Letters

"Racism, anti-Semitism, ageism and elitism among the rich and anorexic? Who would have figured?" Readers vent about bigotry in the Big Apple -- and beyond.


Salon Staff
October 5, 2004 11:00AM (UTC)

[Read "Big Apple Bigots," by Rebecca Traister]

I was intrigued when I read the hook to your recent article offering a "startling view of supposedly sophisticated New Yorkers in all of their racist, classicist glory." Then I read the article. Paris Hilton is a stupid racist? Incredible! I can't believe a contestant on "Wife Swap" is sullying New York's good name.

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Listen, I'm from Long Island and I get irritated every time I turn on Bill O'Reilly and hear him talking about his working-class Levittown background. But you know who else is from Long Island? Steve Buscemi. And Charlie Kaufman. And Chuck D.

The point is: Any thinking person realizes that assholes come from all over the world and don't necessarily represent their fellow residents. It's just that they usually end up on reality TV.

-- John Healy Newberger

In her introduction, Rebecca Traister referred to New York and New Yorkers, then proceeded to pull all of her examples from only a tiny area of the borough of Manhattan. What about Brooklyn? Or Queens? Or the Bronx? Or Staten Island? Or even Lower Manhattan? Do they not count? And is this because they're not predominantly white, not predominantly rich, or because she just couldn't find examples of the idiocy she describes in her article in the other parts of New York City? Regardless, she did the entire city of New York and all her fine people a great disservice. She owes them a Big Apple-size apology.

-- Penny Clifton

Speaking of bigotry, what does Rebecca Traister have against New York? I took a moment to read her attack article, "Big Apple Bigots," in which she worries that New York is becoming a place for "wealthy white bigots." To support her claim, she refers to three New Yorkers who have said offensive things on reality TV. For God's sakes, Rebecca, what makes you think the idiots on reality TV have anything to do with New York? Is your view of Los Angeles defined by the foolish things Hollywood actors and actresses say from time to time? Paris Hilton doesn't speak for me or anyone else I know in New York.

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-- Brian Sutherland

I live in New Mexico but spend a week or two a year in New York, where the most common question I get is, "You live in New Mexico? Why aren't you Mexican?" This, from people with master's degrees! They also ask if I have to speak Spanish to hold a job in my state, and assume we use pesos instead of American money. It's hard to laugh when it's clear that often even my own family thinks anyone who lives outside the five boroughs is worthy of contempt, pity or scorn. I've heard the N-word so often from upscale marketing types in Manhattan it seems like maybe they think it's "cool" to perpetuate racism. Or perhaps the dirty little secret is that New Yorkers can be just as ignorant as the "dumb hicks" they giggle over when their farms flood or their valley burns. But they do it in expensive shoes. Out here in the high desert, we make fun of people who spend $400 on heels that won't make it through the winter.

-- Jennifer Levin

Yeah, the New York of my grandparents and my mom was a lot nicer. Let's face it, Manhattan lost what soul it had when Middle Americans got rich and decided that they should live in Rudi Giuliani's New York. These are the people moving to Manhattan -- they are the only ones who can afford to live there. Too bad the city of my parents, grandparents, great and great-greats has turned into another boring mid-America zone.

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-- Susan Daniel

As a fairly recent transplant to NYC, I found Ms. Traister's column about New Yorkers to be not only offensive but also incredibly misguided.

The people and incidents she mentioned were so far off from what real New Yorkers are like. Those people (and the many other people in the world who are like them) act that way because they are ignorant. They never have to deal with reality. Real New Yorkers are always around so many different kinds of people. The daily life of a New Yorker is filled with interactions between people of different classes, races, sexual preferences and career paths. Admittedly, there are plenty of ignorant, rich bastards who think they know something about real life here in NYC. But, you can be a rich asshole anywhere in the world. This isn't just a New York phenomenon. When you're surrounded by yes men in the form of your friends, maids, drivers, bartenders, even your own family, you lose touch with the amazing diversity that makes New York the great city that it is.

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Maybe Ms. Traister needs to turn off the TV and come visit.

-- Emily Pecot

The remarks and behavior of those three individuals only reflect poorly on those three individuals, not New Yorkers as a group. Let's face it, bigotry and snobbery exist in every corner of every human society. Just chalk it up to being a human being, not being a New Yorker. It's immature, facile, mean-spirited and spiritually poisonous to dismiss other people with a casual epithet, but we've all done it, and sometimes we even think we're being witty. So, I won't judge them too harshly, as I'm not perfect myself, but I wish there were more news stories and TV shows catching people being good to each other. Imagine seeing and reading about people we admire, respect and want to emulate instead of being constantly bombarded by stories that reflect the worst of us.

