As the former editor of the Arts and Life section and senior film critic at the Daily for three years (2015-18), I rolled my eyes in exhaustion as I read such naïve arguments as those contained in Lucy Kross Wallace’s op-ed, which made the non-case “against BLM.” There’s a cozy, quaint familiarity to this bull. It’s the shining example of what happens when you check out of discourse, don’t do the reading and don’t analyze how the words and the language that you unconsciously inherit from the air around you forms your psyche in insidiously racist ways.
Like many of her ideological ilk (those who read New Discourses, who “pursue the light of objective [sic] truth in subjective darkness”), Lucy is disturbed that the BLM movement “perpetually eludes categorization” —which contributes to its effectiveness, without a single figurehead upon whose shoulders the burden of a people’s cause is placed. As I see it, the striving is towards police abolition — far beyond weak “reform.” She complains that she can’t find a Statement of Intent in any “official” Black Lives Matter website — as if it’s law school with a doorstop of a prep book. If Kross Wallace had done any kind of serious research, any hard listening to Black or Indigenous or anti-colonial thought this summer, she’d soon realize that she’s engaged in a vain and doomed search for an institutionally approved party line, which would negate the whole grassroots propulsion of BLM and of the Black freedom struggle in the U.S. in the first place. Maybe she could have read anything said by Dr. Clayborne Carson at the King Institute right down the street from her — or maybe she couldn’t find it, tucked, as it is, out of sight from main campus in a small bungalow behind the Engineering Quad for over 40 years.
She unquestioningly trots out the same old “looters and thieves” logic that Breitbart, aristocrat Democrats and the bubbles of Facebook spew on an hourly basis. I’ll just quote back to her one of the texts that went viral this summer, courtesy James Baldwin in a 1968 interview with Esquire:
“The story isn’t in yet, and furthermore, I don’t believe what I read in the newspapers. I object to the term ‘looters’ because I wonder who is looting whom, baby…How would you define somebody who puts a cat where he is and takes all the money out of the ghetto where he makes it? Who is looting whom? Grabbing off the TV set? He doesn’t really want the TV set. He’s saying, screw you. It’s just judgment, by the way, on the value of the TV set. He doesn’t want it. He wants to let you know he’s there. The question I’m trying to raise is a very serious question. The mass media—television and all the major news agencies—endlessly use that word, ‘looter.’ On television you always see black hands reaching in, you know. And so the American public concludes that these savages are trying to steal everything from us. And no one has seriously tried to get where the trouble is. After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think it’s obscene.”
Lucy, my inbox, too, was filtered with those very same performative gestures from school departments, news outlets and earnestly liberal friends trying to reach out and prove to themselves, “Racist? Pas moi!” What I did was check my own contempt, re-read Frantz Fanon and Audre Lorde and George Jackson and Paulo Freire, send the money to those bail funds, protest with a mask alongside the people I love, watch Jacques Demy’s “Une Chambre En Ville” (1982) and move on with my day — with the quotidian, unseen work of dreaming and planning and loving a something beyond the carceral capitalist state. This is a being-in-the-world at odds with the anti-Black state of things in the current U.S. imperialist system — a system that ensures people who think, similarly to Kross Wallace, that nothing exists beyond the confines of the self or arbitrary borders. Such a system champions this status-quo-approved discourse as a kind of sociological triumph of free speech in the newspapers of schools worth billions of dollars — a fortune made on the backs of slaves, Chinese and Mexican and Irish railroad workers and San Franciscans forced by Silicon Valley to live on the streets. Imagined neutrality, viz. a reliance on the imaginary objectivity of statistics (which lie like hell), is on the side of the police, racism, fascism (e.g., Bertolucci’s “Conformist,” 1970).
And if, by Wallace’s definition, “left-wing outlets” include such toothless neoliberal publications like Elle, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, then my name is Clint Eastwood.
Carlos Valladares ’18
Former Arts and Life Editor, Senior Film Critic, The Stanford Daily (2015-18)
Contact Carlos Valladares at cvall96 ‘at’ alumni.stanford.edu.
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