. There became a real preference for saying that your economic position was so wedded to your social position because we were more egalitarian. And macro economists, especially more critical ones, will now say that what you’re really seeing is, with the polarization and the pulling apart of the economic structure, a re-emergence of the importance of how social position conditions your understanding of your economic position. But if you look at women, however, women workers, for example, non-white workers, that’s always been true. It’s always been the case that we understand the fine-grained differences in our relative economic status based on who we are and our lack of social status. It is just more true now, however, for white workers, especially white males.

ezra klein

I always think that the political conversation here is driven basically mad by something that’s all over your work, which is that status is not stable.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si.

ezra klein

And there’s no agreement as to who is where, and that’s partially because who is where changes, but there’s a real different status hierarchy in elected politics and how power records there to where it is in culture to where it is and religion to where it is in a bunch of other parts of our society. One of the things I noticed in your work is that you are incredibly sensitive to using the way status changes for you moving in and out of different rooms as an example to showing it for others. You really do use yourself as like, look what happened to me here, and look where I was here, and look where I was here. Could you talk a bit about that? Because we keep using status as a singular, but it’s not. It’s a shifting plural.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Yes, it is. It’s highly contextual, which is why we don’t like trying to measure it, frankly. And it is experienced subjectively but has objective consequences and measurable effects. That’s why it’s a really messy thing to try to understand. But as we start our conversation with the mess is where the good, important stuff is happening, and then we also are living in a time where — this is the technology piece. Almost all of the dominant technological changes that have reshaped our world over the last 30 years have only made status more contextual. So it’s added a layer of how important context is to status. Audiences can be collapsed and expanded so quickly, and they can shift so rapidly, and there new forms of status emerging all the time driven by digital platforms and digital technologies and just digital ideas, the idea of technology. And so at the very time that status has become more destabilized and contextual and transient, there are also ever new and emerging forms of status, right? One of the examples I like to give is you can be a celebrity, what we call a micro celebrity in some digital space, and that translates to absolutely no form of capital anywhere else. I love these stories. They do them every few years where they go, oh, what happened to somebody who was in that massive meme, you know? And they’ll go find them, and they’re working in fast food, or they were doing what they were doing before, usually worse off because the celebrity impacted their ability to work and get a regular job. And so status has become decoupled in so many micro ways from economic relations. And I use myself as an example because people are so resistant to thinking about themselves as being vulnerable. If I invite the reader to think about how much status they lose when they go from one room to another, very few people are ambitious enough and courageous enough to do that. It’s a level of vulnerability to ask from the reader to go, you know how you feel like such a girl boss when you go do x, right? But you know what happens when you leave that room and you go to this other room, right? And it doesn’t feel good to people, but if they can project it onto me and experience it through the way I’ve learned to see myself as sort of like a meta-narrative as I move through the world, I think it shows them a model for, when they’re ready, a model for how to think about it in their own lives. I think of some of my work, especially in Thick and some of the essay work as just trying to model for people that you can understand that this thing is happening to you and it not change who you are, right? I’m still who I am. I still have what I have, but I know there are rooms that enter where my status evaporates the second I walk in. You can almost feel it sometimes. You can become so attuned to it. I can feel when a room changes, and we know that feeling. If you’ve ever been someplace, when a celebrity walks in the room and the air gets that crickle crackle feeling in it, right, we know it. We just don’t think of it as being something that happens with us and to us. And so I use myself as an example to try to give people a way to develop a model of thinking about the world, that you don’t have to be afraid of acknowledging that because status exists and it makes you vulnerable, acknowledging it doesn’t change your vulnerability. You’re vulnerable whether you develop a language to think about it or not. And that thing you talked about earlier, that psychological fissure that can happen when the world doesn’t recognize your status the way you think they should, developing a language is the most powerful thing we can do to protect ourselves from that kind of psychological trauma, that I may not be able to control how the world will see a really smart Black girl as she walks around in the world, but I can have a language for describing it, and I can know, at the end of the day, that if I can label it, if I can talk about it, it hasn’t completely broken me, and that more of us need that language. More is needed. [MUSIC PLAYING]

