I'm desperate to prevent them from becoming the kind of privileged snots with that disgusting sense of entitlement I saw in too many of my trust-funded classmates at Harvard Law School. Their (white) grandfather is tenured at a public Ivy. Their mother writes books and is on television. Dad's an architect. My son's godparents are Harvard muckety-mucks. My infant daughter's are journalism big shots—can you say early admission to an Ivy, snazzy internships, and eenie-meenie-minie-moe-ing between cushy first jobs? I scheme and freelance so as to squirrel away money for them so they can have all the ski trips and concert tickets that their mother never had. And yet even as I do so, I begin to wonder if, on some level, I'll come to despise them.
That last sentiment seems unnecessarily harsh—except when I think of a friend who is the child of his father's second, young, post-success wife. This friend was raised in Europe, attended an English boarding school, then Cambridge University. He'd told his father about a brawl involving some friends that he'd witnessed but not participated in. Looking for absolution, he'd said, "I suppose I should have jumped in." His father had grown up a poor immigrant Jew in the tough Irish slums of 1920s Chicago. Disgusted, Dad had snarled, "Yes, you should have" and walked away without another word. "He wrapped me in cotton wool," my friend said, "but expected me to act like I'd grown up in the rough."
Blacks like the ones I've described are trying to force me to say my kids' real name is "Toby." I'm trying to keep their real name from being Paris Hilton. I thought I understood how difficult that would be. Then, the other day, my black hairdresser kept affecting a Condoleezza Rice overarticulation in response to every thing I said to her. I paid little attention, until she said, "E-actually" for the fifth time. I asked if she could fit in a deep conditioner; "That could be problematic," she orated, and cracked herself up. That's when it hit me: The white woman my son sounds like is me.
Correction, September 10, 2004: Debra Dickerson's article " High Class," posted Friday, September 3, 2004, originally attributed the "third base" quote to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards and indicated Richards was speaking about George W. Bush. In fact, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower said it and he was speaking about George H. W. Bush. (Return to the corrected sentence.)