Ebola is this week’s major topic, and the prospect of ebola tourism, as exemplified by Liberian ebola patient Thomas Duncan, who this week became the U.S.A.’s first known ebola fatality.
Alone among commentators (so far as I know), I ponder the onomastic consequences, taking as my starting point the transformation of Ferguson, Mo. shootee Michael Brown into Mike Brown.
The cultural and psychological interest of the [Michael Brown] case, whatever the facts turn out to be, is that it exemplifies what I once, in a column, called “The Romance of American Blackness.”The full Radio Derb playbill:
A great many black Americans — no, of course not all, but a great many — along with a great number, probably a greater number, of white liberals are absorbed in a romance, an imaginative fiction populated by idealized villains and heroes. The villains are snarling malevolent whites: the heroes are helpless innocent blacks.
To make the romance work, the black person in any encounter with white authority must be infantilized to pump up the innocence factor, as with those press photographs of a baby-faced Trayvon Martin, which turned out to be several years old.
That apparently is what’s being done with Michael Brown. Brown was in person pretty forbidding: 6 foot 4 inches, 292 pounds, and, on videotaped evidence, not averse to throwing his weight around when a convenience store clerk caught him shoplifting.
To keep the romance intact, that hulking, aggressive reality needs some cosmetic work. That’s why the Ferguson protesters now call him Mike Brown. Thus, for example, a performance by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on the evening of October 4th was disturbed by protestors chanting “Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all” and unfurling banners reading “Mike Brown 1996-2014.”
To judge from the footage on CNN the protestors were all young white people. Apparently they were all close friends of Brown, close enough at any rate to call him “Mike” instead of “Michael.”
If the Ferguson protests go on much longer, I predict that Brown will be further infantilized down to “Mikey” or “Micky,” to make him really unthreatening, a really plausible victim. Perhaps we shall begin to hear that it wasn’t after all a box of cigarillos he stole from that convenience store, it was a bag of Skittles.
And if ebola patient Thomas Duncan gets taken up as a victim of white racism for the next spasm of anti-white hysteria, I bet the protesters will be calling him “Tom.” Or perhaps they’ll go direct to “Tommy.”