We’re all in this thing together.
Or so we are told by celebrities, politicians and every third TV commercial. It’s the lullaby with which America soothes itself every time these shores are attacked. That’s why Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, saw long lines at military recruiting offices and millions of dollars pouring in to the American Red Cross. Because Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Because we were all in this thing together.
But we weren’t, a point driven home just two years later when rioting erupted across the country — Detroit, New York, L.A., Beaumont, Texas — in defense and expression of, and resistance to, white supremacy. White rioters in Mobile even crippled production at a shipyard critical to the war effort, critical to this thing we all were in together.
So in this pandemic era, one is disappointed, but hardly surprised, to see noisy protests against stay-at-home and social-distancing orders serve as platforms for our racial hypocrisy. Which brings us to last Thursday in Lansing, Michigan, where, for the second time in two weeks, the statehouse was under siege by protesters promoting the anarchistic idea that government has no right to govern, that closing businesses and asking for social distancing in a public-health crisis amounts to “tyranny.”
No, it’s not the economy, stupid, ruined as it is and as frightened as people are of losing their homes and businesses. If it were just the economy, the protests would not be nearly all white. Who suffers more in a downturn than people of color? If it were just the economy, there would have been no Confederate flag, no sign threatening to lynch lawmakers. If it were just the economy, there would have been no tactical gear and guns.
There were plenty of both as a raucous crowd of protesters stood nose to nose with state troopers, screaming into their faces, demanding access to the House floor. The officers wore protective masks in line with medical guidelines. The spittle-spraying demonstrators did not. Yet there were no injuries and only one arrest, for a squabble between two protesters.
Imagine if a similarly armed, similarly behaved group of Muslims had descended on the capital. Would they have escaped with such benign results? That’s going to be a No.
Donald Trump tweeted afterward that the armed white mob were “very good people.” Would black protesters have enjoyed presidential praise? This is the same Trump who thought Colin Kaepernick an “SOB” because he quietly took a knee during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality, so that’ll be another No.
And we’re all in this thing together?
Tell it to Cpl. Rupert Trimmingham, a black soldier who, a little over two years after Pearl Harbor, could only watch as German POWs dined in a Louisiana restaurant from which he was legally barred.
Tell it to Wander Cooper, a black woman who, as that Lansing mob was crying over how oppressed they are, was seeking justice for her 25-year-old son, Ahmaud Arbery. In February, the Glynn County, Georgia, man was shot and killed while out jogging after two white men saw him running and chased him down, thinking he looked like a robbery suspect. They have not been arrested.
Yes, by all means, let’s wash our hands and wear our masks, keep social distance and look out for one other. But don’t be fooled by this latest attack on these shores. The lullaby is still only a lullaby, only the old sweet song of an ideal America has never quite managed to make herself believe.
All in this thing together? No.
We’re all in this thing, but that’s about it.