The Wikipedia page for the Boston Tea Party has an entire section solely about the destruction of the tea. White men, some disguised as Native Americans (not out of respect for the Native Americans, btw; scapegoats are made, not born), looted a ship and destroyed some tea. I don’t mean to teasplain the Boston Tea Party to you. For years, it was one of the “fun” sections of U.S. history classes because it occurs in the middle of terrible trade negotiations with Britain and everything was the Stamp Act.
I want to go back to something real quick: I said “white men” above and while all lives matter (hashtag “nonsense”), in the case of 18th century America, it’s the white men who matter because women and black people were property. And they weren’t members of the coterie of rioters who took two seconds to brainstorm a political act of dumping tea into the harbor. (If anyone tries to explain to me that the Boston Tea Party was a plan long in the making I will open my mouth to laugh and never stop laughing until I die, mouth still wide open with a rictus smile.) Benjamin Rush, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence (no, not that white guy; the other white guy), ironically argued that the tea itself carried within it “the seeds of slavery” to Britain. Tea-drinking became unpatriotic in this country until the South discovered sweet tea. We like to think on the Founding Fathers as these mythological and ideological giants with wooden teeth and ragged wigs but they were just dumb men in boats. There’s that painting of George Washington crossing the Hudson (that’s a river, right?) or maybe it’s the Delaware look: all you need to know is he’s in a boat on some water. You’ve seen this picture I know you have and he’s sort of standing and pointing the way forward with his nose but gurl, there are only two directions in which one can cross a river and it’s either forward or backward. “Go that way!” George points. “WE KNOW,” say the rowers.
Our country, America, was literally built because white looters looted an entire continent of its black people to do the work of assembling this nation (i.e., everything except worrying about how much cash the master was rolling in). And before that, white Englishmen and French dudes and sure, Germans, why not, and absolutely some Vikings — a rainbow of white people; a rich tapestry in shades of vanilla — looted land away from the tribes already living there. Remember how Olde Timey colonists argued that the land was better tended under colonial hands because the locals weren’t doing anything with it (even though it was Native Americans who taught agriculture to the invaders)? And yet I’ve had a hole in my downstairs ceiling for approximately 14 years and no one has come to fix it and colonize our house. It’s probably because we’re white.
Our country was also built on riots and protests — specifically, the American Revolution, which is just a protest with a better tech-savvy teen as the spin-doctor, but also that Tea Party business which is the sweet spot of both rioting and looting.
By white people. White men.
(Oh, but real quick, and because maybe one of you has read this far and is about to scroll to the comments to teach me history: Women colonists were politically active in their way, too. There’s a fantastic cartoon, published in Britain in 1775, titled A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina. See right below this parenthetical.)
White people love two things: Owning people (black people, children, Asians, women) and taking things that aren’t theirs (this country, that country, a whole bunch of other countries, and Hawai’i). Wait, we also love making black boys gladiate for scholarship money. Oh, and we LOVE eating outdoors, where the bugs are. There’s always that nightmare moment, when meeting friends for brunch, where the server says, “Would you like to eat indoors or out on our patio?” Because everyone wants to eat in the fresh air so common in cities where restaurants are built on streets that cars exhaust their way to and fro on. (“Up and down, up and down/I will lead them up and down/I am feared in field in town/Goblin, lead them up and down.”) Oh, we also love making rules, saying they are for everyone, and then only employing them against some ones. All lives matter, yes, but some lives matter more, or differently, or we’re more willing to give those lives — white lives — more of the benefit of the doubt than, say, a black man birdwatching.
“He had drugs in his system,” someone solemnly told me about George Floyd. Okay. I have drugs in my system, too. I break my nightly fast with some Zoloft, some Klonopin, and something I can’t remember the name of for my manic depression. I also smoke weed, which I think I’m not supposed to say anymore, so this will be the last time. Not because of the legality or illegality of cannabis, but because there are racial overtones to the way we describe a plant that has sacred and medicinal power for the Native Americans who were already here. I am privileged to even have psychiatric care, but my doc is younger than I am and active, so he prescribes a lot of things like “exercise” and “activities” and what I want is a brain that slows down for just half a moment. “So I can breathe,” I almost wrote, until I thought better of it.
