When I saw Mr. Rogers appear in a post on The Awl on November 9, 2016, and when I clicked and discovered it wasn’t a joke (it was about how to find and be a “helper” in tragic times) I thought I saw a deeply sweet, intense vulnerability. It seemed to match a loss of self-assurance, a new, mostly ego-free self-awareness—in real people and on the terrifying Internet—that wasn’t quite as cripplingly sarcastic as it was before. I guess it’s hard to be sarcastic when nothing can be taken for granted; it’s also hard to be sarcastic when you’re eye-bleeding mad, which I think is a cousin to this new sincerity, and worth keeping around.
(Then again, I’m just living in a new version of last week’s media bubble. Does that undermine everything I think and write and do? Yes, but I can’t stop trying to understand. That’s part of it.)
This new sincerity seems to be overwhelmingly white, because people of color have been rightly mad for ages. For nearly four years, the Black Lives Matter movement has been deeply sincere, and deeply angry. Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock skewered white liberals on SNL (their clip has 2.5 million more views than Kate McKinnon’s bizarre, heart-wrenching Hallelujah cold open) in a way that’s barely funny because it’s so real; they giggle when the white girl says “Oh my god… I think America is… racist!”
The realization is real, though late (and usually phrased more like “I didn’t realize America was this racist); similarly, this potential new sincerity is real, though late. The subway sticky notes; the circulating of this “Yes, I’ll Accompany My Neighbor” form that connects volunteers with their LGBTQ, Muslim and/or neighbors of color, covered in this Gothamist article and accompanied with the phrase “There’s a way to make people feel this now” under an image of women holding “Everyone Is Welcome” signs; the outpouring of articles describing how to give money and volunteer to make a difference—the sweetness kept appearing everywhere late last week and into the weekend.
And it was paired with real-life, angry protests across the country; hate crimes at our universities and throughout our cities; articles like “Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America” in the Washington Post and elsewhere, and David Remnick’s astonished admission, on CNN, that we are already normalizing this insanity.
Damon Young, one of the funniest writers I know, wrote “I’m Tired of Good White People” for GQ, and unfortunately, it’s not funny (it is good, though). Unlike Remnick, Young is not surprised at the tendency to normalize: he’s utterly frustrated at the fact that most white people have nothing at stake, truly, and nothing to offer except a “glib curiosity.” These “‘well-meaning’ white people” need to do more, says Young.
I agree, but I’ll add that as a woman, I do actually have a great deal at stake, and actually, every goddamn person has something at stake even though they might not know it yet, and every goddamn person needs to be responsible, now. Am I repeating everything that’s already on the Internet? Yes! But it must be repeated, because otherwise the constructive anger, the anti-sarcasm, and the new sincerity will disappear, and we’ll be much worse off than we already are.
I leave you with this actual representation of America right now (a 1994 episode of Fresh Prince), which is part of the wild machine that glorified and commodified Donald Trump and then turned him into our President, because we were content to laugh and point rather than act.