“Cities are full of all kinds of people. Some of them watch ISIS videos all day long. Others read conspiracy blogs and hate-filled online screeds. Such material acts as a screen between citizen and reality; it functions like virtual-reality headsets. You slip them on and they allow you to walk into a Charleston church and see only ‘scum,’ or drive along a downtown bike lane and see only ‘scum.’ We can tighten visa laws and build our walls, but they will be poor defense against such ideologies, which are free-floating and borderless and whose goggles can be worn by anyone. Most of the terror attacks in America have been committed by Americans. (Some of the most terrifying have been committed by gun-toting Americans with no obvious ideological commitments at all, employing a different kind of mask between citizen and reality: narcissism.) It’s amazing what a narrative can make someone do. We cannot give up on offering alternative stories. Here’s one about the people of New York: we are not scum. We are every variety of human. Some of us voted for a government that caused the destruction of cities far away. Some of us didn’t. Some of us are dopers and junkies. Some of us are preschool teachers and nuns. None of us deserve to be killed in the street. We are a multiplicity of humans in an elastic social arrangement that can be stretched in many directions. It’s not broken yet. I have no idea if it will break soon—but it’s not broken yet. And here comes the rain, clearing the streets, for an hour maybe, even for a whole afternoon. We’ll be back out tomorrow.”
Zadie Smith, last paragraph of “Under the Banner of New York”—New York Review of Books, November 4, 2017—written in response to the October, 2017 truck-attack in Lower Manhattan. Smith—joined in conversation by Michael Chabon—takes the stage at Royce Hall this week.
ZADIE SMITH and MICHAEL CHABON—A CONVERSATION, Thursday, November 30, at 8 pm.
ROYCE HALL, UCLA, 10745 Dickson Court, Los Angeles.