Contempt as a virus

Novelist Zadie Smith’s essay collection, “Intimations,” written during the early days of the pandemic shows us why contempt is deadlier than COVID-19.

Her long sentences, pithy anecdotes and thought-provoking reflections take us on a journey of our world filled with contempt.

“American exception,” begins with Trump without naming him. “He speaks truth so rarely that when you hear it from his own mouth- March 29, 2020- it has the force of revelation.”

People who died from the pandemic were culpable, she says. “Wrong place, wrong time. Wrong skin color. Wrong side of the tracks. Wrong Zip Code, wrong beliefs, wrong city. Wrong position of hands when asked to exit the vehicle. Wrong health insurance- or none.”

Like other characters in Intimations, Myron, the homeless New Yorker shows his denial to the pandemic’s existence. “No, no, I ain’t running from no cold. I survived worse. I survived WAY worse shit than this.”

Among all the essays, “Contempt as a virus,” describes harsh inequalities in America. Smith poignantly shows us how zip-code based privileges have been exploited for centuries by politicians, suburban moms, real estate agents and almost everyone with privilege.

“If this child, formed by poverty sits in a class with my child, who was formed by privilege, my child will suffer- my child will catch their virus.”

Short and deeply personal, Smith’s essays are a reflection of our world today.

“Has America metabolized contempt? Has it lived with the virus so long that it no longer fears it?”

Yes we are this stage. And there is no easy cure.

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