Nonetheless, their ambivalence about recognizing privilege suggests a deep tension at the heart of the idea of American dream. While pursuing wealth is unequivocally desirable, having wealth is not simple and straightforward. Our ideas about egalitarianism make even the beneficiaries of inequality uncomfortable with it. And it is hard to know what they, as individuals, can do to change things.
In response to these tensions, silence allows for a kind of “see no evil, hear no evil” stance. By not mentioning money, my interviewees follow a seemingly neutral social norm that frowns on such talk. But this norm is one of the ways in which privileged people can obscure both their advantages and their conflicts about these advantages.
Calls from liberal and left social critics for advantaged people to recognize their privilege also underscores this emphasis on individual identities. For individual people to admit that they are privileged is not necessarily going to change an unequal system of accumulation and distribution of resources.
Instead, we should talk not about the moral worth of individuals but about the moral worth of particular social arrangements. Is the society we want one in which it is acceptable for some people to have tens of millions or billions of dollars as long as they are hardworking, generous, not materialistic and down to earth? Or should there be some other moral rubric, that would strive for a society in which such high levels of inequality were morally unacceptable, regardless of how nice or moderate its beneficiaries are?
Keeping silent about social class, a norm that goes far beyond the affluent, can make Americans feel that class doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter. And judging wealthy people on the basis of their individual behaviors — do they work hard enough, do they consume reasonably enough, do they give back enough — distracts us from other kinds of questions about the morality of vastly unequal distributions of wealth.
…Such moves help wealthy people manage their discomfort with inequality, which in turn makes that inequality impossible to talk honestly about — or to change.
“The Nazis called them “Night Witches” because the whooshing noise their plywood and canvas airplanes made reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch’s broomstick. The Russian women who piloted those planes, one-time crop dusters, took it as a compliment.”
“Any German pilot who downed a “witch” was awarded an Iron Cross.”
“The pilots’ skill prompted the Germans to spread rumors that the Russian women were given special injections and pills to “give us a feline’s perfect vision at night,” Ms. Popova told Mr. Axell. “This, of course, was nonsense.”” [Emphasis mine]
“I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes,” Ms. Popova said in 2010. “I can still imagine myself as a young girl, up there in my little bomber. And I ask myself, ‘Nadia, how did you do it?’ ”
Interviews with Ms. Popova appear in Operation Typhoon: Hitler’s March on Moscow, October 1941 and Flying for Her Country: The American and Soviet Women Military Pilots of World War II.
“In Boston, the physical changes reflect the evolving nature of libraries…
“As it happens, the entrance, on Boylston Street, is close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where bombs last year killed three people and injured more than 260 others. With this wound at their front door, the architects are even more determined for the library to be inviting.
“This is a strong statement of pride in the city and its civic life, in spite of what happened across the street,” Mr. Gayley said. “The library is opening its doors and not retreating behind solid walls.”