LOOK TO THE FOOD WORLD TO UNDERSTAND AMERICA'S WHITE SUPREMACY PROBLEM (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. August 22, 2017 )

“Whether you like am, whether you no like am, the thing be say, you go still dey shake body.” — Trybesmen, 1998

Translation: We can’t help but do what we’ve been programmed to do.

Let food forever be the metaphor, and food stories the allegory. Because food alone, by its unsentimental self — before celebrity, before vanity, before its appearances in television and print — was fuel. Let it be fuel again to bring our most objectionable selves to heel, to further better ideas. Maybe this is how the expression “food for thought” was cooked. Fuel.

Fire.

The older I get, the stronger my emotional indigestion: The smallest swallow of violence may incite depression. Last weekend I purposefully inoculated myself against any news of the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. I didn’t want to know, instead losing myself in Premier League Football and Disney’s “Moana.” But the news was pervasive, crawling down the face of my computer, clawing for my ears. And because white supremacy outlasts soccer games and children’s films, eventually I was compelled to contend with the insistent images.

All those white marchers — illuminated by fury, their faces tortured into evil snarling — held my attention, until my fixation flew to less obvious details. The preppy and casual outfits of some of the marchers, politely dressed in contrast to their ferocious resentments. The weave work of the cheap tiki torches lighting their march, backyard accessories that were never designed to menace.

Even in that spectacular image of homicide suspended — a silver Dodge Charger possessed by unrefined hatred, surging with lethal intent through a crowd of counter protesters, flinging human bodies like dolls — I thought about how that moment of murder was only possible courtesy of advanced camera shutter speed. Something else seized my attention, in this picture depicting horror at its zenith: one of the tumbling victims, falling backwards to the pavement with his legs splayed was sporting red Jordan sneakers.

From my perch, the entire vignette of images from the march, mediated by the safety of distance, was a surreal sequence heightened by normalcy: violence and death literally competing with quotidian life. America was everywhere in this anachronistic event, boldly listed and surreptitiously advertised.