All posts filed under: BLM

The Piety of the Impious

Writing with not a little insight, commentators have observed a deeply intriguing dimension to the protests currently convulsing the United States: Percolating beneath the callow progressivism lies a kind of spiritual fervour, which animates a great swathe of the demonstrators. It’s not simply the case that some people have been driven by prior religious convictions to respond to the killing of unarmed African Americans by police; rather, it’s that much of the outpouring of grief, activism, and even violence triggered by the death of George Floyd is itself quasi-religious in character. Popular opinion holds that the United States remains a bastion of piety within the community of Western nations; although European states long ago settled into an easy secularism, the pulse of vital religion still beats strongly on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s true that the US remains an outlier in this regard, although the reality is far more complicated than common narratives suggest. Moreover, statistical evidence indicates that the country may be on the same trajectory towards secularisation as the Continent. But …

Our Oppressive Moment

As one of the signatories to the much-discussed “Open Letter” in Harper’s magazine, I’ve been bemused by the objection that we are merely whiners—people with impregnable career success, flustered that social media is forcing us to experience unprecedented criticism, particularly in the wake of the Floyd protests. This represents a stark misunderstanding of why I and many others signed it. I am certainly not complaining about being criticized. As someone frequently described as “contrarian” on the fraught topic of race, I have been roasted for my views for over 20 years—it’s just that, when I started out, I received invective scrawled on paper folded into envelopes instead of typed into tweets. The sheer volume of criticism is greater, of course, but the last thing I would do is sign a letter protesting it. For writers of commentary on controversial subjects, the barrage keeps us on our toes. Haters can be ignored, but informed excoriation can help sharpen our arguments and ensure we remain acquainted with the views of the other side. The Harper’s letter is …

Denunciation Staged as ‘Dialogue’: A Review of Claudia Rankine’s ‘Help’

On March 10th, just days before the lockdown would shut down the theater business in New York City (and most other places), I had the opportunity to see the premier of Claudia Rankine’s new play, Help. Based in part on the acclaimed poet’s 2019 New York Times magazine article, I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked, the play was presented as an “investigation into whiteness.” Given the events that have unfolded since the death of George Floyd, it’s obviously a timely subject. And it’s unfortunate for Rankine and her venue, The Shed in Hudson Yards, that COVID-19 shut down her production until further notice. I know of no other artistic production that better captures the theoretical underpinnings of progressives’ well-intentioned but flawed approach to tearing down “whiteness.” “Help is a play in which the Narrator inhabits the category of the Black woman in order to be in dialogue with the category of the white man,” Rankine explained in a writer’s note. She is careful to say “category” because …

Policing in the Anomie Era

We bounced along a pitted dirt road on an Indigenous reserve in Northern Ontario. As I leaned on my horn to convince a bored looking, semi-feral stray dog to move out of our path, I chatted with my passenger. She was a young Indigenous woman who worked at our police detachment as an administration assistant. It was midnight, and I was driving her home at the end of her shift because dangers—both canine and human—rendered it unsafe for our civilian staff members to walk home alone after dark. This woman, who I’ll call Grace, was 23 years old. She had recently returned to the reserve after spending a year in southern Ontario attending university. Raised in a home with two alcoholic parents, by the age of 14 she was pregnant. Another child with another father would follow before her 18th birthday. Neither of these men remained in her life. Despite these challenges, Grace was a voracious reader who loved school. With the help of a supportive teacher and various government programs, she was able to …

White Saviors Need to Leave the Room

She called herself Kalamity, though that’s not her real name. She’s the white woman who called me a racist for noting that Indigenous children who live in communities where parents own their homes tend to have a higher standard of living and care than those who live in reserve communities where property is owned communally. This was the day after she schooled me, a Desi, together with a Kenyan woman—the only two non-white individuals in our class—on the proper use of people-of-colour nomenclature. “I’m not sure I like that phrase,” said the Kenyan woman. I agreed. Of all the ways to describe oneself, why would I self-define as not white. “Women of colour chose it,” Kalamity informed us. By this, I learned, she meant black intersectional feminists. This wasn’t the first or last time that Kalamity treated us like elementary-school children in catechism class. I didn’t like this feeling. Kalamity also called me out as racist for disagreeing with her pronouncement that those Charlie Hebdo cartoons from 2015 were racist. That Kalamity could not read …