ezra klein

We’ve talked about some of the tributaries of status here, money, education, race, gender, politics. One of the really challenging essays from Thick, one that I still think about having read it now, I guess, a couple of years ago, is In the Name of Beauty, and attractiveness is a huge generator of life outcomes, of status. And you write in that that beauty isn’t actually what you look like. Beauty is the preferences that reproduce the existing social order. People talk about lookism. Is attractiveness a generator of status, or is it the reflection of it?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Ambas cosas. I just did a really fun project — fun for me project — about Dolly Parton, and I read a book, “She Come By It Natural” by Sarah Smarsh. And what Sarah is doing is she’s talking about her. She comes from a white working class rural family, woman-dominated family, a very matriarchal family, and I could relate. I come from a very patriarchal family, and she talks about the women in her life, in her family’s lives about how important it was for them to be attractive as working class white women. And she said it wasn’t attractive the way attractive matters to my now upper middle class white peers. Her life has changed. Being attractive meant a level of security and very marginal economic mobility for white working class women. She was like, for us, staying thin or staying attractive or staying pretty was about just being able to get some favor at a really brutal job. If I’m a waitress, then it means I get a slightly better shift because the manager thinks I’m cute, basically. Or it opens up an avenue to marry and get the hell out of the Blue Ridge Mountains, right? That marginal amounts of very conditioned and complicated status, that beauty and attractiveness was generating then in that space status. But it also — the idea of what is beautiful, about what is attractive is a reflection of our collective political values and is about reproducing the underlying economic relations embedded in them. And the way you know that it’s true is because if beauty were some objective idea, the same thing would have been beautiful in 1880 that was beautiful in 1980 that will be beautiful in 2080. And in fact, what you see when you study ideas, popular ideas about what constitutes attractiveness and desire and beauty, is that they have changed to match whatever is the economically valued group of people in the world. And so yeah, there’s some underlying — sometimes evolutionary psychologists like to point to work about how there’s a universal equation for beauty, like there’s a ratio. The beauty, I think, ratio is what they call it, that we all value eyes that are set to something, some weird math. And I go, or there was a global system of capital by the 1500s countries that developed an idea the world over that was predicated on an equation of beauty that was exported. And when I do that, they always get very eh with me, but I also complicate the evolutionary psychology people because I think they are wild. That’s just a wild group of people, but looking for stable ideas across thousands of years is wild to me. But yet, we don’t think about — we’d like to think that beauty is just like the merit myth, so that we’d like to think of beauty as being objective at the same time that we want it to be achievable, right? So this is the tension. And in every idea about merit that is both supposed to be inherited and achievable, and things cannot be both. If you inherit beauty but you can also achieve beauty, then inherited beauty won’t matter as much, right? And that’s the tension that we have and the ideas about what we’ll say is beautiful becomes a tool for consolidating status and opportunity and privilege for people who have inherited a social position. One of my favorite ways to get people really upset is to talk about how much we valorize blondness in our culture, right? So here you have a biological blip, a set of recessive traits that has been elevated to almost a political ideology that we never, ever, ever critique as political or economic-based, but turn on the evening news tonight. Turn on Fox News, right? And you tell me what the visual comportment of power looks like.

ezra klein

I think all the time, just all the time, about how Hitler ran this genocidal campaign in service of an aesthetic ideal that he didn’t represent.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Didn’t embody, yeah.

ezra klein

It is — the mind crumbles. [LAUGHS]

tressie mcmillan cottom

Mm-hm.

ezra klein

And not that it’s funny, obviously.

tressie mcmillan cottom

I know what you mean.

ezra klein

But it’s just one of these things. Sometimes I sit there with that, and it is the strangest thing. I understand on some level going nuts in service of something that obviously accrues to your own power, but the whole thing he was fighting for, he would have been on the outs — it just — It drives people mad.

tressie mcmillan cottom

It really, really does. It does.

ezra klein

I don’t know if you across this. I come across it a lot. There’s a what-aboutism around beauty and attractiveness that will come from people who say, oh, well, you care about discrimination or inequality or inequity that comes from race or gender or education or something else, but look at the research on unattractiveness, and you don’t seem to care about that. And it’s always from people don’t care about any of them who are saying this.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Anything else. UH Huh. Si.

