David Brooks—who, under normal circumstances, you should never read—wrote a column today that contained a profound lesson for all of us: do not be David Brooks’ friend.
The column is supposedly about the barriers to success that exist in America, and for a while, it’s pretty decent by David Brooks’ degraded standards. He talks about parents who hoard opportunities for their children, how inequality in housing perpetuates broader inequalities in society, that sort of thing.
Then he unleashes whatever this is:
...I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.
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.
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.”
There’s a lot going on here. For instance, notice how rich white conservative man David Brooks finds a way to comfort himself that structural inequality can stick around, so long as we figure out a way to make everyone equally comfortable with the sandwiches David Brooks likes. Sorry, housing crisis, you’ll have to take a back seat.
Or notice how, in David Brooks’ mind, knowing random Italian references is an automatic indicator of upper middle class elite status—and as someone who has both a master’s degree and no clue what any of the things David Brooks mentioned are, I feel well-placed to call bullshit on that notion—but being more comfortable with Mexican food marks you out as part of the rabble. It seems David Brooks cannot conceive of a world where Mexican food isn’t the equivalent of slop for the masses, or where a less educated person could know anything even halfway sophisticated about food in general. All of which is gross in about five different ways.
But my biggest takeaway from this is that David Brooks is a horrible friend. Think of going out with your friend and then finding that he has used you in his national newspaper column as a) a patronizing signifier of the ignorance of the proles; b) a way to show how much he cares about the little people in his life; and c) a way to skirt around the fact that any real equality in America can only come if the lifestyle that David Brooks leads but so clearly does not want to give up is affected in some way.
If I were this woman, I would drop David Brooks immediately. Call him up, tell him what a dick he is, then lose his number. If you see him on the street, walk the other way. Block him every way you can.
And let this be a warning to everyone else: do not, under any circumstances, let David Brooks into your life.
Also, if you are David Brooks’ friend whom he has betrayed so viciously and want to share your story, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t worry: we can protect you from David Brooks.