So…how's everyone's 2021 going so far?
I don't know if you've heard, but on Wednesday, a violent white supremacist lynch mob—following the explicit direction of the President of the United States, and enabled by federal authorities and several right-wing officials—stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in a coordinated effort to invalidate a democratic election and overthrow the American government. The insurrectionists wore Kevlar vests, and they brought zip-ties and flash bombs and Molotov cocktails and semi-automatic weapons. They paraded the Confederate flag through the halls of Congress. They erected a gallows on the front lawn, announcing their intention to hang the Vice-President and the Speaker of the House. They planted pipe bombs in political offices. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer who was reportedly beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. And, as Elaine Godfrey writes in The Atlantic—it was all supposed to be much, much worse.
I'm sure you know all of this, but I find it helpful to say it out loud, if only as a gatekeeping mechanism. Because if we can't all get on board with what happened—and why it happened—I'd just as soon not talk at all. The calls for "unity" began literally before the smoke of Wednesday's events had cleared, but I'm not remotely interested in unity: There is no meeting white nationalists halfway. There can be no "understanding their perspective," or "listening to their grievances," or "offering forgiveness," or any of that insidious bullshit that has empowered them all along. These people have no valid grievances: none. The election was not stolen, the nation is not descending into socialism (I wish), and they are not, and never have been, oppressed. Whatever lies they tell themselves and others, these people are motivated entirely by racism, and they understood perfectly that systemic racism would ensure that most of them got away with it. (Watching the footage, what struck me most was how police officers—even facing the threat of death—are simply not programmed to shoot white people: It's like, deep down in their souls, they understand that doing so was never part of their mission statement.) So these people weaponized their white privilege in a violent conspiracy of sedition, and every one of them—along with every elected official who incited, aided, and abetted them—should be arrested, and prosecuted, and convicted, and imprisoned.
They won't be, of course. That's not what we do here. Fully confronting the reality of this pathetic insurrection would require a Truth and Reconciliation process that would interrogate and implicate pretty much all of American history, and indict massive portions of government, law enforcement, and the media. It's far easier to pretend this was some kind of unforeseen fluke driven by a few quirky and raucous crackpots, and leave it at that. The whitewashing has already begun.
I didn't actually intend to discuss all of this at length today: It is neither my milieu nor my expertise, and there are far wiser voices out there than mine. (If anyone actually wants to read some of my fumbling thoughts on racism in America—and specifically on how none of us should indulge the luxury of acting surprised by any of this—you can read this piece I wrote three years ago, when all these same people descended on Charlottesville, Virginia.) It would be far more useful, however, to seek out and read some of the pieces written this week by people of color. Here are a few I recommend:
"The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race," Sam Sanders, NPR
"We are a country built on fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism. And every time America shows the worst of itself, all the contradictions collapse into the lie I've heard nonstop for the last several years: "This isn't who we are."
"We've Seen the Ugly Truth About America," Roxane Gay, The New York Times
"On Wednesday, the world bore witness to white supremacy unchecked. I nearly choked on the bitter pill of what white people who no doubt condemned Black Lives Matter protesters as 'thugs' felt so entitled to do."
"For Black People, Wednesday was Just Another Day in America," Michael Herriot, The Root
"On Wednesday, everyone was suddenly astonished, as if they had no idea that white people did this all the time. As if there was no Charlottesville. As if the 'White Lives Matter' march never happened. As if there was no such thing as a 'Proud Boy.' As if the president hadn’t been telegraphing this for four years. What did they think 'stand down and stand by' meant?…All Trump supporters are racist traitors. And what is a traitor without a coup?"
"The Myth of American Innocence," Brent Staples, The New York Times
"The history of the United States is rife with episodes of political violence far bloodier and more destructive than the one President Trump incited at the Capitol on Wednesday. Nevertheless, ignorance of a grisly past well documented by historians…was painfully evident in the aftermath of this week’s mob invasion of Congress. Talking heads queued up to tell the country again and again that the carnage was an aberration and 'not who we are' as a people. This willful act of forgetting — compounded by the myth of American innocence — has shown itself to be dangerous on a variety of counts."
"Denial is the Heartbeat of America," Ibram X. Kendi, The Atlantic
"We must stop the heartbeat of denial and revive America to the thumping beat of truth. The carnage has no chance of stopping until the denial stops. This is not who we are must become, in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Capitol: This is precisely who we are. And we are ashamed. And we are aggrieved at what we’ve done, at how we let this happen. But we will change. We will hold the perpetrators accountable. We will change policy and practices. We will radically root out this problem. It will be painful. But without pain there is no healing."
Now—and only because I've committed to doing this weekly blog/newsletter round-up—here's a quick list of my recent and upcoming stuff just to keep the accounting straight. There isn't much: This proved to be a difficult week in which to get anything done. (And I'm not going to talk about the random stuff I've been watching this week: I have trouble believing anyone cares at the moment. I'll catch up with the stuff worth mentioning next time.)
The only new piece I finished this week was my first new Deadwood review since I stopped writing about the show nearly 10 years ago. I always say that shows teach you how to write about them, and it was like recovering old muscle memory to remember how to write about this one. But I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and I'm incredibly excited to continue. The plan is to write about one episode a week, with new posts appearing on (or about) every Friday from now through the summer.
On Friday, January 15, I'm scheduled to post the next piece in my Independent Study in World Cinema, which will cover Roberto Rossellini's neorealist WWII resistance film Rome, Open City (1945). (I'm still working on the piece, and it's a movie I found interesting but didn't entirely love, so I suspect this entry will be, if nothing else, a little shorter than some of the previous ones.) For those of you playing along at home, Rome, Open City is currently streaming on HBO Max, The Criterion Channel, and Kanopy, and available to rent other places.
On Friday, January 15, I'm also scheduled to release my next Deadwood review, on Episode 1×09, "No Other Sons or Daughters." This should make Friday an interesting day. (Anyone predicting that one of these two things might be a day or too late would not be accused of craziness.)
As I'm behind on several things (see above)—and as we were a little distracted by the whole failed insurrection (see farther above)—Nakea and I didn't get a new episode of The Unenthusiastic Critic podcast done for this week as we had planned. (Apologies. It was entirely my fault.) But we'll have a new episode next week (that would be January 19), and at the moment I'm leaning towards something light, getting back to the show's roots by subjecting Nakea to one of the ubiquitous staples of my youth as a teenage white boy in the '80s: I think we're going to discuss Risky Business (1983), which is currently streaming for subscribers on HBO Max, and is available to rent from most of the other streaming services.
Since my blog posts recently have hit the theme of "New Year Resolutions" repeatedly, I share this tweet I saw today by the very funny writer and comedian Joseph Scrimshaw, which pretty much sums up how I'm feeling so far. (If you're feeling the same way, know you are not alone.)
The plan for 2021:
I’m going to hit the ground running.
I have hit the ground.
— Joseph Scrimshaw (@JosephScrimshaw) January 11, 2021
Header image on this post: "Washington DC, January 6, 2021,"
by Blink O'Fanaye, licensed under CC-by-NC 2.0.