Seattle’s Summer of Love

The bluest skies you’ve ever seen in Seattle And the hills the greenest green in Seattle Like a beautiful child growing up free and wild Full of hopes and full of fears Full of laughter full of tears Full of dreams to last the years in Seattle In Seattle So Perry Como sang in the late ’60s. Now it seems the days of beautiful children growing up free and wild are returning to Seattle. Like other American cities over the last three weeks, Seattle saw protests rapidly become violent clashes with police. This ugliness waxed and waned for a fortnight until police withdrew from their East Precinct Building, effectively ceding the surrounding area to the protestors. Barriers were erected around it by activists who initially christened the new territory the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), and later renamed it the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). As their quasi-manifesto of June 9th put it, they had “liberated Free Capitol Hill in the name of the people of Seattle.” Now a tense and potentially dangerous stand-off has …

America Has Problems. Tearing Down Statues Won’t Solve Them

Earlier this week, a group of protesters involved in Black Lives Matter demonstrations spray-painted a statue of Winston Churchill in historic Parliament Square, adding the words “was a racist” under Churchill’s name. As critics of Churchill are quick to remind us, the former British prime minister supported the use of chemical weapons against rebellious Kurds and Afghans (though whether he advocated for the use of lethal gas is a subject of historical dispute). Churchill also supported Britain’s colonial grip over the Indian subcontinent. When Mohandas Gandhi began his series of hunger strikes in protest of British rule, Churchill’s casually morbid reply sounded like something you’d hear from an action-movie villain: “We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.” Yet even Gandhi no longer gets a pass, apparently. In Washington, D.C., which also has witnessed protests, vandals defaced a Gandhi statue outside the Indian embassy. The motivations aren’t clear, but it’s believed they relate to Gandhi’s prejudiced views toward black Africans during his time as a South …

Racist Police Violence Reconsidered

Tony Timpa was 32 years old when he died at the hands of the Dallas police in August 2016. He suffered from mental health difficulties and was unarmed. He wasn’t resisting arrest. He had called the cops from a parking lot while intoxicated because he thought he might be a danger to himself. By the time law enforcement arrived, he had already been handcuffed by the security guards of a store nearby. Even so, the police officers made him lie face down on the grass, and one of them pressed a knee into his back. He remained in this position for 13 minutes until he suffocated. During the harrowing recording of his final moments, he can be heard pleading for his life. A grand jury indictment of the officers involved was overturned. Not many people have seen this video, however, and that may have something to do with the fact that Timpa was white. During the protests and agonizing discussions about police brutality that have followed the death of George Floyd under remarkably similar circumstances, …

America’s Black Communities Are Suffering. Violent Protests Will Make the Suffering Worse

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—an act that prosecutors describe as murder—have devolved into violence. Numerous small businesses have been destroyed, and at least one elderly shopper at a Target store was assaulted. A man has been shot dead. This pattern of events is familiar because it has repeated itself numerous times over American history following acts of police brutality, especially in cases where, as with Floyd, the victim was black. First, large numbers of people protest peacefully, drawing attention to their cause and attracting national sympathy. Then, a smaller group turns violent, causing destruction in the community and sometimes harming innocent people. That smaller group sometimes includes people who exploit the chaos for their own ends. During the Baltimore riots of 2015, for instance, the looting of pharmacies led to opioids and other drugs flooding the market, likely feeding drug dependency, enriching gangs, and fueling more crime. In the 1960s, thousands of Americans took part in non-violent protests in opposition to segregation. Their …

Don’t Blame Police Racism for America’s Violence Epidemic

In political debates about incidents of police officers shooting and killing Americans, a consistent narrative has emerged: There is an epidemic of white police officers targeting unarmed African Americans—the reason being that America’s police forces are so racially biased that they value the lives of blacks less than they value the lives of whites. Given the horrifying history of racism in the United States, this was never a far-fetched thesis. This phenomenon is at the heart of Black Lives Matter, a movement that has pushed media and politicians to consider the issue of police abuse as a matter of racial injustice. “Black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement without accountability and without justice,” then-Texas Democratic congressman and now presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told an audience last year. O’Rourke made the statement as part of a larger speech in support of NFL players such as Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racism …