One semester under my belt at Penn, and I can tell it’s going to be a long ride. When I first made the excruciating decision to attend an Ivy League university, I knew what I was signing up for. I knew which identities I’d be carrying with me. I knew it’d be hard academically, of course, but I knew that deeper, darker challenges awaited me. I knew I’d be intersectionally oppressed.
Although the experience has been more of a drain on mind, brain, and spirit than I could have imagined, I retain hope. Albeit an agonizingly slow shift, the tides have begun to turn, and intersectionality has earned a place in conversation on campus. A sliver of light has emerged at the end of my Ivy League tunnel. And finally, I feel safe enough to tell my story.
You see, I am a libertarian, blue-collar, Italian-American. I am intersectionally oppressed.
Uneasy as I was upon arriving on campus, I decided to give the big-government leftists around me a chance. They preached tolerance and diversity, after all, and I was on board! However, in direct proportion to the frequency with which I let slip my political views, the discrimination and objectification would begin. “Oh my god, you’re a libertarian? I’m actually screaming. I have never met a single one in my life! That’s, like, so exotic. What’s it like to hate the government?” I was literally mortified. The above scene of public shame and emotional torture has already occurred at least two times. I have nightmares to this day.
TRIGGER WARNING: The following account contains a depiction of discriminatory attitudes towards free-market ideals, which could trigger painful memories of political contempt.
One time, at a WUHC-sponsored event, I again revealed my minority political status and felt the burn in exchange. I walked up to a prominent Penn health economist and asked him his thoughts on HSAs and interstate insurance competition. After explaining that consumers need protection from foreign plans attempting to cross state borders as well as protection from the threat of price competition, he quipped, “You’re asking me about all the Republican ideas!” I was literally flabbergasted, and my mouth hung agape in response. How many times would I not be able to pass as libertarian? How many years until I wouldn’t be misidentified as equivalent to big-government imperialists like Lindsey Graham?
Fighting through this angst, I began to think. I pondered the 2016 elections–wherein GOP members gained control of the presidency and both houses of Congress–and figured I could wade through this man’s vicious labels by appealing to his logic. “That’s what we’re gonna get, isn’t it?” I responded innocently.
The privilege dripped threateningly down the man’s chins as he replied, “Well, I sure hope not!”
However, I knew that, despite many such encounters, I had the resilience to push back against the hate. I had adapted early on to the new, politically oppressive environment. You see, the aura of norms here has conditioned me to know that my entire social class doesn’t get to have a political opinion.
I grew up in a politically red, economically blue-collar county in western Pennsylvania on the sylvan Allegheny plateau–in a small town in a set of small towns which dot the “woods” enshrined in the name “Penn’s woods.” My community is the inheritance of lumberjacks, coal miners, and railroad workers. My friends, family, and acquaintances there are hard-working, loyal, tolerant, loving, and friendly. They do not riot; they do not turn people from their businesses on the basis of minority identity; my hometown and the surrounding pockets of rural residences contain thousands of good, God-fearing, benevolent people.
But my class has been rejected by elites at Penn.
Phrases such as “Pennsyltucky” and “North Alabama” have been slung to elitesplain the overwhelmingly red western-Pennsylvanian vote which handed Pennsylvania to Donald Trump in 2016. Campus ridicule for Trump voters had already been documented, and his supporters had already been paraded about the Internet like circus animals, but I was truly shocked when I heard my classmates respond to the red tide from the west.
“Most of them really are deplorable,” they said, following the road paved by Trump’s rival Clinton to oppressive classism. My people were specifically labelled racist, sexist, and xenophobic, all based on their class and geographic origins.
Don’t get me wrong; I was used to blue hate on campus. Every time I walk into class wearing what feels most comfortable–boots, a flannel, and blue jeans–I feel the subordinating suburbanite scowls sneering down upon me. I’m only trying to keep warm, but the elitists who prefer to dress like Europeans continue to subjugate my style. Indeed, they selectively appropriate the way my people dress, wearing fresh Timberland boots to class and smirking at the mud on mine. I mean, I know I must look like a peasant to you, but I’m sincerely sorry for being a member of the 99%.
I was truly traumatized when I realized that my people were considered evil for exercising their right to vote. I fear future legislation which might seek to disenfranchise them. After all, they were called “uneducated,” “uninformed,” and “incompetent,” so why should blue-collar voters from middle America have a say? In fact, calls to silence them have already been voiced by anti-Electoral College groups such as National Popular Vote, so that coastal elites can oppress the rest of the country indefinitely. I am literally terrified for their freedom. I do not trust CAPS to give me a fair shake if I go there to share my feelings.
Though I was thrown off guard when western Pennsylvanians were castigated, I am truly accustomed to identifying with a minority group that is denied a say in political discourse. Italian-Americans have faced labor discrimination by urban party machines, forced internment and relocation, and political censorship since setting foot on this precious soil we call the land of the free. But reparations have never been paid, and voters have systematically barred Italian-Americans from national office for decades. Case-in-point: Rudy Giuliani was pushed out of the running for Secretary of State almost as soon as he considered it. Glass ceilings aren’t meant for shattering, capisce?
Let me tell you a secret about my Italian genes: I was born this way. And Penn claims to stand with me, but Amy Gutmann, I don’t believe you. Having pizza every day in the dining halls is not enough (and, gross, it’s a really poor attempt at cultural appropriation). My great-grandparents labored tooth and nail on railroads and in coal mines so that highfalutin, blonde-haired, blue-eyed northern Europeans like you, Amy, could recline in privilege. And misappropriating “da pizza pie” is the best you can do?
But I digress, as true reparations can never be paid. The best I can ask for is that authoritarians, wealthy elites, and northern Europeans acknowledge their privilege and admit to their unconscious bias. I have high hopes that these spewers of identity-based hate might someday appreciate my intersectionality and truly earn the title of #woke.
When my minority identities intersect and interface, it might be tough. I stand with my peoples, respectively, against the world which relegates us to inferior social rungs. But I am truly lucky; I have a voice, for now, to tell my story. Most intersectionally oppressed, blue-collar Italian-American libertarians have already drowned in hate.