Violence has been on my mind as of late. Perhaps it is because I am interested in it as a dissertation topic. Maybe because I see it so much, even when people tell me it’s not really there. Some images of violence are just not that obvious to many people anymore.
Some images of violence are more obvious. When I am in Ecuador, the news very often portrays very gruesome images of violence. Blood is splattered everywhere, brains are left on the cement floor, mangled bodies left for display as if to teach people a lesson. You don’t see this kind of violence for free in the US.
The kind of racial violence we see is the kind we can’t arrest people for. We call them “incidents” or “tension” or “pranks”. That kind of framing keeps us blind to the fact that race is still probably one of the most intimidating words in our limited US vocabulary. As intimidating as it is, race is probably the most politically minimized when it comes to violence.
Of course, then this naturally brings me back to love.
Like God is to the Devil.
Love is good. Violence is bad.
Love heals. Violence destroys.
You get the picture.
Such dichotomous ways of thinking stops us from seeing all that is in between. The span goes from racial intimidation to racial minimization. Race love to race violence.
The process of minimization happens in a matter of seconds: The perpetrators make a spectacle (racist themed parties, hanging nooses) and the college, the state, the nation cleans it up and calls it an “incident” or “not really a hate crime”. Like privileged parents coming in to save their children from the mess they made, different entities come in to minimize the intimidation. Minimize the action and de-racializes “the spectacle”. Sometimes by calling the act a “right” — we’re in the US after all.
So what is in the mind of those who create these spectacles as Toni Morrison calls these “incidents” (See LIVE from the NYPL: Angela Davis and Toni Morrison. 10.29.10). What can we learn from this continuum between love and violence? Or is there a fine line?
“Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Love is a process to understanding yourself. Race is a mechanism to understanding ourselves. Some people call it a construction. Something imagined. Something that does not exist. Let’s say this is true – does it not have very real effects? We all feel those very real effects. If racism could be used for violence could it also be used to understand love? Who we choose to love based on race – whether consciously or unconsciously…Who we choose to provide opportunities based on race…Who we choose to live with based on race.
But love? How does gaining a deeper understanding of race and love bring us gently back to ourselves? We discuss all these ways that race affects us but probably not in the most difficult way it could affect us – love.
So we start with violence. Racism, as Morrison states in the same discussion, is easy. Racism is used to make an “us” and an “other”. The perpetrator and the victim. The perpetrator who chooses to perpetuate violence based on race.
I believe this is what Toni Morrison is talking about when she discusses the impact of violence on not just the victim, but also the perpetrator. She says:
“There is a difference between vengeance and justice…we have to assume that if we want justice…we want punishment. We want restraint. We don’t want rehabilitation. That assumes there is something called an “other”…What impact torture and enslavement and violence has on the perpetrator…When I mention “the other” it seems to me that when you destroy somebody through vengeance and/or severe forms of justice that the real object of the pain really is the Self….So I am thinking about these slave owners…he is destroying something that is in himself…it is not that the person is an animal or soulless or inferior. If you’re strong enough , it’s the fragile personality not the strong one but the fragile almost erasable personality that can do that because there is already the self contempt and the self loathing…”
In this discussion, there does not seem to be any hint of love. Racism is used as a mechanism to maintain privilege. Could racism also be a mechanism to maintain self-contempt and self-loathing?
This almost does not seem logical. What is the point of the self-destruction? Could capitalism really be more important to maintain, could White privilege be more important to continue than love for “the other”?
On the flip side, those of us in racially oppressed groups, we may be “othering” too. Those slave owners. Those fraternity parties that have racist based themes. Those people that cry out reverse racism to maintain their privilege. We “other”. But my “othering” is not as powerful as how we have historically been othered, and disenfranchised, and raped, and pillaged, and deterred from going to school, and micro-aggressed at work…When I other people like slave owners and people who think that “ghetto-themed” parties I get told – well that was their right to do that.
No love in those situations.
To point out that these violent actions may be an act of self-loathing may be the most revolutionary act of all.
To point out that these acts may be racially violent, am I gently loving you back to yourself?
To stop you from your self-loathing?
Probably the most revolutionary act of all – to love the other by pointing out acts of self-loathing manifested in racial anger.
The sad part is that this era of colorblindness is making it so that no one sees it, making it more and more unconscious to the point where people really think that racially violent acts are justified. And the biggest joke is that it seems it is at their very own detriment. To their own self-destruction.
But this self-destruction seems to have a pay off. Privilege and money.
I don’t think there is anything gentle about calling something racially violent. But it is a start. Perhaps I am not doing it in a loving-manner. Is that even possible?
“it is so easy…racism is obviously the easiest thing we can do. it is easy to block off these so called criminals…we don’t have to be tolerant because they’re over there…but if they’re us… if we’re doing that to corral a certain behavior… in order to redeem something in ourselves that’s a whole different operation…” – Morrison, 2010
Perhaps race-workers are trying to redeem love. I mentioned in my first post when I opened this blog that to do race-work is to have great love for this work despite being called crazy, or angry, or being overly sensitive or being a trouble-maker. Race-workers distribute resources to a group of people who continue to get no love from the government, from schools, from other agencies.
The operation Morrison speaks of is of a different kind – the kind that exploded through slavery. That self-loathing that slave owners held right down to their descendants — people who believe that using racial epithets, or beating immigrant people up, or throwing college parties with racist themes is well within their rights and has nothing to do with race. This operation must have an enormous pay-off.
“I read a couple diaries, candid diaries…of slave owners… it’s really interesting because they’re not cruel. I mean they do cruel things, but they’re not cruel people. What they’re obviously doing is working out some relationship that is so damaging to them, really damaging, it is really a form of self destruction, a powerful form of self destruction…I don’t care how big the spectacle whether it was Germany in the 30’s or 40’s it is still a spectacle and it’s about one’s own self loathing and fragility that you need the spectacle”. Morrison, 2010
On the flip-side, those of us who work on behalf of disempowered, miseducated, disenfranchised groups – what are we trying to work out? I do believe that we desire a healthier more loving environment for everyone. We feel the brunt of self-loathing and wonder if we can compete with this pay-off. We may not understand why racists hate themselves so much but we feel it when you hand out your aggression, your anger, your insults through personal communication and through large-scale policy-making.
To understand love, perhaps it is necessary to understand violence. Trying to identify the pay-off for an operation of love seems to not be as apparent for the pay-off for large scale operations of oppression, violence, and subtle forms of racism of which many are not aware.
Perhaps that is the role of race-workers. To identify those pay-offs. Dissect the violence. And to continue to love.
That is race-work.
This is race-love.