“When they crowded around my table and started demanding that I raise my fist, it was their insistence that I participate in something that I did not understand that led me to withhold my hand.” -Lauren Victor, diner and reluctant fist-raiser.
Top photo: Sit-in at the lunch counter of the Cherrydale Drugstore, Arlington, Virginia, 1960.
Apart from the historical irony, I can’t help wondering which of these tableaus is worse. That I should be asking this question in 2020 says a lot about how far we have strayed from e Pluribus Unum and where we are inevitably headed.
If one can only be either fully woke or stand accused of being a white supremacist then our public space has become awfully small in a very short window of time. Most of us choose the path of least resistance, which precludes sitting alone on principle. The intimidators are banking on this.
If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn the system down and replace it, alright? –Hank Newsome, BLM New York chapter, on FoxNews…just in case you were hoping for ambiguities.
So I picked up a guy in Glendale last year, from a Spanish revival house up in the hills that easily could have been Barbara Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity. He was en route to a graduate program in Literature at Columbia University, and I asked him what he thought of James M. Cain.
You know, the author of Mildred Pierce. The Postman Always Rings Twice. Never heard of those. Really? You never saw the films? Nope.Are they any good?
Glendale is James M. Cain-land. My rider had grown up in one of its historical neighborhoods, with literary ambitions, and had no knowledge of the man or his work. Now he was bound for the Ivy League, a certifiable cultural illiterate. This amused me at the time, but no longer. He was a harbinger of our frenzied anti-historical present.
Last week I helped a friend in WeHo move his bed into storage. Driving up Melrose past miles of boarded-up storefronts he asked me what I thought about the Troubles. He’s a couch-surfing millennial and I figured I’d keep it friendly and meet him on safe ground. I told him I didn’t approve of looting. On that point at least we could agree, you’d think. My friend was having none of it. The looting, the rioting, the assaults on police could not be separated from peaceful protesting. They were on a continuum, merely left-handed and right-handed expressions of the same virtue, equally valid. It was not for us to question. He had contempt for the police: “They were C students in high school.”
As we were talking we passed several dozen white people, mostly women, laying face down on the ground for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, under the instruction of black women. A month ago this tableau would have been shocking, but it already felt like just another afternoon in WeHo.
Now there’s this:
Is there a limiting principle to statue-cide? We went from toppling Robert E. Lee to Any Dead President Will Do in a matter of days. From there twas but a small step to Any White Man Will Do. Hans Christian Heg, who fought on the Union side and fell at Chickamauga. Miguel de Cervantes, enslaved by Barbary pirates. Ulysses S. Grant, bulldozer of the Confederacy. Inevitably, they now wish to topple Lincoln.
How the decapitators mimic the lynch mobs of yore! The chain around the neck, the sailor-like tugging, the great cheer as the bronze hits the concrete like a felled tree, the dragging and defiling of the corpse…this is the pleasure principle at work, an end unto itself.
Then, because it’s a day ending in Y, the Mayors thank the mob for its thirsts of anger. White women in D.C. verbally degrade black police officers lined up to protect monuments. In Seattle, white volunteers unironically enforce a “Blacks Only” segregation zone in a public park. America is now a perpetual Onion story but without the wry chuckle. Nothing is funny anymore, especially the absurd. Well, it is, but we are living in the time of You’re Not Allowed To Say So™.
How do we put the brakes on this thing?
Beneath the performative grief and the masochistic religious scenes of white contrition, a dark new normal is upon us: urban police are no longer handcuffing lawbreakers. Gun crimes? Sure. But anything short of that is an open question if you are proclaiming fealty to Team BLM. This is not intended to be a passing phase. This is a structural alteration.
What comes after statues? Take a guess. Think of it as a dress rehearsal.
What is my Los Angeles breaking point? What would drive me from my city? I don’t yet know. Well, I sort of do. Kneeling, obviously, would be a red line. Self-denunciation I have pre-decided will not leave my lips. But those things are easy to resist. No, the tripwire will arrive sooner, and in a way I will not be prepared for. What form will it take? This is something I wonder about.
I am blessed not to rely on the good political opinion of others for my income. Mrs. UpintheValley, on the other hand, can be fired at a moment’s notice merely at the insistence of someone tweeting. I predict she will be asked in this coming school year to affirm the present madness. One way or another, it will be demanded of her to assent to something she does not believe during a workplace struggle session designed for precisely that purpose. When she demurs, the clock will begin ticking on her employment and a chapter will close in a great teaching career.
The American media is now Radio Rwanda circa 1994: go forth and kill the Tutsis! We are left with a question: am I a Hutu or a Tutsi? To which BLM replies, choose wisely. To which social media adds, we can answer that for you.
This is what happens when the police show up in two minutes. Thieves scatter like rats. Want to enjoy warm fuzzy feelings? Witness masculine virtues of honor, in action.
Lets back up. There was a canceled then back-on-again protest in downtown Van Nuys yesterday. Canceled because the organizer was deemed not authentically a person of color, nor BLM endorsed, and as Twitter chat would have it Van Nuys was thought too poor and not white enough to deserve looting anyway. Somehow a small crowd showed up anyway and peaceably assembled for the afternoon to chant and placard at passing drivers.
This didn’t last. Saturation news coverage summoned the locusts.
Dozens of suspected looters spilled out from a Boost Mobile store in Van Nuys today, many getting away with apparently stolen goods in hand. Nearby, police declared an unlawful assembly and began dispersing a large crowd of protesters https://t.co/wvk4tBncbapic.twitter.com/OkxaBwFpqb
They hit the jeweler, the weed shop, then the cell phone store, but by the time they reached Walgreens, LAPD reversed it’s we’re allergic to handcuffs ethos that prevailed over the weekend and rolled up in force. They stopped them at the entryway, hammers in hand. A bus was waiting to haul them away en masse to the Pitchess detention center. The mob fanned out across the neighborhood, looking for softer prey.
Guess who happened to be walking his dogs on Raymer Street when the looters broke into the side door of Target and started hustling flat screens into waiting cars?
Police response was swift. Four undercover cars, six black and white, and a helicopter. This is the way the world is supposed to work. Following the disintegration of order this week, it felt like a movie from the VHS era.
This should have been Saturday. It should have been last Thursday in Minneapolis. But it wasn’t and here we are.