Last year, I wrote about my experiences at Coachella, how unprecedented growth has pushed it beyond demographic, where culture clashes arise. Those create moral and ideological challenges, the micro-aggressions add up, and eventually someone’s treating you like shit because someone else treated them like shit, and you treat someone else like shit to feed the cycle. Read it here:
I think Coachella is the best festival in the country. They do a great job in every category. I don’t blame them for this problem. The only thing I can think of is being really nice and hoping that contagion overtakes the mean contagion.
I had a lovely weekend one at Coachella actually, but like last year, I experienced another line cutting situation that resonated.
Earlier this year, I watched Get Out with two separate audiences of rich white people (Boca and Telluride). I’d already talked to black friends about it, and read every piece I could find, but there wasn’t really an exit poll of white people’s fresh takes having left the theater, so I made a point to talk to some on my way out.
Coachella traffic was epic this year. We drove all day, and then arrived to an hour-long check-in line at our house. Everyone was tired, hungry, and in need of a bathroom.
An SUV pulled around trying to cut in. I walked out of my car (pretty sure this is on my friend’s Snapchat) to politely ask him what the fuck he was attempting.
40-something-year-old former high school basketball player white blond guy who went to Cornell and now runs a hedge fund but also wants to be a cool dad so invests in music-tech startups that allow him to get artist passes at Coachella for his wife (whom he cheats on) and kids, who sit beside and behind him respectively: “Oh dude, it’s crazy I had to drive all the way around, I’m just trying to get inside.”
“I know. We did the same thing. Every car in this line did the same thing. We all have to wait. Please go back around.”
“No way man, I’ve been waiting forever, not gonna go back.”
Back inside, my friend driving is aggressive and nearly hits him when he makes his move. It’s officially on, the fake social niceties out the figurative and literal window. We’re locked in, if we move, our back wheel will hit his front bumper. “Come on man, please back up, you don’t want to mess up your car.” He‘s undeterred. The car behind us honks and yells, “I got his license, I’m calling the police.”
We could touch each other through our open windows. I notice the wife and kids cover their faces, and the wife shakes her head. I say to him (also on Snapchat):
“This is why everyone hates white people.”
“I don’t care.”
The honking and my getting in and out of the car drew the attention of the traffic cops, and the guy finally drove off. All the drivers and passengers around us cheered. We truly banded together to kinda beat white privilege…for a second…kinda…
This guy didn’t hate us. He wanted us inside. He did not wish us ill, nor think less of us. He wasn’t crazy either.
He just cared about getting inside more. And we had something he wanted, which he felt entitled to.
He envied our position in line. And his family was ashamed of his performance in comparison to mine, which made him feel even worse.
He had to do something about it. He had to take our superior position for himself, and show his family he was capable of improving beyond the instituted limits.
Jesse Owens and James Baldwin fans already see where I’m going with this.
There’s hate out there. And there’s craziness. That’s for sure. It’s not going away anytime soon either.
But just like hate and insanity didn’t motivate this guy to cut in line, they didn’t motivate Get Out’s Armitage family. A deadly combination of narcissism and shame allows white people to commit evil without remorse, nor even second guessing. The ends justify the means, and their family comes first. If they can, they must.
The rich white people whom I watched Get Out with told me of a horror genre film about a racist family. Like People Under the Stairs or Last House on the Left, a classic get out of the haunted house story with a crazy villain of the racist variety.
The Armitage family was a calculated form of evil and crazy. And of course racist. But an extreme, unrealistic caricature. Get Out is either an abstract cautionary tale or pure fun and thrills that also starts a conversation on the important issue of racism in our country.
The rich white people whom I watched Get Out with did not see themselves in the Armitage family. The Armitage family was crazy. Grandpa lost his mind when Jesse Owens defeated him, and he took the rest of his family down a path of revenge against black people.
Grandpa Armitage didn’t hate Jesse Owens. He hated that Jesse Owens had something he wanted. He envied Owens. He wanted to be Owens.
This is the phenomenon that Get Out teaches us about. It’s the same one James Baldwin and Raoul Peck show us in I Am Not Your Negro. When white people want something, historically more than any other group of human beings on earth, they decide they will have it…at all costs…however elaborate or morally bankrupt the attached actions may become.
This is the phenomenon of the Other. The Other can be an exciting new influence on one’s life, whose influence and resources one can grow from, or the Other can be an obstacle preventing one from reaching a goal.
White people’s reaction to the latter has been repeated throughout history.
Black girls dance better than white girls — “twerking is slutty.” White girls adopt it, and it’s the hottest dance craze.
Baggy pants are for ghetto drug dealers. White guys start doing it, may I present you “Skate Culture” and “Streetwear.”
When I Googled “cultural appropriation” a 2016 article in the Huffington Post educated me about the recent practice of white guys like Justin Bieber wearing dreadlocks, which originate from African-American culture, which has caused some debate and controversy around the academic set.
Get Out is an extreme, but also an archetype. The archetype is systemic racism, and it scales. It’s not always mind control, body snatching and murder, it can just be cutting in line, or stealing someone’s dance moves. It’s not only racism, but any evil derived from the mishandling of coveting that which is not yours. Get Out is a template by which you can apply many transgressions. That template can apply to any human being. It just so happens that, historically and currently, it mostly applies to white people.
And you don’t have to hate anyone to be racist or evil.