White men made things like atom bombs and concentration camps and, ironically, very tall cans of iced tea. Black people brought us Dr Shirley Jackson, a theoretical physicist; and pacemakers (invented by Otis Boykin); and added a richness to our music — color, texture, tone, and true ache.
We are rioting and we are protesting because for too long in this country White Men have made it impossible for those who are not White Men to live full lives with the full complements of safety, security, respect, and love. Imagine being a large black man for 15 seconds: whether you actually are or not, in your mind you know that you make other people very afraid. And it happens when you’re a large black boy. And it happens when you’re just plain black.
Another thing white people love to do is re-translate the past so as to assuage some of the guilt that is rightfully white people’s own, their own, their own (“because it is bitter, and because it is my heart”). So, back to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution: that looting and those riots were justified. When Colin Kaepernick simply took a knee, that was the highest disrespect to ever happen in the history of this country that practiced a cruel form of slavery (“There are uncruel forms?”) for far longer than was cute and kept Japanese American citizens in concentration camps. White rules weigh differently than others’ rules, it would seem.
OH. And. Another thing we love (we’re busy little bees, aren’t we? Take a break, white people! You’ve earned it) is starting fires in black neighborhoods and then try to say that black people are starting those fires because it’s not a riot without a fire and a broken window and those protesting in Minneapolis weren’t burning and breaking enough so some enterprising white police officers said, “We’ll help!” And they did. And they blamed it on those rioting and protesting the murder of a man who fine, had drugs in his system; and who fine, maybe did some not great things in his life. I regularly embezzled money from the Skippers Fish n Chips I worked at in Medford, Oregon, in my early 20s. I thought VERY hostile thoughts about a person taking too long to descend the stairs at the Metro only to discover they were blind. Each of us is the most beautiful thing in the universe, and each of us has done something we either deeply regret or someone else judges to be very wrong. Up until homosexuality was finally made legal and all students had to take Gay not as an elective, but as a required course, my very existense was illegal. And like I said, I’ve had my fair share of drugs in my system, too.
Two final anecdotes:
1) When Joe Bevel and I were driving cross-country (btw, I don’t have a driver’s license), I got stopped by TWO separate police officers within 15 minutes because I was on a road that I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be on yet. It was very early morning, so essentially dead night, and not only did I get out of my car to approach the second officer who stopped me (I had to ask him where the turnaround was to get me to the exit to get off the highway), the first cop just called me an idiot (in a delightfully grating Midwest accent) and didn’t even ask to see my license (which, again, I do not have) or registration (which I think we had? It was my dead mom’s truck and she had dementia so who the fuck knows). I got to drive the rest of the way home with my brother, illegal the whole way, and I was safe. (I’ll also never drive cross-country again or travel anywhere farther than 1 hour away.)
2) Zach has his Old Complaint, a gastrointestinal issue that remains an Unsolved Mystery to this very day. Last month, Zach had his worst attack yet, and he had been moaning and crying out in pain so loudly that someone called the police to do a wellness check on us. (I want to break in here because you might be thinking, “Mike, why was Zach crying and moaning and screaming–” did I mention screaming? “–for so long; how could you sit through that and read The Portrait of a Lady you monster?” and I’ll tell you: Zach actively doesn’t want help at those times; he wants to be left alone. And it’s been going on for several years now and I am sort of used to it. One of the first mornings Joe Bevel lived with us here in Maryland, Zach was having an attack but it was more of a moaning/groaning sound and Joe thought, “Um.” Because to Joe Bevel, it sounded like Zach was having some Private Alone Time with some adult-style documentaries, and not that Zach was experiencing waves of discomfort and nausea.) The police came, and once they saw we were two just-past-middle-age white men, we were fine. They left. They asked if we wanted an ambulance, which we politely declined because I ran the numbers real quick and we were not then, nor are we now, millionaires.
All lives actually do matter. It’s not nonsense, like I said earlier. And that’s why we’re protesting and rioting: we can’t say that all lives matter until we start treating all lives as if they all mattered. As if each was the most precious resource we have. As if losing one of us is losing all of us. “Oh,” a professor says in the play W;t, “it’s an allegory of the soul!” And it is.