The last of the rain hits the pavement in waves of soft violence. The drops gather into puddles or merge into streams, rushing headlong for the gutter. Meanwhile, I flip pages in my window seat, enjoying the storm-sweetened night. I love a good thunderstorm. They’re rare in Los Angeles. The smell of positive ions and wet dirt mix. It refreshes the air. The night feels kinda electric. Or maybe I just feel that way after reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. The chapter “What We Hunger For” just gutted me, left me split open to the world, desperate to understand our propensity for ugly.
Setting the book aside, I jot down a note. My thoughts come easily. I’ve been working on a bottle of red wine. The words pour out of me, lubricated by crushed grapes. I feel calm after I see my thoughts written out on the page. There is an emptiness growing in the night. It’s the sadness of instant nostalgia. Or maybe that’s the wine. The storm just ended and already, I miss the sound of the raindrops. Life is so fleeting. Yet, this persistent passing of time lends beauty its value. Thankfully, nothing lasts.
The classical radio station brings me back to my body, back to the here-and-now. The music is beautiful, but it’s no rainstorm. It’s just a pale imitation. Plus, I think it’s what draws the stranger to my window. I feel his presence before I see him. When I turn my attention from my notebook there he is…
There is a strange white man at my window.
I live in a basement apartment in a building that’s a short block from Venice Beach. The windows open out onto an alley that runs parallel to the boardwalk. You get used to a parade of kooks crawling past. Occasionally, if my windows are open, like tonight, they might toss me a passing comment. But the beach hippies, homeless wizards, hula hooping goth girls, and drunk German tourists almost never stop to talk with me. Unless they’re terribly lost, or really like the color of my hair. (It’s aquamarine.)
My windows are at street-height. He squats down to get a better look inside of my place. (Actually, it’s my cousin’s place. I’ve been crashing here while he’s on the road.) The white man with the staring problem is inches from me, just on the other side of the aluminum screen. All that separates us are rusty, bent iron bars.
But the white man is not looking at me. Instead, he’s looking past me. Like I’m invisible.
It’s well past eleven o’clock at night. What the hell does this mayonnaise-looking motherfucker want?
We meet eyes. I nod at him and assume he’ll walk away. I’m wrong. Instead, he hovers there, a haunting figure at my window.
“…Yo?” I say to him, expecting him to scurry away as soon as he pops out of whatever weird moment he’s having.
“Hey! Just looking at your place…” he tells me in a friendly sing-song of a sofa salesman. “I’m just that kind of guy who likes to look into windows to see how other people live. I’m curious like that.”
Well, jeez, mister, isn’t that neat? I have an idea: why don’t you fuck off? This is what I’m thinking. But this dude’s either stupid drunk, flying on who-knows-what-combo of street drugs, or bent on a bad one on hallucinogens. Or, maybe he’s just dangerously lonely. Whatever he is, he wants to talk. I want nothing to do with him. But I also don’t want to piss him off. I definitely don’t want homie to come back for more tomorrow night. It’s like John Wayne once warned the Indians, white people can be persistent. And I like to have my windows open. Have to be smart about how I play this one.
I hear myself say, “Yeah, there’s not really much to see. There it is. You’ve seen it.” I sound like a teenager trying to get off the telephone without saying goodbye.
I wonder how this strange white man would feel if our roles were reversed. I wonder if he’s even considered that. We all know that both he and our local law enforcement would trip the fuck out if I was in the alley, standing at his window, staring into his home, because, you know, I’m just curious. But for him, this is not a concern.
“It’s interesting to see… y’know? How you live. How much does this place cost? I like how this is — this place — it looks cool. This would be a good place… for me,” he says, eyeing my cousin’s place like he’s casing the joint.
Here we have a bored white man who’s walked up to my window, interrupted my work, and now, he’s staring past me like I don’t exist, declaring my home interesting, and he’d like me to help him figure out how he can have this all for himself. Ain’t that some shit? I should laugh in his face. But suddenly, it’s so clear. It’s like if Dickens was from Detroit. I’ve just been visited by the Spirit of White Privilege.
He’s in his mid-twenties; he still has the rhythm, clothing, and apparently, the mentality of a boy. He expects answers from the world. But it’s fast approaching midnight. Wearing a tank-top, tourist beach shorts intended to make him look like a surfer, but instead he looks like an easy mark for street crime. He has a baby-face, and looks like he escaped from a 1930s gangster movie. It’s the fullness of his cheeks. Faces seemed fuller in 1930s films. The shape of his gives you the sense he’s not from this time. He feels old, but looks young.
“So what’s the rent?” he asks me, point blank.
“It’s my cousin’s place. He’s on the road, so I’m like watching the place — you could say I’m subletting. But I — ”
“What’s that mean, sublet?”
“It means you rent a place for a short-term from someone who’s renting the place; but I don’t know what his rent is,” I say, hoping he’ll get bored of me and wander away.
“Is your cousin white?” he asks without segue.
