It Was Always Going to End Like This

Illustration for article titled It Was Always Going to End Like This
Screenshot: NBC News (YouTube)

There comes a point after you’ve consumed enough movies to be consciously cognizant of the rhythms and cadences of them that you’re able to recognize certain cinematic tells and predict outcomes based on them. A character randomly coughs in the first 15 minutes? He has cancer—or, if it’s a Tyler Perry movie, AIDS—and he’s probably going to die a melodramatic death. A man and a woman who appear to be similar in age and physical attractiveness apparently can’t stand each other? They’re totally, definitely, fucking by the end of the flick. Someone keeps mentioning some retirement and/or pension they’re looking forward to? Guess who’s getting fired today?


Of course, good movies either avert these tropes or make the payoffs so compelling that you don’t mind the unambiguous foreshadowing. But most movies are not good. Most movies are just movies; intentionally crafted to be delectable, forgettable and disposable for an audience that mostly just wants to not have to think too hard about what they’re watching and be rewarded with the outcome they anticipated.

The white supremacy industrial system—a sentient ecosystem with its own curricula, best practices, rubrics, metrics, team building retreats, professional development sessions and economy—has a similar set of beats and rhythms and cadences and tells that are easily discernible for those intimate with them. Every once in a while, a thing might happen that subverts this trope and legitimately surprises, but mostly they work the same way their cinematic counterparts do.

Which is why those who’ve seen this movie before knew what would happen with Nicholas Sandmann. Of course his smirking and taunting face would compel the sort of people who give kids like him the benefit of the doubt to extend him that courtesy. Of course he’d be allowed space to explain himself. Of course he’d be fed the words to say while in that space. Of course he’d deny the possession of—or even the mere thought of—any sort of racism or bias or obnoxiously racist bones. Of course he’d become a galvanizing symbol for Very Serious Media People, united against the urge to “rush to conclusions before considering all available evidence.” Of course he’d be invited to The Today Show. Of course he’d refuse to apologize.

The only variant, with Brett Kavanaugh, with George Zimmerman, with Darren Wilson, with Betty Shelby, with the dozens more funneled through the White Supremacy Industrial System Finishing School, is time. How long will it take for the pay off to occur? When will the effort to humanize their misdeeds happen? Where will the narrative begin to shift? When exactly will the twist—“Holy shit! He’s a white man!”—take place? Where in the story will Nicholas Sandmann straighten his limp and reveal he’s Keyser Soze?

I’ve seen this movie already, though, so you don’t have to tell me.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Uhhhh black people and native Americans are in our own nation. The fuck is this racist bitch on about?