Of Grosse Pointe and David Simon

Thursday, December 29th, 2016 Politics / Writing


Despite the joy of seeing beloved family members, I returned from Grosse Pointe, MI this week even more depressed than I’d been at any point since the election, since the casual, obscene racism and unthinking Trump support I encountered (among perfectly well-meaning and pleasant well-to-do Americans who sincerely believe themselves to have the best interests of our nation at heart) was so profoundly debilitating—one of my cousins, a very nice person whom I like very much, impressed upon me the significant narrative of some Vietnamese small business owners “who work really hard” (with all the implications of the phrase that Republicans always call forth) and wanted me to understand that these Vietnamese acquaintances have done well for themselves despite their fundamental disadvantage. “Because they’re not white?” I asked. No, my cousin answered—because they’re not black.

My smiling, innocuous, perfectly decent, heart-of-gold cousin spent the next half hour working to discredit Obama’s academic credentials—sure, he was editor of the Harvard Law Review and a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago—a school I know something about, since I went there, which of course meant nothing to my cousin—but who am I to give credence to these rigorous metrics? How do I know whether they’re right? The implication—that this is all “hand-outs”—that the academic rigor of Harvard and Chicago is meaningless when it comes to black people—was not lost on me, although my cousin denied the charge throughout. (A subsequent evening, this cousin, along with another, fervently impressed upon my father—an immigrant and U.S. Marine who remembers Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration’s stickers in his New Jersey windows during the Great Depression—the importance of recognizing the conspiracy between Democrats and African Americans to exchange ill-gotten “free stuff” for votes.)

So, notwithstanding my genuine affection for my extended family, it was with great relief that I returned to my own glorious melting pot of New York City, where the air is not filled with the stultifying deadness of wall-to-wall white people…and, just in the nick of time, to receive my sister’s generous Christmas gift of the complete Blu-ray edition of The Wire. After just two episodes, I could feel the oxygen returning to my soul. My boundless gratitude to David Simon, whose fearless vision of the real America should be remembered for all time. The eternal drama of Baltimore and of all American cities, going back to Ralph Ellison and the IWW and Upton Sinclair, and the black people who so frighten my lily-white, sheltered, beloved extended family with their fantasies of oppression and disadvantage, are immortalized in Simon’s Shakespearean, Dickensian drama, as is a heartwarming reminder of the delicacy and nuance with which some people (Simon was a newspaper journalist, his writing partner a homicide detective) can still perceive the complexity and heroism of American society. Art fights ignorance, as it has since the days of Homer and Chaucer. Entering the frightening new year, I maintain my utopian idealized fantasy that we can still, despite all evidence to the contrary, learn to overcome our base fears and make sense to one another as Americans and survivors. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.