ezra klein

But it actually is, but I do think that it’s a critique worth taking seriously in the sense that there is something real to it, that we really do treat people differently in society based on height, based on looks, and we don’t have a very good critical discourse around that, in part because I think it implicates us too much, right? It’s very hard to talk about something that you’re part of that you can’t change or don’t want to change what you’re attracted to, or don’t want to think too hard about where it came from. It feels like a pretty expansive vista for complication. Not that, obviously, a lot of scholars haven’t been doing this for a long time, just that, in the public conversation, it’s a little thinner.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si. And it’s the one that goes at the heart of — listen, you don’t own a lot in a leasing society, right? So here’s a society where we running out of stuff. We don’t get much, OK? Many of us are going to be renters forever. So the idea of the things that are naturally occurring that emerge from our true selves, I think we have always put value in that, but I think we especially put value in that now. So this is the part where people will feel implicated, I think, in critiquing beauty privilege or whatever, attractiveness privilege, is what they think we’re saying is who you are attracted to is a social construction and a political problem. And well, here’s the truth. That is exactly what I’m saying. I am saying that that is not nearly as natural as you think it is, and that one of the most basic ways that we are all implicated in the status hierarchy is in naturalizing those differences and saying that they are naturally occurring. And then that gets really, really, really fuzzy when I think it pushes people on thinking about something like gender and desire. I think that there is a lot of resistance coming from that side, but I also just think there’s just sort of a routine uncritical resistance to the idea that you’re going to try to police what I find attractive, and you’re going to tell me that even that is a political problem. And yeah, it kind of is.

ezra klein

I think it’s hard in a lot of these conversations to hold the idea that what we believe, think, do, intuitive reactions we have do reflect political problems, but they are not sins.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Oh, yeah. The morality. Si. Si.

ezra klein

Si. People have a lot of difficulty. Even I have a lot of difficulty with the idea that there can be things about me that don’t fit my politics. That can be an interesting fact and worth interrogating without it being something that I have to like loathe myself for.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si. One thing I didn’t get from my family was — we are what I call culturally Baptists. We show up on Easter and Christmas, and we do some of the things, but we were not like devout churchgoers, which actually made us quite different in the places that we were from where the church is the center of the social and economic life of Black communities, right? We kind of participated, but we didn’t bring a lot of that home. And I think because of that, I never had some of the moral baggage. I mean, I have some that just comes from, I think, living in a secularly religious society, but I never internalized that because I am a part of a thing that’s bad, I am bad. And I actually will forget sometimes that other people aren’t like me in that regard. And yeah, they’ll start spinning out. And I’ll go, what’s wrong with you? And somebody will say, Tressie, you basically just went at the core of their entire belief system. But I was like, well, all I said was you like blondes, and that’s a little eugenicist. I mean, I don’t know why you’re now crying. And apparently, because I don’t have that impulse, I forget to be empathetic with others. So thank you for reminding me. Yes, it does, I think, make people feel really bad.

ezra klein

But also, just, I don’t know. I don’t want to get prescriptive here coming to the end of this, but when we were talking earlier about mediums for thicker conversations and how do you have them, and how do you have this, like, what you described as a unified moral panic about our categorization systems without it feeling like a panic and without it feeling like a war of all against all. I feel like there’s something here that’s really important in the way you approach it that makes a lot of sense for why you’re good at talking about these things because, somehow, it has to be OK that we are going to fall on the wrong side of even our categories. And I don’t know that we can do that in these spaces that are so tuned for shame that are tuning us for shame. You somehow have to — it has to be safer than it is to have some conversation because, if it isn’t safe, you can’t you can’t admit any of it.

tressie mcmillan cottom

I actually have a really counter-intuitive position on shame which is that it can serve a social function when it is divorced from some of the other social functions. So one of the problems right now is that social shame, which I think in and of itself is enough, usually, to discipline most people, is now tied to economic and political and cultural capital in sort of a way, and people feel that in a really gut level, and I think they’re right to feel it. Shame is important to kind of like get people to adhere, especially to new norms, and we got to have. And so I’m always like, you don’t want to take shame off the table. What we probably do need to have happen is we need to divorce it from our micro celebrity driven culture.

