Sunday, June 7, 2020
On the recent protests
Honestly? The protests that have been roiling the country have not been an occasion for deep re-evaluation on my part. I've long practiced a policy I think of as "Trying not to be a bigot"—judging others as individuals and not by whatever cliched slot their race or ethnicity would place them once upon a time. Evaluating their unique qualities, merits, and deficiencies.
Note the word "trying" in that policy. As with any program of moral purpose, I'm imperfect at this. Then again, I believe everyone is. I think we should aim for a world where all of us admit these imperfections and recognize that we have prejudices, then fight against them. That seems more realistic than to assume, mistakenly, that because nobody should, therefore nobody does. That only encourages self-designated avengers fall slavering on the necks of anyone who by accident or design touches a certain racial mousetrap. This tends to allow actual haters a pass, since they exist safe in crazyland, while good-intentioned persons are crucified over some lapse or gaffe. I will never be so woke that I don't like "The Mikado." Judge me harshly if you must.
Other than that, I try to decry racism as often as useful, from my tiny blown-out bullhorn of a column, and in general stand poised to do my part to nudge our nation forward toward a more equitable, more diverse, more compassionate, more just society. My powder is dry, my taxes paid, my vote ready for whatever Joan of Arc seizes the banner of Justice.
Oh wait. Joan of Arc. White savior. Sorry. It's so easy to screw this up. That's why so many whites fall silent—fear of being hung-out to dry. But silence, to me, encourages indifference. If we don't comment on it, we don't think about it, and pretty soon it's a distant buzz happening to someone else. As opposed to, in my view, all of our problem, one that demands engagement from each American.
This is an especially fraught, especially contradictory corner of American politics. On Saturday, without trying at all, I hear both "White silence is violence," on the radio, and a call for white commentators to fall mute so that the black voices they are drowning out can be heard.
I suppose both can make sense. So this is my attempt to fill the silence. And if you'd like me to fall mute then, heck, stop reading now, forgot what you heard, and go read the always-excellent Charles M. Blow. I won't mind a bit.
Still here? That's flattering. I'm almost done. All that's left is to remind you that the internet is nothing if not an infinity of space for voices of every kind, and if you feel mine is drowning out yours, well, maybe you should try speaking louder instead of blaming me.
We are at the third and by no means final stage of the 2020 Year of Crisis—first the society shutting shock of COVID-19, followed by widespread unemployment and economic contraction. And now these protests, and the violence that often follows hard on its heels. Emotions are high, and it is too easy to announce that society has entered some New Phase. I support protests, but I also like those mechanical horses you used to see at Woolworth's. That doesn't make them real horses. Occupy Wall Street was a thrilling protest movement. And then economic disparity got worse.
That isn't a hope, or a prediction. It's a possibility.
But positive signs are there. We've seen how bad can follow good. Barack Obama was the first black president, a careful, active, dynamic man who tried to do important things, and faced the shrieking id of unrepentant American racism. I don't want to say he woke the napping Beast. But Obama exited stage left, while from right strode the weak, petty, gross, perverse, cruel, unfit, incurious, traitorous, lying, fraudulent, excrescence that is Donald Trump. Maybe the pendulum is going to keep going and wrap around the axle. An emboldened police state ruling side-by-side with Trump in his second term, as he grooms Donald Jr. to be his replacement.
Or maybe the pendulum will reach its maximum displacement this fall, and will start its swing back. We've seen before how good can follow bad. Maybe the time that begins again is now.