The Privilege Of Barbering About Privilege

I said it during the 2016 campaign. I’m gonna say it again.

The reason everyone had to start talking about “white privilege” was to pre-empt discussion of “class privilege” – of the sort that is Big Left’s real power base.  If the body politics – especially the part that votes Democrat – were too busy barbering about “white privilege”, the notion that a hot tar roofer from Little Rock with an Arklahoma accent has some innate leg up over Oprah Winfrey because white – they wouldn’t have time to fuss about the class divide that separates Kenwood from North Minneapolis, Carlton from North Hennepin Community College,

Every time I’m ready to completely give up on David Brooks – and it happens frequently enough – he writes a column like this, about  how class privilege (especially in our “progressive” zip codes) perpetuates itself.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Brooks’ point is a good one – language is  a primary way to include or exclude people.  And it’s not just vocabulary; a southern accent is sure to draw discrimination here in Minnesota, while a mid-Atlantic, Boston or Brooklyn accent will engender zoo-like curiosity.

And Brooks’ point is that these dividers – both social, and their more concrete legal varieties, like zoning codes, transit strategies and the like, cost our economy dearly; Brooks quotes one estimate at 50%, which strikes me as high, but you don’t have to look at Minneapolis long to see that there’s a problem.

But it goes way beyond simple inclusion and economics:

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”…

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

And the first rule of Urban Progressive Privilege club is, you never talk about Urban Progressive Privilege club.  You deflect to White, Male Privilege (where the Urban Progressive white male has already declared nolo contendere), and deflect like mad.

As is maddeningly common with Brooks, you should read the whole thing.

13 thoughts on “The Privilege Of Barbering About Privilege

  1. Bill Cosby was right when he railed about black ghetto youth learning how to speak proper English first and foremost if they wanted to succeed. Then rappers came and destroyed that notion. So that <1% got to taste the good life, while the other 99+% continues to languish in the gutter.

    And go tell bubbas about white privilege. See if you escape alive.

  2. Being a good member of the upper middle class, Brooks believes it is his responsibility to assign people to social classes and define the rank of the classes. This is a sign of the disease, not the cure.
    The idea that working professionals are society’s leaders is pretty new. The tasks performed by today’s upper middle class would have been performed by highly valued slaves in Roman times.

  3. OK, so what Brooks is saying is that affirmative action, college aid, regulations on real estate, the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax, and the like are powerless to the efforts of the elite to maintain their power, privileges, and the like. It’s almost like we should stop letting the elites suck at the public teat or something.

    That noted, I’m still amazed that Brooks took his friend to a deli where they wouldn’t even explain what the meats were. It is as if he is completely unable to detect terminal snootiness.

  4. I’m sure Brooks’ companion understood the terms. She was just horrified that anyone would pay $30 for a fatty ham and cheese sandwich on sissy bread.

  5. Wow, Mitch, that’s two in one week!
    I especially liked the North Hennepin Community College vs. Carlton part. Being a proud graduate of Spokane Community College, you understand.

  6. I’m sure Brooks’ companion understood the terms. She was just horrified that anyone would pay $30 for a fatty ham and cheese sandwich on sissy bread.

    You’re being too generous, I assumed that Brooks was lying about the entire story and is so out of touch that he doesn’t realize that McDonald’s and Wendy’s sell Artisan sandwiches and Subway run daily commercials featuring some of the very ingredients that supposedly gave his “friend” such difficulty. I don’t believe Brooks has a friend with only a high school degree and the entire story was something he invented to portray himself as trying to be sensitive to a class of people that he has no real contact with and even less understanding. Hence a fictional “friend” that is intimidated by things that people from all walks of life regardless of class or education encounter and deal with successfully on a daily basis.

  7. Thorley,

    Wow – and I thought I was cynical.

    And knowing what I know about the world and life, cynicism almost always leads you to the truth.

    You’re right.

  8. Thorley, are you saying teh Peeve is David Brooks? I can see that, actually.

  9. Brooks reminds me of my daughter’s favorite sandwich in France. She told her friends that she had a mortadella and mimolette cheese sandwich on brioche – essentially a balony & American cheese sandwich on squishy white bread! It just sounds so much fancier in the language of exclusion.

  10. I actually disagree with Paul Mirengoff’s take on this: http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2017/07/who-is-ruining-america.php.
    Mirengoff claims, correctly, that if the key to rising socially and economically is parents who put their childrens’ success at the center of their lives, poor and working class people have the same opportunity of success as the middle class and the wealthy.
    This is true, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. People are individuals. Mirengoff seems to be saying that success is out of control of the individual. If William has good parents, and he can thank them for his success in life, then Billy Bob’s bad parents are the cause of his failure. You cannot choose your parents. You cannot solve this problem. Saying that people should have had better parents is not addressing the issue that Brooks addresses.

  11. I’m sure Brooks’ companion understood the terms. She was just horrified that anyone would pay $30 for a fatty ham and cheese sandwich on sissy bread.

    Along these lines, I have to wonder exactly what kind of a special snowflake his companion was, if not being able to understand foreign words on a menu caused her to get visibly uncomfortable and upset. And if being confronted with an unfamiliar menu causes visible discomfort, how the hell would she react to a true problem?

    Some people’s children…..

  12. This is true, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. People are individuals. Mirengoff seems to be saying that success is out of control of the individual. If William has good parents, and he can thank them for his success in life, then Billy Bob’s bad parents are the cause of his failure.

    To an extent. I can think of one notable recent public figure, who should have grown up to be a ghetto thug based on the quality of parents he was awarded in life. But outside influences nurtured and guided him until he ascended to the most powerful position on the planet.

  13. Bill; yes, Obama’s father was a philandering thug, and his mother something of a ditz, but they at least made sure his grandparents–those “typical white people” if I remember right–had the chance to get him a real education.

    But that said, what a tragedy that he ended up living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for 8 years….

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