ezra klein

That is such a good point.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Where your systems are the people, right? People become avatars for a whole system of thought, and I’m just like, well, that’s almost never going to work, the celebritization of some of these things that are always supposed to be really contentious sort of trade-offs, right? Well celebrity is not set up for trade-offs. Most of what we do for work is not set up for trade-offs, but our status is set up for that. And so that’s probably where we confine those conversations to. I think is perfectly fine to say, when somebody is on the wrong side of one of our political values, to say I don’t mess with them when they’re talking about minimum wage, right? They’ve been wrong on it. When they get started on minimum wage, I tune out. And for that to be the take away, tune out on so on so when they do minimum wage because they don’t know what they’re talking about, and they’re on the wrong side of history on this one, but to say but that person tends to be in the pocket on X, and we’ll listen to him on X. That would be to me contextual and status-based. Like, OK, let’s not give them status on this idea, but give them some status on it that idea. But micro celebrity and the microeconomics of writing into public life right now really privilege everybody being a generalist and a universalist who performs being an ideologue, and you just can’t do all of that. You can’t do it all.

ezra klein

Ooh, let me try to make this comparison. So this feels technological, at least in part. We were talking earlier about your work on how status doesn’t follow you room to room, how you change room to room, but one of the problems online to what you were just saying about how many things shame attaches to is our, at least our group identity, our name online is cohesive. And the things that attach to it, which are not everything. It’s a very flattened identity. Only a certain number of things attach to it, but the things that are attached to it follow it into every room, follow it into every Google search, follow it into what anybody would know about that online identity, and it’s very then hard to change it. You can’t get out of the room, and we don’t really know what to do with that well. And it’s funny because were talking earlier. I think it almost maybe sounded negative that the things in our lives are contextual. But in many ways, I think the problem with our online identities, which now, as you’re saying, are our economic identities, our cultural identities, et cetera, is they are non-contextual. They are decontextualized.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Si. That efficiency and maximization piece again, the thing is, technologies can only maximize and increase efficiencies in a system of unequal distribution. It’s just going to make unequal distribution more efficient, and it’s just going to maximize it. And in the case of our very identities, that’s what it does most effectively. It flattens differences and distinctions and elevates the place where you have cobbled together the most consensus, even if that consensus is itself negative and decontextualized, but it will drive efficiencies of driving up consensus, even if the consensus is negative, and that there might be some value in there being contextual spaces where, in this space, I am an expert. In this space, I’m just a member of the audience, right? And in this space, I’m a membership of a group who has a group position, and we’re trying to move forward a group agenda, and that we cannot do that when we attach our work to our identity. So what we may have here is just a fundamental critique of, should we be our work? And I always tell people, if you judge me by Twitter, that’s on you because I write all the time. And I have made as much of it free as I possibly can. So I’m like, you can judge me on what I write, but I’ve never told you to pay attention to me in these other contexts, and that is one of my ways of trying to navigate that. If I write and I articulate a reasoned, more thoughtful position on something and I make it freely available, then I always feel like I’ve got plausible deniability on the fallibility of being a digital person, an internet person, right? That’s me trying to build a buffer. It’s harder to do when you don’t control where you write, and you can’t control the circulation of your ideas, but yeah. That’s what I think I’m trying to get around. The technology is never going to give us that affordance. We’re going to have to come up with social norms about it. The technology just can’t differentiate. The economics aren’t there. The political structure regulation isn’t there to make it differentiate. So what we really would be asking for is something like where we own all of our data and we could change access to different parts of the data we produce in different ways. We just don’t have that environment. So that means social norms are going to have to do it. My challenge is this. I want those social norms to bubble up from the actual vulnerable people and not to be imposed top down from the people who only perceive that they are vulnerable.

ezra klein

I think that’s the good challenge right there. You want to do some book recommendations?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Oh, yes. Si.

ezra klein

Está bien. What’s a work of cultural criticism you’d recommend?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Oh, yeah. And this is not only one of the more recent things I’ve read, but it is one of the better things I’ve read, and so I got lucky in that regard, and that is Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong. I think everybody who says that they are an essayist and a popular culture critic right now needs to be chasing this book.

ezra klein

What’s the best book by a contemporary sociologist who isn’t you?