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-- Emily Harrison-Jolly

Amazing, I loved the article and it is all too true. Going to a rich, private Ivy League college in New York has made me painfully aware of the bigotry and selfishness that pervade this city. When almost half of the population believe that it is poverty-stricken people's fault they are poor in a system that has cut welfare benefits and given tax cuts to the wealthiest in society, you know there is something wrong. I grew up in a comfortable New Jersey middle-class family: no nannies, no housekeepers, just the ideals of compassion and independence my parents instilled in me. It is depressing to be in a situation where I am surrounded by people thinking only of themselves and what brand names they are wearing -- so close-minded to the needs and the suffering of their fellow New Yorkers.

-- Deborah

It's not New Yorkers who are the bigots; it's the rest of America who enjoys seeing the worst in us Big Apple dwellers. No one watching reality TV wants to see our open-minded ambitious thinkers and artists. No, in fact, because the red-staters and other non-New York viewers already believe we are wealthy, white, elite bigots, that's what they love to see. Producers know that one hour of beautiful New Yorkers means low ratings. So that's what we will never see on reality TV. It will always be the Ugly Empire State.

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-- Amy S. Khoudari

Oh my. Paris Hilton (who lives in a bleach bottle) -- racist? Racism, anti-Semitism, ageism and elitism among the rich and anorexic? Who would have figured?

But seriously, folks, why do we expect rich people to be any more or less mean and ugly than the rest of us? To me, the only thing that makes their behavior more disgusting is the fact that many of these people use their influence and power to reinforce their "isms," either through mass media or through political maneuverings as employers and lobbyists. For some reason, Americans believe that rich, highly educated people are godlike and incapable of moral or ethical ugliness. As an African-American woman who spends time and money in New York, I can assure you that the elites there are just as racist, homophobic, misogynistic and classist as the rest of the masses. The rich and ugly, whether old money or new, are a disgrace to the ordinary people who keep New York City running, the ones who don't bling-bling in limos and Mercedes. I love New York City, but I make it my business to avoid the rich and famous. They tend to mar an otherwise beautiful urban landscape.

-- Cherie Ann Turpin

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The truth is finally told! As an ex-New Yorker, I read this article about "bigots, racists, classists" with intense interest. I am from the South and used to take a lot of flak from people assuming that I fell into the category of "born racist." (I'm not.) I could go on with the statements from associates that started with the view that I only listened to country music, that my relatives all live in mobile homes, etc. (I am an opera junkie, and a lot of my relatives live in antebellum, historically significant plantation houses or town "cottages." Ahem.)

When an African-American friend and I shared a SoHo sublet, we got notes shoved under our door on a regular basis telling us to "get out!" She also had the N-word whispered at her from behind doors when she walked down the hall! Here, in one of the towns that was at the epicenter of the civil rights struggle, I attend social events to which everybody is invited. In the historic district where I live, my neighbors are a mixed bag, as is our city government. I was attending a church breakfast when I heard one of our white businessmen put the ultimate question to a black businessman: "You play golf?" followed by an invitation to join a game! I was proud to see all this when I moved back home.

Around here, things are out in the open. We discuss it together and think together about what to do. It's not nasty and covert like I used to hear in New York. Well, I love New York, but there are great lifestyles and truly enlightened thinking to be found elsewhere.

New York bigots: Get a life!

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-- Nancy Kenfield

"Is it my own romantic imagination or wishful thinking that tricks me into believing it was also once home to more ambitious thinkers, artists, and -- admittedly foul-tempered -- eccentrics than it was to wealthy white bigots?"

You're not wrong, Rebecca. The truth is: We eccentrics can't afford it anymore. We're living in New Jersey, celebrating our neighbor's domestic-partnership registration, living under the admittedly shaky rule of America's first openly gay governor, who is using his last weeks in office to kick some serious legislative butt. And while Chloë Sevigny didn't show up for the recent opening of the Jersey City Target, well ... we got by.

-- Martha Garvey

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Rebecca Traister, author of "Big Apple Bigots," must be thinking of the fake New York City we sell to out-of-towners who know us only from TV's "Friends." Sure, we've got Harvey Fierstein and the millions who vote Democrat shutting down Republican B.S., some Village freaks, Brooklyn "real N'Yawkas," and a lot of smart progressive people. But we've got millions of Americans. Some are spoiled jerks who think they can preserve their privileges by constant class warfare. And some of that slop surfaces on TV. Ms. Traister should visit some time, and learn, like the rest of the tourists, that New York City is the greatest city on earth because it is so real and not some fantasyland where everyone is in harmony. The cacophony comes from lots of conflict, which is how we pick our winners: those tough enough to stay progressive in the real world, where it matters.

-- Matthew


Salon Staff

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