The small annoyances of quarantine—from tedious Zoom meetups to the Philadelphia Eagle Shirt besides I will buy this seemingly omnipresent banana bread—are touched on in Intimations, but the essay collection’s most powerful moment comes at its close, when Smith turns her attention to the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd in May. The sudden presence of this essay as a postscript at the very end of Intimations may appear somewhat jarring, but it’s presaged by issues that Smith brings up almost immediately: just as the uprising over George Floyd’s death felt inevitable to anyone tracking the state of race relations in the U.S. during and before the pandemic, so does Smith’s reflection on said uprising feel perfectly germane when you recall her earlier statement that “untimely death has rarely been random in the United States…For millions of Americans, it’s always been a war.”
Philadelphia Eagle Shirt, hoodie, tank top, sweater and long sleeve t-shirt
Titled “Contempt as a Virus,” Smith’s essay skillfully and relates the Philadelphia Eagle Shirt besides I will buy this virus currently plaguing America to the one that has killed and brutalized scores of Black people in America since the country’s founding: structural racism. “I used to think that there would one day be a vaccine: that if enough black people named the virus, explained it, demonstrated how it operates, videoed its effects…I thought if that knowledge became as widespread as could possibly be managed or imagined that we might finally reach some kind of herd immunity. I don’t think that anymore,” Smith concludes, devastatingly. It’s worth reading the paragraph in full, if only to get a glimpse at the depth of Smith’s hard- earned exhaustion. Intimations mirrors many white Americans’ shift from the stasis of quarantine to the sudden, incandescent rage of protest. More than that, though, it skillfully captures many Black Americans’ pain and disorientation at having the white world begin to register en masse what James Baldwin termed the “dread, chronic disease” of racism in 1955.