Kimberly Jones is gonna be famous. Filmmaker David Jones interviewed the former Atlanta bookseller and young adult author about the protests that erupted across the country after George Floyd's brutal death, and the video of her remarks has gone viral, shared on social media by LeBron James and Madonna, among others.

If you've not already seen Jones drop some knowledge, stop now and watch. I'll wait.

How Can We Win www.youtube.com


Jones argues that during civil unrest there are “three types of people in the streets." There are the protesters, who care about what's happening in the community. The rioters are often anarchists who are angry and want to “fuck shit up." Then there are the looters, who are just there to take TVs. She thinks “what" rioters and looters are doing is less important than “why" they're doing it.

JONES: Let's ask ourselves why in this country in 2020, the financial gap between poor blacks and the rest of the world is at such a distance that people feel like their only hope and their only opportunity to get some of things that we flaunt in front of them all the time is to walk through a broken glass window and get it. They are so hopeless that [...] in that moment when the riots happen and they present an opportunity of looting, that's their only opportunity [...] We need to question [...] why are people that poor? Why are people that broke? Why are people that food insecure, that clothing insecure, that they feel like their only shot is walking through a broken glass window?

This reminds me of Les Miserables where all that stands between Jean Valjean and starvation is a glass window in a shop filled with bread. Valjean was punished severely for violating the social contract, but arguably a country where people were so poor and desperate had already broken that contract.

Americans of any race aren't conditioned to empathize with poor people. We romanticize criminals like Thomas Crown, a bored millionaire who stole priceless paintings. Art theft is, well, art. But we find stealing out of desperation repugnant. Americans are also obsessed with the Horatio Alger myth. The poor -- especially black people -- should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps." Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama succeeded, so shut up about systematic oppression. Jones ain't here for this.

JONES: Let me explain something to you about economics in America [...] We must never forget that economics was the reason black people were brought to this country. We came to do the agricultural work in the South and the textile work in the North [...] Right now, if I decided I wanted to play Monopoly with you and for 400 rounds of playing monopoly, I didn't allow you to have any money. I didn't allow you to have anything on the board. Then we played another 50 rounds [...] and everything you gained and earned was taken from you. That was Tulsa. That was Rosewood. Those are places that we built black economic wealth, where we were self-sufficient, where we owned our stores, where we owned our property. [White people] burned them to the ground.

It's both shameful and illustrative that most white people were unaware of the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, massacre until it was dramatized on "Watchmen." White mobs descended on the Greenwood district, at the time a black community so well-off it was known as "Black Wall Street." Property damage was estimated at $32 million in today's money. About 10,000 black residents were left homeless. They destroyed more than 35 square blocks and murdered as many as 300 people.

The Memorial Day massacre started because a white store clerk accused a 19-year-old black man, Dick Rowland, of attempted rape because he tripped while entering an elevator and touched the arm of a white woman, who screamed like a common Amy Cooper.

Just two years later, a white woman in Levy County, Florida, claimed she was assaulted by a black drifter. Several hundred white people searched for the imaginary black assailant and burned down almost every structure in the black community of Rosewood. These were state-sanctioned race riots, and the results were far worse than a looted Apple Store.

Jones continued the Monopoly metaphor:

JONES: Every time that [white people] don't like the way that you're playing or that you're catching up or that you're doing something to be self-sufficient, they burn your game. They burn your cards. They burn your Monopoly money. Then they say [...] “Now you catch up."

But the only way to “catch up" is if the collective wealth is shared, and that's where the psychological warfare begins. Black people who bust their ass and make it into elite institutions are dismissed as “equal opportunity hires." You can play American Calvinball but “how can you win?"

White people -- not just in the South but even in liberal bastion Portland, Oregon -- have insisted to me that there is a “statute of limitations" on slavery and that no one alive now owned slaves or was a slave. Yet these people could only afford the down payments for their homes in once-black Portland neighborhoods because of inherited wealth. Their grandparents worked and prospered during the worst of Jim Crow. Their parents thrived during redlining and predatory lending. They themselves work at tech firms that just can't seem to hire black people.

How can you win?

JONES: You can't win. The game is fixed. So when they say, “How can you burn down the community? How can you burn down your own neighborhood?" IT'S NOT OURS! WE DON'T OWN ANYTHING! Trevor Noah said it so beautifully ... There's a social contract we all have where if you steal or if I steal, the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation, but the person who fixes the situation is killing us.

Black people have been killed in the streets and no one cared. Black communities have been razed. And white people lament the loss of a Target. The social contract isn't just broken. It never existed.

Then Ms. Kimberly Jones dropped the mic.

JONES: As far as I'm concerned, they could burn this bitch to the ground. And they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.

There is a still chance for equality, but we need to enter into a real social contract, one that America will honor and not just black people.

Read Kimberly Jones's book I'm Not Dying With You Here Tonight.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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