Magazine article Insight on the News

Get Real: The Evil 'They' Are Merely a Scapegoat

Magazine article Insight on the News

Get Real: The Evil 'They' Are Merely a Scapegoat

Article excerpt

Who is "they?" I've been brooding for years about this murky, fear-inspiring pronoun -- held responsible for so much evil in the world -- but thought it was on the way out. I was wrong. It's back.

Welcoming in a populist spirit the extension of American political debate to morning television, daytime TV talk shows and even late-night celebrity shows hosted by comedians like Arsenio Hall, I have been feeling out these programs as a portent of America's political future. After all, Arsenio Hall and Phil Donahue, according to public opinion research people, are more trusted by the American population than almost anybody.

So I was disconcerted during a recent Arsenio interview with Denzel Washington, who plays the title role in Spike Lee's new movie, Malcolm X, to hear the return of the dreaded, malevolent they." Now Denzel Washington is an excellent actor, not only more engaging than Spike Lee but seemingly more reasonable. Washington is not a hater. He announced early in the interview that his goal in playing the late Malcolm X was to "heal." But asked what caused the Los Angeles riots last spring, he objected to the word "riot" feeling that what happened wasn't a riot but just the reaction of people "who'd had enough." And when it came to locating the prime mover of the events of L.A., he ascended to the heights.

"They," people way up there (Washington made hand gestures to convey altitude), were intent on sowing division among normally loving, caring, mutually affectionate racial groups and keeping them "at each other's throats." Left to themselves, blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians would live together harmoniously on terms of reciprocal respect and cooperation. But "they," people who were "making money out of this" (Washington referred to the profit motive twice), want to keep them separate, fighting each other.

I grant freely that Denzel Washington is a well-meaning, good-hearted man. But, with all due respect, I would like some clue out of him as to who his "they" is. Who in God's name does he think made money out of the L.A. riots? Wherever the terrible 1960s riots took place -- and you can visit the locations city by city -- the districts have never recovered. They're still wastelands. Who made money out of that?

Who makes money out of racial antagonisms even when riots don't erupt? The Chase Manhattan Bank? General Motors? Sears? What's in it for them? Racial frictions seem to most people to increase the cost of doing business, lower the level of commercial activity and drag down the economy for everybody

Denzel Washington and Arsenio Hall are very high-income people -- high enough to remind me of the old Hollywood joke: "I'm against this greedy, avaricious, rapacious society, but this has nothing to do with my three-picture deal with Paramount. …

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