Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, November 1991
Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World, David Rieff, Simon & Schuster, 1991, 270 pp.
This book is not what its title suggests. It is not about the millions of non-white immigrants who are turning Los Angeles into a city that is no longer recognizably American. It is not about Salvadorans, Koreans, Mexicans, or Ethiopians. Instead, it is about white people; how they live, and what they think — when they do think — about immigration. For author David Rieff, a New York City free-lance writer, the waves of aliens are a looming presence that is as obvious as it is uninteresting. He does not even bother to tell us how many Third-Worlders now live in Los Angeles, much less how many illegal immigrants are on welfare, or in jail, or have babies in city hospitals.
What he does do, and he does it very well, is describe what white people think about what is happening to Los Angeles. He is fascinated to find that people who have subtle, well-reasoned opinions about nearly anything else are happy to mouth slogans when it comes to immigration. Though he doesn’t quite realize it, Mr. Rieff has stumbled onto one of the most appalling mysteries of late-twentieth century America: that people who live face to face with the imminent dispossession of European America have scarcely given the future a thought.
‘Little Brown People’
Because Mr. Rieff is not looking for immigrants on welfare lines or in maternity wards, he finds them where upper middle-class whites find them. To the oblivious Anglo, what Mr. Rieff calls the “little brown people” appear primarily as maids and gardeners. Virtually anyone with a white-collar job can afford someone to clean the apartment, and no one with a back yard need do the mowing or pruning himself. Dirt poor Third-Worlders are delighted to work below the minimum wage, and the threat of deportation keeps illegals docile.
The other point of contact with immigrants is at the ubiquitous “strip malls.” Traffic in Los Angeles is so snarled and full-time house-wives so rare that white Angelenos have taken to shopping at ugly, over-priced, but convenient mom-and-pop stores that have sprung up everywhere. Blacks are not willing to put in the 60- and 70-hour weeks it takes to run them, so white Angelenos now buy beer and potato chips from small brown people who scarcely speak English.
Mr. Rieff is startled to discover how many whites think and act as if the immigrant presence amounts to no more than this. Of course, Los Angeles covers many square miles. There are huge, ever-growing tracts of it into which whites never venture. The ten-to-a-room world of rape and gang warfare that is on the TV news every night might as well be on a different planet — even though that is where the cleaning lady lives. The brown tide laps ever closer, but so long as whites still have white neighbors, and the only non-whites at the office are janitors, white Angelenos need never realize that they are a dwindling remnant.
What happens when they do? To Mr. Rieff’s astonishment, the thinking of whites invariably glides along well-worn grooves. One runs like this: “L.A. was great, L.A. was now full of newcomers, therefore the newcomers must be great.”
Similarly, he writes of the “suspension of disbelief” that makes the following kind of reasoning possible:
If L.A. was the city most open to the new, and the new was also, by definition, what was best, then the immigration, which, whatever else it was, could hardly be described as anything but unprecedented, also had to be a fundamentally good thing, however it might appear on the surface.
After all, the United States is supposed to be a country in which everything always gets better, so immigration must be part of this perpetual betterment. And why would millions of people be coming from all over the world if Los Angeles weren’t such a wonderful place?
Mr. Rieff is also fully attuned to the contradictions inherent in coupling trendy environmentalism to trendy “tolerance” of non-white immigrants. “One of the most perplexing aspects of conversation in ecologically minded West L.A.,” he writes, “was to hear people who worried over the slightest disturbance to the ecosystem assert that as far as human boundaries were concerned, there should be virtually no constraints at all, let alone prosecution of those who were found to be in the country illegally. So sensitive were liberal Angelenos to the possibility of appearing xenophobic that they almost invariably used the term ‘undocumented worker’ rather than ‘illegal alien.’” Nor surprisingly, Mr. Rieff also finds the same defense of immigration most commonly given on the East Coast:
There was an enduring conviction, particularly among liberal Angelenos, a disproportionate number of whom were Jews, that, despite the evidence of their own eyes, the new immigration simply recapitulated the immigration of 1900; in other words the experiences of their own grandparents and great-grandparents. Typical white Angelenos preferred to believe that the new immigration was just a rerun of what had happened before, or else to hunker down into the privileged folds of their careers and private lives and insist that nothing was happening at all.
