Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Cloak of Courtesy

Darlings, brace yourselves. The Ninth Circle is icing up as we speak. Pretty Lady is about to make a case against courtesy.

Not entirely. But she was much struck by a point made by Chris Caldwell in the Financial Times, of all places:
The US has not managed to eliminate racism, Mr Jackson thinks, but it has succeeded in eliminating racist talk. Remarks the slightest bit “insensitive” draw draconian punishment. White people, because they feel thoroughly oppressed by this regime, assume that it must be some kind of “gift” to minorities, especially blacks.

It is not. It is more like a torment. It renders the power structure more opaque to blacks than it has ever been, leaving what Mr Jackson calls a “scary disconnect between the specifics of what gets said and the hazy possibilities of what kinds of things are truly meant”. If the historic enemies of your people suddenly began talking about you in what can fairly be called a secret code, how inclined would you be to trust in their protestations of generosity?

Pretty Lady, it must be confessed, has generally and wholly come down upon the side of Manners Before All. She is the first to deplore the trashy attribution of base motives to persons with whom one happens to disagree; the shameless pursuit of flamboyant Wealth as directly equated with Class; and she wholly condemns the knee-jerk spewing of vile epithets at the slightest provocation. Manners, she maintains, are the true signifier of Class.

However, upon reading Mr. Caldwell's essay, she was brought to a sudden vivid recollection of a certain college classmate, a gentleman who gave off the constant impression that he would really be at Harvard, but had whimsically decided to go slumming at the U. of T. instead. This fellow made bosom companions of a certain heavy-smoking, heavy-drinking, heavy-philosophizing consortium of Pretty Lady's buddies, so naturally she gregariously attempted to get to know him.

He treated her with impeccable, impenetrable, invariable, bland courtesy. It was dreadful.

For Pretty Lady, being the intuitive soul that she is, divined that this man despised and dismissed her out of hand, for what reasons she could not fathom. (Later, she read his thesis, and fathomed it. Evidently the highly expressive manner of her presentation of self led the gentleman to believe that she lacked genuine substance. Go figure.) However, no information was provided as to exactly what the problem was, and no point of access was permitted to address it; it was not admitted that there was a problem.

Freedom of association being a fine thing, at least in theory, perhaps indeed the problem existed only in Pretty Lady's mildly wounded mind. But she can imagine the horror of a world where every person treats you this way, and there's not a thing you can do about it. Particularly when the opaque purveyors of detached, dismissive courtesy are loan officers, and potential employers, and educational institutions.


Desert Cat said...

Parallel track here.

Anonymous said...

The Ninth Circle is icing up as we speak.

For the Sowers of Discord hopefully.

Doom said...

Though I think this not of you, Pretty Lady, I could imagine such as this gentleman ill conceiving of just such an offense from or against you. There are those who twitter like song birds because or in exemplification toward their lack of anything else.

Well, "we" know you are not of this calibre. Seriously, I think you are more than just a pretty word (and face, and painter). ;) And, honestly, even if you were not, I might still like you! (and certainly, in that case, you would then like me too!)

Pretty Lady said...

Thank you, dear Doom, that makes me feel better. ;-)

Nancy said...

If he was shallow enough to think so well of himself with so little evidence, I suspect his ignoring you was the nicest thing he could ever have done.

Doom said...

I think her frustration belies her belief that he had something on the ball, in spite of her displeasure with his final analysis, Nancy. Something got her or it would be gone, or perhaps would never have existed. Odd, I seem to feel that she dismisses me in such a way, often. It just doesn't bother me, not quite like that. :p

Oh, I never can tell when my chain is being tugged, PL. Do you jest with or at me? I will probably never know.

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