ONE: The Emeritus Professor used to say you had to be from the upper classes to be an academic. I would laugh, as we are not ourselves from the upper classes, and also because whereas the Emeritus Professor worked at an institution where one could have research expenses paid, I do not; to function I need a salary, not an honorarium. However, I have recently been listening to two people I know well and who are very successful academics talk about their internal struggles with academia, and I realized that the issue was in part class.
Even after all these time, neither feels he belongs; both are always seeking models and instructions — not just checking on examples and rules, but seeking instructions. A third person of their stature, whose family was too poor to have furniture when he was a child, does not have the same problem — but then she is white and is living in her region, and is studying a subject that has made her a heroine.
Both of these first two professors invite me places on occasion and then stare at me. How can I work at an institution like mine and respect it? How can I say we have very good people here? How can I feel I have any authority to speak when I am only me? I do not know what I could do to instill more confidence in them, or more democratic feeling, or less adoration for certain dubious authorities at their own institutions. I do not know what I could do to get them to believe anything I might say could have value, given that I have not attained their official stature. Therefore I am not in a position to impart peacefulness to them.
TWO: I had to have one of those dinners academics have to have (and I had to pay for it, which is another reason I need a salary and not an honorarium). Since it was one of those dinners, the Blackguard had to come. I invited my youngest brother, partly because one is supposed to have family members at these dinners, partly because I thought he would actually like to meet some of the assistant professors who are his age, and partly on the general principle that I should invite him to more things and this was a thing.
So he came and made an interesting friend, and I took the opportunity later to ask him what he thought of the Blackguard. He said: “Why does this Blackguard smell and talk like a truck driver?” I thought: “He doesn’t, because an actual truck driver would not smell or talk like that at a dinner such as the one I gave.” Which means our man either truly does not know how to behave, or is behaving poorly on purpose. I believe the latter theory, but can anyone make an argument for the former one?