Mary McNamara: We are all horrified, but only white people have the luxury of being shocked

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Last night while my city burned and curfew fell, I sat and watched "Black Panther" and thought about what smug hypocrites white people can be.

Myself included, of course.

I have spent a lifetime watching cities burn and always over the same damn thing: racism. I am just old enough to remember the 1968 Baltimore riot, one of several violent protests that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I remember it mainly because the curfew extended to my family's suburban neighborhood, which meant I could not play in the yard as long as I wanted to do, something I found extremely unfair.

A reasonable reaction for a 4-year old; not so much for a grown person, though that is the response from far too many white people whenever a city burns for the same damn reason. Including this weekend. It's so much easier to judge a relatively few looters than deal with the fact that the country you live in would rather regularly set itself on fire than address its obvious racism.

Even during a global pandemic. Think about that for a second. How furious do people have to be to gather in the streets at a time when a highly infectious disease is killing thousands daily, especially black and brown people, who are dying at disproportionately high rate?

Pretty damn furious.


We know why: A black man died in the custody of Minneapolis police -- for the horrifying offense of attempting to pass a fake $20 bill -- while three of his fellow officers looked on. And the only reason any action was taken by the city's Police Department was that the whole thing was captured on video and circulated on social media.

Which is also why Gregory and Travis McMichael were recently arrested after stalking and shooting Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who had the temerity to take a run in a predominantly white Georgia neighborhood. And no doubt the only reason Christian Cooper wasn't arrested when a white woman called the cops to say "an African American man" was threatening her (after he asked her to leash her dog in a leash-only section of Central Park) was that he had filmed the whole incident.

Seriously, if cellphones turn out to be what saves the soul of America, it will only be what we deserve.

Certainly this is a theme of "Black Panther" -- that technology, used in pursuit of equality and justice, can be the great leveler. But that's not why I was watching it as Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, and New York and a dozen other cities, burned.


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