“What? Is my — well, he’d say he’s Italian,” I answer, almost out of instinct. “What makes you think he’s white?”
“You look mixed. I can usually spot that. But, really… it’s that Blues Brothers painting,” he says.
His answer is so matter-of-fact. Yet, he smiled in an odd way as he casually told me he can see I’m mixed, it’s more like he can see my mother’s whiteness somewhere in or on me and that’s why he’s talking to me. At me. That’s who he’s talking to. Does that make sense? It’s how it feels.
“The Blue Brothers is a white movie?” I ask.
He never answers my question. Instead, the strange white man at my window shifts gears; it’s sudden, unexpected. His rhythms are jarring. I still can’t tell what drug he’s on.
“Have you noticed how out here they try to shame you for being white? Like, they want you to feel bad, to shrink you down, and make you apologize for being white?” he says, certain that I have also noticed this rampant mistreatment of white people in Los Angeles.
“I don’t know about you, but I ain’t never gonna apologize for being white. I’m proud of what I am, just like you’re probably proud of what you are,” he says, finishing his sermon on the persecution of white people in America.
Oh shit… You would think if he wanted someone to pity the poor white man with him, I would not be his target audience. But here we are. Approaching midnight. This is white privilege at its finest.
Maybe I should tell this dude that I write articles with titles like “Kill All White People!” and “How to Overcome the Murderous Fear of White People.” But then again, where’s the fun in that?
“White people are being shamed for being white, who’s doing this?” I ask, innocent as a newborn lamb.
“This whole state! Everyone’s brainwashed. They think being white is a bad thing. They make you apologize for being white. For being how God made you. It’s not right. They’re wrong about all that white privilege talk,” he says, ready for an argument.
“Oh, yes. White privilege, I’ve heard of that stuff,” I say. “More and more people are talking about it.”
He’s getting worked up, “Out here — people — they’re brainwashed. They want gays to be married, and immigrants to get everything you and I get, and make white people be all weak. And they think they can use the media to get everyone to go along with this. I’m from South Carolina, and it ain’t like this where I’m from.”
“No, I hear it’s not,” I say, trying to bury my sarcasm somewhere a Southerner won’t look. “What brought you out here? You a tourist?”
“I’m a minister. I travel this great nation of ours to preach the word of our Lord and Savior,” he proclaims like he’s doing the world a favor.
And there it is. Of course, that’s his drug of choice: he’s high on Jesus. Awesome.
“Lots of folks, they go all over the world. They want to see exotic places, when our country is enormous — it’s filled with exotic places. It’s important you travel. See the world. But you should see America,” he says.
I listen to him, wondering how deep into his weirdness I’m willing to wander. It’s hard to gauge where knee-deep is when you’re talking about crazy.
“The thing is, you see the truth everywhere when you travel. Everything’s different. But it’s the same, y’know? You see how these people out here, for them, the only religion these people like to make fun of is Christianity. You see how the only book they like to make fun of is… the Bible. They try to dismiss the truth, but you can’t. They just make my job easier. The media — they have their Satanic plans — they try to run their agenda, but you can’t deny the power of Jesus Christ,” he concludes.
Every time he says Jesus I grow more bored with him. But I keep listening. I want to understand how he makes sense of the world. It doesn’t seem like anyone really thinks this shit. Until you meet them. But he does. Hell, he’s an advocate.
“I’ve been to sixteen states, preaching in the service of the gospel. And what most people don’t know is: this country is like fifty countries all united as one. Every state is different. They have different ways of living. You learn new things when you travel in this country. And that’s why it’s easy for me to see how people can be brainwashed. It’s so big, and you don’t know what it’s like for the other people,” he says, as if he isn’t even aware of what he’s saying.
“This is nice.” The white man at my window switches gears again, suddenly, without provocation. It’s like he just heard the classical music all at once. He’s moved by it — that is, after the sound of his voice dies away and he can hear it. “This — what you’re listening to — it’s real nice.”
“That’s Handel.” I tell him.
“Yeah. It’s real nice. …Hand-dull? Huh. I need to get a radio. Listen to music like this — it’s good to help you think, y’know? It’s very beautiful,” he says, losing himself for a moment.
“That’s why I listen to it,” I say, silently amused that I’m introducing this proud white man to the best of his heritage. Apparently, he’s missed it, thus far.
“It seems like this music is good for you. For your mind. For your body. It’s good that you listen to this music. This will help you think,” he says, explaining to me like I need his help. Thanks, weird white man.
Part of me pities this guy. We only have the one life, and it so fleeting. He wastes his looking for the Devil’s fingerprints on the culture. He harangues strangers so that they be more like… who exactly? Jesus? Is he wasting his life fighting with strangers for Jesus? I hope that if this guy hears what he’s saying, he might stop, and say to himself, “Holy shit! That’s ridiculous — that doesn’t make any fucking sense… What the fuck is wrong with me?!” (Doubtful, I know.) Instead, spurred on by the certainty of his whiteness, he finds Satan everywhere he looks.
