The Chicago Tribune ran a photo essay on its site about the Michigan Avenue Black Friday protests in the wake of the release of the police cruiser dash cam video of the murder of Laquan McDonald. It contained lots of pictures of brown-skinned people (and a smattering of white faces) standing resolute across the doorways of the Apple Store and Water Tower Place; standing nose to nose with cops itching to unload the pepper spray; locking arms and chanting.
For a certain kind of person, these are stirring images of everyday people asserting their rights of assembly and expression, of seeking redress of grievences perpetrated by the excesses of the state. For me, it was a heartening display of people - people trampled generation upon generation by a system resolved by means economic and racial to marginalize and subjugate - rising up and reasserting their humanity.
For another kind of person, these images represent the dissolution of social order - the lippy and ungrateful grousing of "those people." In interviews with shoppers - who mistakenly take themselves to be the stars of this story - several among them expressed variations of "mistakes happen" with regard to the pumping of 16 bullets into a 17-yar-old kid. One wonders what the individual and public response on the part of these inconvenienced people might be if a constable had emptied his clip into one of their sons on the village square in Glencoe.
As rousing as I found these images, and the protest that inspired them, I found the picture above the most telling and troubling of the bunch.
The Little Girl
She's the only blameless one of this trio. She wishes to make her way to the American Doll Store. Where her guardians may purchase for her some overpriced figure nearly her own size that comes with its own reductive and revisionist back story, accessories, and apparel line. The fact that she has been raised to want this connotes a set of problems - of class, gender conceptions, consumerism - larger and older than she is. If there is criticism to be leveled here, it must be directed at the people who are raising her in the bosom of some shitty priorities, not at her. She has inherited a series of stupid and destructive desires, but cannot be held to account for this dubious bequest.
In 12 years, when this little girl is cutting me off in an Audi her dad bought her, I will hate her on her own merits then. For now, she gets a pass.
The White Fucking Coats
Setting aside the vast obliviousness required to try shopping your way through or around these protesters; or your willful minimizing the scale and impact of these protests upon your dipshit errand; setting aside your evident lack of compassion and respect; setting aside your bone-deep fucking BLITHENESS - you might at LEAST pay some heed to the optics of the fucking costume you put on for your little outing. When the Consumerist Corridor is choked with hundreds of brown people - people who have lain their brown bodies across the road bed to interrupt the flow of traffic, and insinuated themselves between you and the doorways of the shops, then fucking MAYBE it might make some sense not to wear BLINDING WHITE OUTERWEAR. The only shittier move would be to wear satin fucking sashes that read "White Privilege" while dispersing the brown bodies with cattle prods.
Again: Little Girl - you seem sweet and baffled by the proceedings around you in an age-appropriate way.
But Ostensible Grownups: develop some SMIDGEN of self-awareness, no? Because to sashay past a throng of people mourning the murder of one of their own at the hands of the state in whit motherfucking coats seems a trifle Marie Antoinette-ish, wouldn't you say?
The White Fur Fucking Coat
This is appropriate attire for those seeking the role of White Witch in fucking Narnia, not for your jaunt down the Mag Mile of a city whose cops have killed a kid and covered it up. And - just from a style standpoint - those Ming the Merciless shoulders have got to go.
The Grisly Back Story
Whether this trio - again: not your fault, kid - arrives for their Black Friday sojourn from the suburbs of the North Shore or from some kleptocracy in the former Soviet Union, it doesn't matter. They arrive as unconcerned white people, into what they take to be a bastion of plundered white privilege, because that's customarily precisely what it is. Even the name the marketing hordes tasked with reinforcing the cycle of privilege and stoking the aspirational embers that permit it to continue steaming along have bestowed upon the place - The Magnificent Mile - reveals not merely an unquestioning embrace of consumerist excess, but of exclusivity. Because for a Mile or a Kilometer or a League to seem Magnificent, it must be surrounded on all sides by the Dingy and Ordinary, the Tacky and Mundane.
For the denizens of such a Magnificent place to claim and reclaim their stranglehold on the sumptuous, they must distance and re-distance themselves from the plight of the subhumans whom they must pass when accessing the wonders it contains. This distancing is not restricted to the grimy primate who shakes his beggar cup, pleading for stray coins - he is easy to deny and step over, the arhythmic clank of his cup receding behind the walls of consciousness, tucked away like the sigh of steam pipes and crackle of wires - the shake of his battered cup is just the turning of the watchworks that makes the machine go.
And this distancing is not restricted to the valets and shop clerks, in their vests and tunics with unnoticed names stitched over the breast. These murmuring and deferential people, averting as they do their gaze from the incandesence of the Magnificent, scurrying to fetch that wedge of lemon, that room key, that starched napkin. These primates are meant to remain translucent, and just dimly audible. These primates - as a class - are obviously indispensible, as pampering is a labor-intensive proposition, but as individuals, they are identical and interchangeable. Any individual among these primates may scuttle off to foam the latté, to plump the pillows.
And this distancing is not restricted to the merchant primates, the florists and jewelers, whose shabby little lives are devoted to swirling around the Magnificent to offer their fawning, subhuman counsel about which sailing vessel is suitably yar, what thread count is minimally acceptabe for the guest rooms. These primates have names. It must feel to them like the Magnificent have bestowed a soul-cooling balm when they speak these names.
And this distancing is not restricted to the primates in suits, the bankers and other stewards of the capital, the vault-keepers and bean counters. Due to their proximity to the capital - the fuel that fires the entire engine - these primates must be granted the delusion that they are Fully Human. They have names that must be remembered and added to the Christmas card list that's managed by one of the lower primates. Because they are sentinels and servants of the capital, theirs is the highest work a primate can undertake, and as such they are very nearly cherished - these are the only primates permitted to curl on hearth rugs at the feet of the Magnificent.
For it is the Magnificent alone who may occupy the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human. To offer sanctuary to any among the other primates - who, though rumored to share some long-distant branch on the evolutionary tree, cannot hope to mimic convincingly the refinement and grace of the Magnificent - would constitute treachery of the worst kind. Occupants of the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human, when they are young, may indulge in casting their moon-eyed gaze across the Insulating Sea of Blessed Capital and imbue the primates with something akin to Full Humanity. These Young Magnificents may sound out the names embroidered on the smocks of the primates, and intensify their eye contact when they encounter these helper primates on docks and at ski lifts, in hotel lobbies and at poolside bars. But this effort (which the Young Magnificents could never really bring themselves to really believe) costs too much, and is a fallacy of youth, so must be tucked away in the same attic as the trunks filled with kite string and sand pails, picture books and pinwheels.
These Young Magnificents must mature and ripen into the bloom of their Full Humanity, and stop filling the heads of the primates with aspirations they can never realize, mobility they do not have. These Young Magnificents must one day embrace their Humanity in its Fullness, and concede that there is only room for a select and limited number of inhabitants on the Very Tiny Island. Besides, the primates, being coarse and deprived, could never feel truly at ease on the Island. So it is a mercy, really, to deny the primates admittance, as they would be all in a muddle.
This mercy is the burden of the Magnificents. And the primates are ill equipped to understand such a burden. So can never be anything like Fully Human.