David Brooks Unaware His Own Snobbishness is the Barrier to Entry

New York Times columnists David Brooks is hilariously playing “real conservative, man of the people” again in his latest column in which he tries really hard to have sympathy for his hick friend he took to a deli because said hick was apparently terrified by the exotic Italian meats. Twitter was all over it this morning:


Thank goodness there was a Mexican place nearby to avoid any further embarrassment. Chips and salsa is much less daunting for those undereducated, unwashed masses. Ok, perhaps I’m being a little too sarcastic and unfair because Brooks’ column does try to qualify that silliness by pointing out that the real barriers of entry between the classes such as they exist in this country come in the form of zoning restrictions and access to quality education.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities…

Reeves’s second structural barrier is the college admissions game. Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.

Of course, Brooks dismisses these very real structural challenges as less important than what he calls “informal social barriers,” i.e. fancy sounding deli meats. (And anyway, we’ve been talking about how liberal arts colleges are failing for several years now.)


But, as usual, what Brooks fails to see is his own role as master of assumptions about what a “class” of people — people he probably only infrequently interacts with — actually sees as a barrier. Because, for the most part, people are happy to enjoy new and exotic sounding things as long as no one is around making them feel like they shouldn’t be there enjoying them. Or acting as though it’s some kind of miracle of self-determinism that they walked into the fancy-schmancy deli from off the back of the turnip truck and can read well enough to know that there’s a sandwich to be had (albeit with meat that sounds foreign. The horror).

Brooks’ attitude — and the attitudes of those who see people trying new things that perhaps their new wealth (or their desired wealth) has led them to want to try is the ACTUAL barrier to entry. People do not like to be studied like lab rats if they can help it. They just want to eat lunch.

Take this tweet as an example of what I mean:

Pearce, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and presumably well versed in Italian meats, makes the same fatal flaw that Brooks’ does: he believes these meats and the places that serve them are somehow actively signifying something to the novice, wannabe upper-class sandwich eater. But deli meats and restaurants are inanimate and have no will to signify anything to anyone.


People do that.

People like Brooks and Pearce do with the mere suggestion that someone might be in the wrong place. And then writing a column about it.

So, sirs, just let people be and try not to fret if you see someone who looks like they’re out of place in your local deli. It’s just an opportunity for them to learn and try something new. Stop suggesting people might feel victimized and perhaps they won’t. And encourage them to try the soppressata instead of hauling them off to Mexicali for their own good.


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