Mary Grabar

Why does The New York Times believe they are in a position to tell the winner of a presidential election that he has to “prove” himself, as they did with this headline on Monday, “Sarkozy Wins the Chance to Prove His Critics Wrong”? To them, becoming president is small potatoes compared to the chance to fulfill the task they set before him, i.e., to prove himself to unnamed critics who call him “Arrogant, brutal, an authoritarian demagogue, a ‘perfect Iago,’” according to the lead of the story. This harsh assessment emerges in part from Nicolas Sarkozy’s reference to youths in the Paris suburbs, who are prone to setting cars ablaze, racaille, which has been translated as “scum” by the New York Times (but as “riff-raff,” according to my dictionary).

Oh, the insensitivity!

New York Times approval or not, the French people, especially blue-collar workers and women, elected a man who called rioters something other than the liberal-approved terms, “disadvantaged,” “downtrodden,” “underprivileged”—or, perhaps, pyromania-impulse-control-challenged.

Personally, as someone who grew up with rioters all around me in Rochester, New York, in the 1960s and 1970s, I think even “scum” is much too weak a term to apply to those who joyfully destroy private property and beat up innocent people. I thought this when I was seven, when they beat up Otto, the man who lived in the apartment above his corner store. With saintly patience this middle-aged man picked out the penny candy that I carefully selected for the nickel I had earned for walking the kindergartner to school—my first paid employment. I haven’t changed my mind about those rioters. And I would still call those who ran down the halls of my high school smashing glass and beating up teachers worse than scum. My French lesson that day was interrupted by being locked in the classroom, hearing the principal over the p.a., and then stepping over broken glass and blood, as I rushed home terrified. And I won’t tell you what I think of the rioters who beat up to near death Reginald Denny, the truck driver who happened to drive onto the wrong street after the Rodney King verdict. What’s worse than the rioters are the defenders and jury who let the rioters go virtually unpunished. Or my teachers who used rioting as an opportunity for more “racial dialogue” in the place of the things I

should have been studying in high school, like Latin or philosophy.

Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at Her writing can be found at