Hold on, Mr. Brooks: “Privilege” has a shadow side, too

I’m often a fan and follower of moderate conservative NYT columnist David Brooks’ measured and thoughtful voice in today’s frenzied public forums.

His “praise of privilege” column here makes some needed and excellent points. But they are points I wish he could make without the unfortunate condescension that weakens them and seems tone-deaf. For example, with this column’s description of March-for-our-Lives student speakers as “grandiose and pretentious” like “most of us were at 18,” Brooks effectively dismisses the youths in a damming-with-faint-praise. This sets him up up to sound like a grumpy-grandpa and pretty darned grandiose and pretentious, himself, for the rest of the piece!

(Full disclosure here: As a near age-contemporary of Mr. Brooks I really hate it when we sound that way and strive hard not to.  So my reactivity to that surely colors my take on this column.)

That said, I also differ (strongly) with Brooks’ distinction between the Parkland kids’ embodiment and embrace of “good” kinds of American privilege while he disdains and disregards the very dark shadow sides of privilege in our culture. I just don’t think we get to cherry-pick only the pleasant, comfortable, and self-flattering dimensions of privilege and declare the rest irrelevant. The greater public good demands that we face and wrestle with both, and these kids are showing us how.

Ironically, as I listened to the DC March speakers from start to finish, I found most compelling that many of these young people – and this entire movement and program – so fully and bravely owned and named their own inherent privilege relative to so many others. Over and over they embraced and included many other, mostly publicly invisible, youths from around the country whose lives have long been devastated by gun violence — without attention or action. And these other student-speakers’ stories and voices were important, moving — and quintessentially American.

Among world powers America has long been an adolescent nation, and that in many ways has been our strength. Now, our overdue need to grow up seems increasingly apparent.

Maybe it is appropriate, even uniquely American, that it takes the teens to lead the way.

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