“Let Them Eat Cake...”

Dear Editor:

As referenced in my initial article, A Tale of Two Cities is a famous novel written by Charles Dickens (1859). This novel portrays in large part the mistreatment of the people by the Aristocrats and Nobility, before and during the French Revolution. In fact, their maltreatment is said to have been a major catalyst for the revolution. The causes of the French Revolution, the economic and social conditions, are frighteningly similar to what is occurring in the City of Buffalo and other major cities with a large population of Black residents occupying their urban centers, all across the United States.

 As the story goes, somewhere around 1789, Marie-Antoinette, bride of France’s King Louis XVI, was reported to have uttered, “Qu’ils, mangent de la brioche.” Or “Let them eat cake”, when informed that the people were protesting that they had no bread, meaning that they were starving. Historians have argued whether or not she actually made this callous comment. I have no intention of engaging in any scholarly debate about it. The comment interests me, because it is an illustration of how detached and clueless the “ruling” class was and is today from and about the suffering, poverty and deprivation of the people. It’s like a famous hotel heiress who was said to have replied, when she was informed that some staff had not been paid, “ Well, they are gonna have to dip into their trust funds!” Or how about, in response to the outcry and protestations of Blacks and Latinos in the City of Buffalo, about the disparity and discrimination in employment opportunities, despite it’s’ “boom” in the construction and other industries; “Why don’t you get a job!”

George Santayana (1863-1952), an influential essayist, poet and novelist said one of the most well-known and quoted sentences of the twentieth century; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Is Buffalo, doomed to repeat again and again the injustices and inequities of the past? And I wonder if so, will it be with the same consequences and results?

Joan Simmons

Human Rights Activist