Elitism has many dimensions: Is Bill Cosby Right?

Reihan Salam reviews Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?) by Michael Eric Dyson, in The New Republic:

BillcosbyElitism has many dimensions. There is the contempt of the middle classes for the very poor. This has an old pedigree. This contempt is often strongest among working families only slightly removed from poverty. Thanks to intimate familiarity with the pathologies that scar the lives of the poorest among us, these families react sharply against the faintest whiff of laziness or violent behavior. And so the anxiety-ridden members of this lower middle class are quick to flee the inner cities that threaten to swallow up their children. Having grown up sheltered in one of the neighborhoods largely left behind, I know these attitudes well. Just to declare my own allegiances at the outset, I sympathize. But I don’t think “contempt” is the right word. “Fear” is more like it.

When you’ve been a victim of crime, or more pressingly when you’ve seen a relative incarcerated or tormented by drug addiction or institutionalized for yet another reason, you know that you’re living on a knife’s edge and that your relative security can easily dissipate as a result of one serious mistake. You could splurge at the wrong time, or your child could end up in the wrong crowd. Fear is pervasive and palpable. It makes life tense and uneasy, and while it can occasionally spill over into ugly resentments of the vandals and hooligans you’re careful to never look in the eye, mainly it just makes you tenaciously protective of the people and communities you love. This is the so-called elitism that, strikingly, Michael Eric Dyson chooses to savage in his fierce polemic, Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?).

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