There is something happening here.
ASTORIA, NYC- I am only now starting to look outside my window and wondering what lies just beyond my field of view here in New York City.
When I first moved here last July I didn’t really care too much about the city. My interest and most of my work was in Asia, my focus was on setting up a base of operations to travel out of on various projects and assignments. So I set myself up with a sick video editing suite, nice stainless steel tables that stretch all the way across one side of a room, some shelving for video gear, added a 6K Blackmagic cinema camera and a proper set of lights. Then it was business as usual: I began traveling, collecting stories, giving talks, and coming back to NYC to process it all and publish.
Then the pandemic hit and I found myself marooned. A few months rolled by where I had my head down making progress on On the New Silk Road and a documentary about a community fighting against a Chinese development project in Malaysia. But I’m now running up against the end of these projects, and I’ve looked up from my desk, peered outside, and realized that there is an entire country out there gone batshit.
I grew up in a relatively impoverished village in Western New York, around 400 miles from New York City, right in between Rochester and Buffalo. There are a couple of prisons there and that’s about it. My school was relatively diverse for a rural community — around 15% black, 10% Hispanic, roughly a cross section of the USA as a whole — but I remember everyone getting along and ethnicity was rarely an issue. It probably helped that most of us were from a similar income bracket — dirt poor to working class — and race wasn’t an indicator of class.
But, even in the 80s and 90s, our educators were extremely proactive about race issues, drilling it into us from the start the standard rhetoric of the day: that everyone was the same and that race was only skin deep, that we shouldn’t treat people different because of their ethnicity, that we shouldn’t even really acknowledge race at all. We absorbed these teachings as though they were indisputable fact and went on with our days without thinking about everybody’s skin color all the time. Black and white kids would sit together during lunch, play sports together, make music in bands — we’d all laugh when the Mexicans would insult the teachers (for some reason they were always insulting the teachers) and we still reminisce about the time in 8th grade when Gary Burnie beaned the vice principal in the face with a baked potato during a food fight. Where I came from, if you partied and liked to have fun nothing else really mattered.
It was an easy assumption to make at this time that race issues would continue dissolving in the coming generations; that we’d all just blend together, ethnic lines would blur to the point of irrelevance, and we’d find other factors to separate the Us from the Them.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I feel as if I’ve been stuck in a weird sort of ideological amber for the past 20 years. My take on what America is has been frozen in time. I’ve mostly been abroad and have never really had much of a need to re-think the country I came from. But now that I’ve been stuck here longer than I’ve ever been since I started traveling at 18 I’ve had a chance to look around and I simply cannot believe what’s become of the place.
I truly do not understand what is going on: left is right, 2+2=5, what was considered racist when I was a kid has become the backbone of anti-racist theory now. The ideology of the country is being flipped upside down, and discourse, civil liberties, and rationalism is being trampled. We have entered a new intellectual dark age:
Apparently, if you say that all races are equal you are being racist.
All white people are racist.
A white person denying that they are racist is proof that they are racist.
The suburbs are racist, too.
If you support the President of the United States or even the Republican Party, you are racist.
The United States has the third worst caste system in history, right behind Nazi Germany and India.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture says that signs of whiteness include, but are not limited to, rugged individualism, a nuclear family, objective and rational thinking, hard work, respect for authority, a desire to avoid conflict, and an appreciation of bland foods.
The city of Seattle held a segregated training for their white employees which instructed them how to undo their whiteness.
A woman in Indiana was murdered after an altercation where she said, “All lives matter.”
David Dorn, a black, retired police captain, was murdered for defending his friend’s pawn shop against a mob of looters in St. Louis.
A guy in Wisconsin was intentionally ran over for riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. His murder explained his actions by saying, “All racists ride Harleys.”
California is in the process of repealing Proposition 209, which says that you can’t discriminate against people on the basis of race in terms of employment. (No joke.)
Many bird names are racist.
2+2=4 is a racist colonial construct. I’m not joking:
When a woman points out that there are other ways of knowing than 2+2=4 that just might generate new kinds of solutions to many heretofore unsolved problems, it seems as if the patriarchy sounds an alarm and then the troops come in to defend, belittle, or attack
— Laurie Rubel (@Laurie_Rubel) July 7, 2020
Using the word “master,” as in a “master bedroom” or the “Master’s golf tournament”
or “masterbate” is racist.
Noam Chomsky, the great leftist crusader himself, is being attacked by the left.
An entire list of liberals are being canceled for signing the Harper’s open letter against cancel culture. (Case in point, right?).
A statue of Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist who was killed while fighting for the Union in the Civil War, was torn down by leftist activists in Madison.
A statue of Frederick Douglas, perhaps the greatest abolitionist in US history, was torn down in my hometown of Rochester.
Statues of Abraham Lincoln and the founding fathers are being vandalized. Jesus too.
A statue of an elk was torched by anti-racist groups in Portland.
A professor at UCLA is under investigation for reading a Martin Luther King letter as it was written.
David Shor, a Democrat who worked on Obama’s reelection campaign, tweeted a reference to a paper written by Princeton’s Omar Wasow, a black data scientist who co-founder the social site BlackPlanet, which demonstrated how violent protests sway voters towards Republicans. The mob deemed it racist. They contacted his employer. He was fired.
This was the tweet:
Post-MLK-assasination race riots reduced Democratic vote share in surrounding counties by 2%, which was enough to tip the 1968 election to Nixon. Non-violent protests *increase* Dem vote, mainly by encouraging warm elite discourse and media coverage. https://t.co/S8VZSuaz3G. pic.twitter.com/VRUwnRFuVW
— (((David Shor))) (@davidshor) May 28, 2020
Cities across the country — including my neighborhood in Astoria — have been attacked by BLM rioters indiscriminately destroying both multinational and locally owned stores, burning places down, and besieging government buildings. A portion of Seattle was occupied for nearly a month where multiple people were murdered, including a 16-year-old unarmed black kid. Riots have been ongoing in Portland for over 60 days. Elements of the Democratic party seem to not only be complicit with the riots but in some cases actually supporting them. Local police in both Seattle and Portly were ordered to stand down and the mayor of Portland himself actually participated in the riots.
What the fuck is going on?
What the left is doing is exactly what we accused white supremacists of trying to do when I was a kid: divide us along racial lines. Same action, different actors, same result.
What’s of particular interest here is that the United States of America is by far one of the least racist countries on the planet. Admittedly, this doesn’t say much. But if you want to see racism go to places like China, Japan, Korea, the Middle East, Eastern Europe … What’s happening in the USA — even at its worse — doesn’t even come close.
At the very least, the USA has such a strong concept of what constitutes racism, which puts it in a league far above much of the world where racism is so culturally, politically, and economically embedded that it often goes unrecognized. The fact that there was such a nationwide uproar over the George Floyd murder shows how fundamentally not racist this country is.
A viral video of a Uyghur serial felon being brutally killed by a cop in China probably wouldn’t get a similar response.
Or maybe I’ve just been away from the USA for too long? Maybe I’m the one that’s out of touch?
Maybe I should go find out?