“Y’know, these satanic messages that the media spreads, and the people believe? It’s like I was telling you about — it’s all so layered, it’s hard for people to see the truth. But it’s always there. Like, this place — Snapchat…” he turns from my window and points at the modernist building across the alley, Snapchat’s new beachside compound on the Venice boardwalk.
He raises his voice like he thinks Snapchat can hear him. “They are in the business of narcissism. They encourage materialism. They want women to act like whores, and for men to debase themselves. It’s a business of sin. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s young… but it’s sin. There’s a subtle message you miss, unless you really pay attention.”
“Yeah, I have trouble with that. I often overlook Satanism,” I say, flatly.
I don’t know how much further down into his crazy I can descend.
“You’re smart — you just miss the obvious. The word — computer — you know how Hebrew letters are also numbers, right? Well, if you plug the word computer in and do the math, the number value is…six six six.” he says, certain that my mind will be blown. My mind is not blown. It remains very un-blown. But I’m polite, so I nod.
“Really, so ‘computer’ translates in Hebrew into the number of the beast?” I ask. “That’s bleak.”
“It’s everywhere. Take Mac computers. You probably have a Mac — you look like the type. Next time you open it, look at it for a second. The apple logo. It has a bite out of it.” He nods, expecting that the truth is dawning in my mind.
“What do you think that bite out of an apple is referencing? What first couple tasted the fruit of darkness? Yep. Do I have to say it? Now you see the truth. Apple computers are satanic.”
Finally. Now he’s making sense. No, I’m just kidding. But it’s a fun amusement park ride of logic. He spots my eyes light up. He mistakes it for interest. He thinks he’s finally sold me.
“Here. Write this down. I want you to go to these websites and just read what they say. Read it all for yourself,” he waits for me to raise my pen. I make a bet with myself about the websites.
As he lists them, I fight back my smile. But I just won my bet. Although he doesn’t mention him by name, he wants me to check out Alex Jones. If you don’t know him, Alex Jones is the PT Barnum of the Fear the Future online product-pushers, the ones who earn big bank from paranoia. To call him a journalist is… kind.
A white modern muscle car pulls into a parking spot behind the Snapchat compound. After the car door slams shut, the white man at my window is momentarily distracted. A very big black man unfolds from the driver’s seat and gets out of the white muscle car.
The white man at my window stares at him, curious, his head does that puppy dog thing; it sort of falls sideways.
“Are you a football player?! Did you used to play football?” the white man at my window yells across the alley. He sounds like someone let a kid guzzle some shots of whiskey.
“Yeah, I used to play,” the black man says to no one in particular.
“What team did you play for?” he yells back, from my window.
“And now, you work here at Snapchat?!”
“Yeah,” the black man sounds as if he just said all the words he wishes to say tonight.
“Do you think Jerry Jones is evil?” the white man at my window asks.
“I have a lot of thoughts on that man.”
The white man wanders away from my window, “He’s a millionaire, right?”
“Multi. He’s a multimillionaire,” the black man explains.
“He is? He’s a multimillionaire? Wow. Do you think Jerry Jones is evil?” he asks.
I use the question of whether Jerry Jones is satanic as my best chance to escape the conversation. I step away from my window. As I open a fresh beer in the kitchen, I can hear the Spirit of White Privilege railing against modern life, trying to sway the former football player.
If I were to draw a cartoon of white privilege it would be this guy. A straight white man, emboldened to feel that he’s right, that he can decide what’s right for others, that he’s naturally powerful, that other people need to recognize this, that he expects to be heard, and listened to, to always be considered, to always be respected, and he generously expects to help wayward minorities like me realize what a good thing we have in the white man’s culture — and to better ourselves with things like classical music. What a dick. He is the image of self-assured entitlement, wrapped in flesh and motivated by the idea that the world should thank him for bestowing his whiteness on such a dark and messy place.
I should laugh at myself: I got my wish. I better understand our propensity for ugly. But equally, I do not think this white man’s angry, arrogant view of the world will be with us much longer. If you really listen to the words of white privilege, the worldview is far too foolish, too close-minded, too ignorant of others, for it to outlast this century. It must cheat to survive. It’s based on a lie. It draws all its power from the past. And the Internet will kill white privilege.
If you judge it on its merits, judge it by its preachers and salesmen, the ones who advertise it to the world, like this dude, this Spirit of White Privilege that visited my window, the whole idea of keeping white privilege alive and well is a hard sell. Since we’re all online, there’s nowhere for white privilege to hide its ugly side. The corruption of the world from the idea of whiteness is now self-evident.
Which leaves the Spirit of White Privilege to wander in alleyways, in the dark of night, looking for a friendly ear, hoping to find its way back to a better time for white people (like, Detroit in the 1950s). It’s a sad sight, indeed. Thankfully, nothing lasts.
So long, white privilege. You will not be missed.
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