Tuesday, January 06, 2015


There have been brunch protests. They involve black people and non-black allies going into posh brunch places, speaking for a few minutes, then leaving. (From the video I saw, it's approximately as disruptive to brunch as when a live band suddenly starts playing at a coffee shop. No waffles, it seems, were harmed.) Gawker commenters are discussing whether the place anti-racists really want to target is upscale NY restaurants, whose patrons are (the commenters' assumption, ahem, not mine) progressives, and not the predominantly white, working-class establishments where one might (again, paraphrasing the commenters) find racists, cops, racist cops. That line of argument... makes me very pro-protesters.

Because when I first saw something about this, I wasn't sure - it sounded like hipster performance art. Hating brunch is cool, not because brunch is racist, but because it is - for lack of a better term - basic. I mean, this even comes up in an early episode of "Girls" - the Lena Dunham character is assuring her (also-white) on-again off-again dude that she doesn't want a guy to take to brunch.

But taking a broader view, the percentage of people avoiding brunch because they think they're above it is tiny in comparison to those who are avoiding it because it's expensive, because they have to work when it's brunch time (perhaps... at a brunch-serving establishment), because they have family responsibilities, because it's not a thing in their neighborhood, etc. The demographic brunching at these places... the Gawker commenters don't quite have it right. It's not that the customers aren't racist - it's that they probably aren't resentment-racists. It's a safe assumption that they're of the demographic that identifies neither with a young black man shot by the cops nor with the cops.

Protesting at brunch - and not, as the Gawker commenters suggest, a white working-class hangout - is a way of challenging the all-too-common view that systematic racism is upheld by the white people who, all told, benefit the least from (again, for lack of a better term) white privilege. Rather than addressing the GOP set, these protestors are talking to the GOOP crowd. Doesn't seem like a bad idea.


Sigivald said...

Seems like a bad idea to me, in that it's pissing people off to no good end.

I'd say the odds of someone in such an establishment being "oh, wow, I now have so much more sympathy for innocent black people oppressed by cops" rather than "this protest is stupid because these people annoyed me and wasted my time and got in my face" round to zero.

I put it firmly in the "makes the protesters feel good, does no good and probably harm" camp.

Which makes it basically like almost all modern protesting.

Phoebe said...

The thing I'm most curious about is which form of pre-modern (or postmodern!) protesting you'd find less objectionable.

In all seriousness, though, protests can be annoying, but that's sort of the point. This one seemed... not all that annoying. A protest that shuts down a major train station, say, may be for an incredibly worthy cause, but is also preventing people from getting to work or caring responsibilities. A protest that destroys a small business... same idea. If the damage is too great, people who support the cause may well end up sympathizing with those trampled in the process. This protest seems, like I say in the post, not all that different from when you go to a coffee shop and discover, just after you've paid, that some (possibly terrible) live music is about to begin. If the whole thing really takes 4 and a half minutes, it's not such a big deal.

And I do think some people will feel a bit squirmy when asked to confront injustice while in the process of enjoying a leisurely, high-end restaurant breakfast. For the remainder of their brunch, they very well might talk about Garner, etc. Not everyone will react the same way, but the people who proudly declare that a few minutes of civil disobedience interrupted their brunch may not be convinced by other means either.