I was happy to come across this quote today by the one and only Audre Lorde. When I was in graduate school, a friend and I developed a theory of what we called “political bourgieness.” The main idea is that doing things like getting a pedicure, shopping at high-end retail stores, going wine tasting, etc. constitute political acts for us as women of color, for a number of reasons. First, such activities are political in that we might be the only minorities other people encounter in those environments; by being visible and present in these spaces, then, we are providing a representation of being Chicana that contrasts with the mainstream. Also, we come from families that struggled financially for many years; our grandmother and mothers would have loved to have such leisure and privilege, so we must enjoy it on their behalf!
Of course, we talked about this “theory” as a kind of joke. One humorless anthropologist friend who overheard us discussing political bourgieness became annoyed and huffed, “Oh yeah, we have that in Columbia–it’s called being middle class!” I take issue with such simplistic thinking. I refuse to romanticize poverty or the day-to-day struggles of the working class. And I refuse to feel guilty that by pursuing my education and now being in a career that comes with many privileges that I’ve somehow “sold out” or am no longer political. As far as I’m concerned, in my role as a professor, I teach young minds about their history and culture, and do everything I can to encourage them to think for themselves and ask critical questions about our society…and thats one of the most political things out there, especially in today’s increasingly anti-immigrant environment. So I’m doing a lot for our Chican@ community and I deserve a $10 lemon drop martini and then some.
I have colleagues who, uncomfortable with their privileged class status, will do things like refuse to shop at Whole Foods. Really? Does buying organic produce mean that you are a less “authentic” Chican@? I don’t think so. Or I think of my graduate students, who get riled up when we read Elva Treviño Hart’s memoir, Barefoot Heart, who writes about growing up in a poor migrant worker family. Hart went on to earn degrees from Stanford and was an exec at IBM for many years, doing extremely well for herself financially; she donates the proceeds from her memoir to migrant education. Nevertheless, my students criticize her choice to go corporate and insist, “She should have returned to her community!” In moments like that, I find it hard to not roll my eyes. Are Chican@s never supposed to make any money? Don’t we need leaders like her at every level, across careers? And who are we to judge someone else’s choices, anyway?
I’m starting to just rant here. My point is this: I understand the critique that some may lobby towards political bourgieness. Is my spending $400 on a fabulous cut & color at my favorite salon going to do anything to change “the system” or strike a chord of fear in The Man? No. What it will do, though, is enable me to unwind, love myself a little more and then return to my own political arena–the classroom–refreshed and ready to educate more young minds. And given time, those minds are going to change the world.
Now who’s ready for happy hour?