Notes on the Incident

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“Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not […]. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

(1) Tuesday – and one celebrity (talented, female) launches a salvo of hostile tweets at another (handsome, male). Elsewhere there are political crises, causes to support, bad ideas to strike down. This is a distraction, a non-event – but we are, in spite of ourselves, interested.

(2) Person, performance, place: Who is this woman? What has she done? Where was she when it began? Are her friends or handlers attempting to intervene? Is she tweeting from a locked bathroom while they bang on the door? Do they have a plan?

(3) Do the details matter? They won’t in six months. This incident will disappear from history, drowned out by a hundred others. It changes nothing about the world. So no, the details do not matter.

(4) She says things, this woman. She is, in a word, uncivil. We are struck by how hard she tries, by how much effort she puts into being obnoxious.

(5) She is like a drunk in a rubber dinghy hurling abuse at a passing cruise ship. The ship’s captain is informed. He pulls out a pair of binoculars, sees the drunk reaching, doesn’t care.

(6) Curry-scented bitch. It sounds almost affectionate, like something one might gasp out mid-orgasm or murmur while stroking a partner’s hair. One might wear it on a T-shirt or have it tattooed on one’s lower back. Scene: after a night spent serving with glory in sapphic wars, a young woman holds up two fingers to her friend’s nose. “Smell that. Yeah. Curry-scented, bitch.”

(7) Using the b-word is tricky. The male bitch is weak. The female bitch is strong. This implies that the Platonic Bitch, that ideal held only in the mind of God, is a male-female hybrid.

(8) Then there’s the risk of contamination: how do we study vulgarity without becoming vulgar ourselves? We must stand back from the stink and keep the muck off our shoes.

(9) She carries on. There is more racial hatred. More homophobia. More misogyny. We suspect her career is over. Were she white, there would be no coming back from this. She would be cast into outer darkness after a penitential tour of talk shows. But she is black. The rules are different. She may yet survive.

(10) Later, much later, she apologizes. I was angry, she says. “I had to remind him that no matter what he thinks of himself, the world still sees him as other. As they see me.

(11) And there we have it. It was always about her. We return to our lives, our news feeds and TV shows. We drop our children off at school. We pick up books from the library. But through it all, in the background, she’s still speaking. I’m persecuted, she says. You should feel persecuted too. I am insanely talented. You don’t deserve to share the air I breathe. I’m sick. I have been infected by whiteness. You are all stupid sheep. Buy my new single. Then leave everything at the foot of my throne and get the fuck out.

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