Where does it say in here anything about being black? I suppose I might have missed it but in posting this I still dont see anything about him being black.
This week’s episode of The Glenn Show
deals with the killing of Tyre Nichols. John and I invite the sociologist and former cop Peter Moskos on to get his perspective on what went wrong in the encounter between Nichols and the five Memphis police officers who killed him. The exact circumstances are still unclear, but all three of us agree: Nothing Tyre Nichols did could justify what happened to him. There’s nothing ambiguous about it. It was a horrific crime, and his family deserves to see justice served.
But there is the crime and there is the aftermath. In the following excerpt from this week’s episode, John and I discuss Nichols’s funeral, which brought out a familiar cast of characters. As eloquent as some of the speeches were, the entire affair came off to me as a spectacle, a parade in which each of the high-profile speakers and attendees arrived in order to reprise the old song and dance and to make sure the TV cameras captured them doing it.
I assume all of this happened with the consent of Nichols’s family, and I would not criticize them for memorializing their loved one in whatever manner they wish. But the presence of the cameras, the political celebrities, and the old rhetoric transformed the event into something both greater and lesser than an act of mourning. “Tyre Nichols” will now join the litany of names recited whenever a black person dies in an encounter with the police, no matter the circumstances. Perhaps he deserves better than to fade into yet another name on the lips of yet another entrepreneur of grief looking for yet another moment in the spotlight.
GLENN LOURY: John, did you see [Tyre Nichols’s] funeral?
JOHN MCWHORTER: I listened to it, yeah.
What did you think?
I thought it was quite a spectacle. Vice President Kamala Harris was there. The mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, was there. The mayor of New Orleans.
Quite simply, if the person murdered were white, none of those people would've been there. And that angered me.
There wouldn't have been a national broadcast on cable news and on radio of the funeral either.
All of that is a statement that what killed him was his color. And I think that's a willfully simplistic analysis, and all of them were buying right into it.
The funeral was broadcast live on cable networks MSNBC and CNN, but not on Fox News. I shifted around, this was in the afternoon on Wednesday. Why was I watching cable news in the afternoon on Wednesday? It's a long story. Let's not go into it. But when I noticed that the funeral was on, I thought, yeah, I probably have a professional obligation to watch this thing. And it went on for over an hour.
Sharpton gave a eulogy that was very passionate, eloquent, I must say. Powerful. He invoked Martin Luther King Jr. because we were in Memphis, and that's where King had been killed, and he invoked the mountaintop speech. “I've been to the mountaintop, I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you,” this kind of thing. And Sharpton likened himself to King indirectly by pointing out he was a climber, too. He's on the mountain, too. He hasn't quite gotten to the top, but he's following in the the good fight. Sharpton is the civil rights leader for black America of our time. I think that that point was underscored.
He is? I don't think of him that way.
Benjamin Crump, introduced by Sharpton, gave a long speech in which he did the lawyer's thing. Sharpton introduced Benjamin Crump as the “Attorney General of Black America.” Michael Eric Dyson was there, talk about people with three names. Sharpton pointed to Michael Eric Dyson in the audience, calling him the “Socrates of our time.” I watched this spectacle unfold, and I had two thoughts. John, please tell me why I'm wrong.
One was, this is a performance, a scripted enactment. I could have almost written the script before it even happened. This was a show. No disrespect intended. No disrespect intended to the family who were burying their loved one who had been brutally murdered by police. Really, no disrespect intended. But I watched our vice president at that gathering, and she was playing a certain kind of role, and it was a certain kind of dramatic enact. And we're really good at it. It put on a good show. It sent chills up my spine. It's in a black church. Everybody is [shouting] hallelujah, and the cadences and the intonations and the evocations, they were all really quite familiar to me. And they were, at some level, comforting as I got wrapped into this narrative about oppression and struggle and race. I thought it was a show.
But I'm gonna say this. I consulted my wife about whether or not I should say this in public, and I'm gonna say this. Three days ago, she and I entertained ourselves one evening by going to Amazon Video and digging out Spike Lee's Bamboozled.
That was one his lesser efforts. And I've seen every single one of his films. I did not know what he was trying to say, but I remember it very well.
So the plot of it is that there's an ambitious black script writer for a TV network who wants to get ahead in life, and he comes up with the idea. “I know what I'll do. We need a hit show. Here's my hit show. We're gonna reenact blackface, minstrel show-like characters, and we're going to play that card. We're gonna play the blackface minstrel and draw an audience in that way.” And Spike Lee uses that as a device for plumbing the ambition, authenticity, identity, the commercialism of the media, the sort of amorality, and whatever. I'm not a movie critic, I'll just leave it at that.
But in so doing, filmically, he has to capture these images. So I know, for example, how you make blackface, because you burn the cork, you mix in the water, you have to put something on your face to protect the [skin], cocoa butter or something, before you put the blackface. I know about these items that people would keep in their homes, where they would have a mammy or something, or about these posters and adverts. This is from the earlier period of Jim Crow: the Negro with the red lips and the big eyes bulging and the Stepin Fetchit, Amos ‘n’ Andy, that's all been brought back.
And I could not get out of my head the thought that there was a way in which that—God, this is horrible. It's horrible. But I just said, this is a coon show. There's something almost undignified about it, John. God help me. I watched the enactment and I thought people are going through the motions, and especially in virtue of the fact that Al Sharpton was in the chair.
I'm not a big fan of Al Sharpton. And Benjamin Crump, author of the witness fraud of the Trayvon Martin hoax, was running the chair. The Reverend Al Sharpton, his National Action Network were the organizers. They thank local people for bringing them in. And you got the sense that this is a traveling road show. As Peter [Moskos] says, there will be another such incident. And when it happens, we're gonna enact another such ritual. I couldn't help but think that this is grist for their mill. This is part of what it is that keeps them going. There's a kind of almost ambulance-chase dimension to it. And I'll stop, because I've already gotten myself into enough trouble.
But I was deeply depressed, in 2023, by the ease and deftness with which this “white supremacy has done us wrong, and we black people struggle under the boot weight on our neck, and it's 1963 all over again” was projected across cable television to the nation. “The civil rights expression of our time.” I was dismayed by it, frankly.