The Privilege Of Barbering About Privilege

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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.