Room for Improvement


the selectivity of the elite; especially: snobbery

I’ve always been adamant about not mistaking formal education for intelligence or capability.

I thought I was so woke for thinking and saying this around Duke students who pat themselves on the back for their passion and commitment to exceed academically. I thought I was great for pointing out the elitism behind certain comments or opinions.


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This last week, I came face-to-face with my elitist biases.

During a conversation with one of the organizers at NDWA, I found myself surprised to hear that she had earned a law degree before coming to the US. She talked about how USA stood for “U Start Again.” The pursuit for an American Dream required an erasure of one’s old life, one’s old connections, one’s old education and expertise.

In my head, I knew this. I knew that a plethora of licenses simply did not translate to American onces. I had heard of stories about my friend’s parent, who had to basically repeat medical school after moving from India to the US. Still I assumed that this woman, simply because she was a nanny, wasn’t educated. I didn’t even realize it, but I was under the impression that many of the nannies, housekeepers, and caretakers for the elderly who face issues like wage theft and whose labor is exploited would be people with, at most, a high school education.

Then, there was a small curiosity within me. I wondered why, after all this time, she hadn’t completed a law degree in the US.

This curiosity stayed at the back of my mind.

A couple days later, I talked to another organizer. I learned that she had earned a college degree. Now this was not even an issue about what licenses and degrees would and would not transfer in an American context. This woman did everything right according to the dominant narrative for hard work and education. Yet, she was not given the dignity and respect that I imagined American college graduates would get.

So I wondered: why did this woman go into nannying when she had a college degree with human resources and administration? Why not work in an office?

And here, yet another assumption that I held. I thought that women who went into domestic work did so because there was no other choice given their background and circumstances. But these women, as they shared their stories, did not express any angst about not finding a better paying better valued job. They did not even mention wanting to pursue another career.

They love what they do. They love the children for which they care. They have also had wonderful experiences and relationships with the parents.

Their problem, then, was that people did not value the work of domestic workers. Their problem was that domestic work was not deemed a real and legitimate profession.

This was a revelation.


confused tituss burgess GIF by The Late Late Show with James Corden

I thought that I would never be accused of elitism. After all, I was so fiercely against elitism when I noticed it, because I thought of all the circumstances that situate people to have more or less resources and accessibility to “high quality” education.

Little did I know that I had so much more room for improvement.

So here I go! To opening myself up to the idea that I’m not as woke as I imagine myself to be!


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