tressie mcmillan cottom

I’m actually going to recommend something that, in my dream scenario, these things would come together in a pack when you went to the store. Like, if you bought one, you get the other, and that is Sabrina Strings, who’s a sociologist, and she has a book called “Fearing the Black Body,” “Fearing the Black Body,” that actually gets it some of what we were talking about, the construction of beauty, how we have defined beauty to be antithetical to whatever our racialized assumptions were of difference at any point in time in history, and that if that’s the line you take, then beauty has been stable. The construction of beauty has been whatever was not the racialized moral panic of the time. And so it’s a really great book.

ezra klein

We managed to have so many interesting conversations, so I didn’t expect that I never got to all of my education questions for you, but because you’ve done so much education work, what’s the book you recommend on thinking about education?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Well, when I think about education, I am most often thinking about higher ed. So this is going to be the higher ed book. I think it’s just the GOAT. I think you got to do the GOAT book, and this was one of those when we talked about the difference between census reading and reading around. This is a census book. So that’s why I say these things still matter to do. It’s just I want people to do both, but you got to read Jerome Karabel’s “The Chosen,” which is the history of selective admissions in elite higher education. I, as a person, do not care about Ivy League institutions. I tell people this all the time, and I think they think I’m doing that to angle for a job at one, and I promise you I’m not, but we are always, always in a long historical conversation in higher ed circles in this country with the foundations of how selective admissions were designed. And until we fully understand that, you can’t grapple with something like student loan debt or why people keep showing up for paying $100,000 for a master’s degree that has a symbol on it, right? We got to get that, again, status.

ezra klein

Then finally, always our last one, what’s your favorite children’s book?

tressie mcmillan cottom

Well, I should have said a Judy Blume book, considering we’ve lost her recently. And certainly, there are many of hers on that list, but my sentimental favorite will always be “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred Taylor. I often call this book — it was baby’s first novel. It was a longer book, right? I wasn’t a children’s reader, so I felt very grown up when I read this book. Didn’t have any pictures in it. I was so impressed with myself, and it is the kind of story — I mean, I saw myself in that story in a way that was really new for me at that age and at that time, and the book holds up. I reread it again within the last year and a half or so, and it really holds up.

ezra klein

Did it really? I remember reading that as a kid. And actually, it was almost too adult for me.

tressie mcmillan cottom

Well, that’s why I liked it, to be fair, and probably why I now think it holds up because now I’m the adult, right? I thought it nailed the emotions of a certain point in history without being too heavy-handed, but it was adult in a way that all kids don’t get to be kids. That’s kind of the moral of that story. So when we’re talking about a moment when the adultification of young men of color and young women of color, making them more vulnerable to police violence and et cetera, one of the my adult takeaways from the book is that not all kids get to be kids in the same way, and that’s probably why I liked it as a kid.

ezra klein

Tressie McMillan Cottom, thank you so much. What a pleasure.

tressie mcmillan cottom

It really was a really good time. For a thing that did not involve cocktails or dinner, this was a lot of fun. Thanks, Ezra.

ezra klein

Well, next time we can do it with cocktails.

tressie mcmillan cottom

I’m holding you to it. [MUSIC PLAYING]

ezra klein

That is the show. We’ll see if I keep doing this, but I thought it might be fun to offer occasional recommendations of my own here at the end, and here’s mine for today. I just watched “My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix, which is in their nominated for Oscars documentaries category, but it’s all about a guy’s friendship with an octopus, and it is wonderful. I think I need to do a show about octopi at some point. I’ve been reading some books on them. And then after watching this, it’s really strange how much we just have a wonderful alien-style intelligence on this planet and how little attention we actually pay to that fact. But if you want to just — I don’t exactly want to say trip out here, but if you really want to enter a different world for a while, “My Octopus Teacher,” it’s terrific.

If you want help the show, you can leave us a review wherever you are listening, or you can email this episode or text it or however you kids share your episodes to a friend, if you think they’d enjoy it, or family member. It’s a great way for the show to grow, and we always really appreciate it when you do it. “The Ezra Klein Show” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It is produced by Roge Karma and Jeff Geld, fact-checked by Michelle Harris, original music by Isaac Jones, and mixing by Jeff Geld. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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