Of course, not everyone is fooled. Gleeful Hispanic activists talk about reconquering the land that Mexico lost to invading gringos in 1846-48. They already have a name — Aztlan, meaning “the bronze continent” — for the chunk of the Southwest that they look forward to breaking off from the rest of the United States. Hardly a month goes by without Mexican-American “spokespersons” demanding that the statues of white explorers and conquerors be torn down.
Leftist whites who hate the United States also look forward to the future. As Mr. Rieff puts it, “Exuberant Third World-loving activists . . . were describing L.A. to anyone who would listen . . . as the capital of a new country that they had taken to calling Mexamerica.”
Even the benighted white man has moments of lucidity:
Most Anglos understood, if only instinctively and intermittently, that what they were in fact witnessing was the de-Europeanization of Southern California, and, only a little farther down the line, of the United States as a nation as well. . .
The problem, of course, is that this is a racial question just as much as it is a cultural question, and a racial analysis of what is happening is strictly out of the question.
Mr. Rieff is smart enough to understand this and to see through the false explanations that are obligatory in a society that must ignore race. For example, many neighborhoods that remain white have taken to blocking off through streets. This is called crime prevention or community building, but the true purpose is to keep out non-whites. Many of the local “no-growth” movements that are couched in environmentalist terms are meant to keep immigrants out.
An even better example of disingenuousness is the typical talk about public schools. They have gone down hill in perfect parallel with the decline in the number of whites who attend them, but dogma forbids that this be noticed. Mr. Rieff scorns the naiveté of those who talk about how the schools have “failed” the immigrants rather than recognize that the schools have been overwhelmed by little brown children who do not speak English. As he points out, there are signs everywhere of de-Europeanization and the decline that inevitably follows, but whites must pretend that the explanations lie elsewhere.
Even when they are forced to acknowledge what is happening, they profess not to care. According to Mr. Rieff, the common feeling is: “So what if Hollywood High — alma mater of countless movie stars, from Lana Turner and Mickey Rooney to James Garner and Carol Burnett — now ranked in the bottom 20 percent of all California schools and was better known for its English as a second language program than for its amateur dramatics?”
Mr. Rieff himself has no illusions about what this means. “After all,” he writes, “nobody got up one balmy afternoon on the Capitoline Hill sometime in the fifth century and said that the Roman empire was over and the Dark Ages had begun. Had something equally important taken place without anyone quite having realized it? More and more, the answer seemed to be yes.”
Of course, plenty of people realize it. But while Mr. Rieff is contemptuous of whites who refuse to see that the brown tide is about to push them aside, anyone who notices and objects is an ignorant “racist.” For him, the ideal state of mind is to have no illusions about the imminent destruction of the United States, but to maintain a studied detachment from it all.
After a conversation with a white about the city’s transformation, Mr. Rieff writes that his informant “placed no value on what was happening.” Though Mr. Rieff permits himself a shiver at the thought, he finds that he agrees. It may be fascinating to watch it happen, but Mr. Rieff is no more concerned about the end of America than he is about the end of the Roman Empire. Once the “little brown people” start swarming too close for comfort, perhaps he will move back to wherever his Jewish forebears came from. It doesn’t matter whether America prospers or enters the dark ages; what matters is that he enjoy the spectacle without emotion or illusions.
Illusions are for little people: “When Angelenos did occasionally take a moment to think about what was going on in the city, they tended toward slogans and formulas that were “all but guaranteed to inhibit thought . . .” he writes.
To be sure. Yet only 27 pages later, Mr. Rieff ends his book with words that are a tour de force of cynicism: “We must love one another or die.” Mr.Rieff has no love for the little brown people, but he has no funeral plans either. Someone else will have to love them.