Sometimes fire is a cleansing thing.
By Anatole d’Ecotopia
Photo by Michelle Ewing
I’m too old and too white to pretend I ever could’ve died the way George Floyd died, for all that I’ve lived an uncareful life and had more than a few cop encounters of my own.
That’s how white privilege works — you get to fuck up.
You get to drive recklessly like Marquette Frye or Rodney King. You don’t get to run, any more than Rodney got to (they don’t like it when you try to get away), but — unless you do something stupid — you don’t get beaten to crap for trying… you just go to jail.
If you are white, you can repeatedly fuck up companies and walk. You can even fuck up an entire country as on the job training as commander in chief. If you’re black, though… you can’t even get away with wearing the wrong color suit.
If you’re white, you’ll do time for passing fake twenties as George Floyd is supposed to have done.
But you won’t die under the knee of your oppressor.
None of this is particularly new. The mistreatment of Marquette Frye kicked off a full week of rioting in South Central L.A. a full three decades before the beating of Rodney King had the same result in ‘92. It’s too soon to say if the speed with which officer Derek Chauvin has been formally charged with murder will defuse further unrest in the aftermath of Floyd’s death — but it needs to happen anyway. One can only hope.
Equally not new: The anger and helpless rage of the oppressed being exploited and used as justification for further oppression. It happened after the Watts Rebellion in 1965, it happened after the L.A. riots in 1992 — and the Inciter in Chief is wasting no time now calling for “shooting” in Minneapolis via the ongoing digital diarrhea of his Twitter feed. In the aftermath of previous riots, there were commissions and inquiries that made reform proposals that were largely ignored. This time, we’ll probably just cut straight to the ignoring part.
What is new this time around is that this recurring and absolutely predictable tragedy is unfolding at a time of new and unique social stresses that affect the entire country. Armed white supremacists are holding mass demonstrations to demand a return to pre-pandemic conditions — a return that will overwhelmingly be more dangerous to communities of color and other marginalized populations than to themselves.
They don’t even have to kneel on your neck — they can just cough in your fucking face. That too, is an act of institutional violence and oppression.
Every time there have ever been Federal level proposals for effective policing reform in the United States, those proposals have been pushed back, deflected, or merely ignored. Now, as the United States teeters on the edge of becoming a comprehensive surveillance state, the need for such reform is greater than ever — even as the window for enacting it may be closing.
White people get to fuck up, but if white people manage to fuck this one up, they may find that there’s a lot less privilege to go around. The assumption that you’re not going to wind up with a knee on your neck or a gun in your face for wrongdoing that may not extend much further than just being in the wrong time and place… that may stop being a safe assumption.
You might feel you identify with the people setting the fires, you may identify with the people charged with putting them out. But in a time when over 100,000 Americans have literally died of suffocation, who can not identify with the simple horror of saying “I can’t breath”? Who has not lain awake on even one sleepless night imagining that horror? Anyone who imagines themselves immune to either oppression or pandemic disease imagines a privilege that goes beyond mere whiteness, into a realm of delusional fantasy. Anyone who does not feel the need to ensure the breath of life and simple justice for as many of us as possible… has no humanity. If we cannot confirm our basic humanity as a society, those torched buildings in Minneapolis may just be where it starts.
So yeah: Burn, baby… just burn. Sometimes fire is a cleansing thing.
Sick an’ tired
Tired of being
sick an’ tired.
Lost in the wilderness
of white america
are the masses asses?
said the master to the slave,
“No problem, don’t rob an’ steal,
I’ll be your drivin wheel.”
And he wheeled us into 350 years
of black madness…
Marvin X (1965)