Since Valentines Day I have been grappling with an intense desire to write a post that expresses some personal emotions and reactions to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I say grappling because, in so many ways, it hasn’t been an easy process. The following post is soft-core political (depending on one’s perspective) and will be connecting some Roachian ideas to the shooting, gun violence, and how national identity plays a role in all of it.
WARNING: POST DISCUSSES gun violence/discourse, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, gun religion, and issues of national identity Read more
On first seeing When the Levees Broke on our syllabus for Metropolis, my mind immediately went to one of my favorite songs, “When the Levee Breaks” by the classic English rock and blues band, Led Zeppelin. Given the bands propensity for sexual innuendo, I always skimmed the lyrics and assumed that the song was just about sexual tension building and exploding based on the two main hooks: “If it keeps on rainin’ levee’s goin’ break… All last night sat on the levee and moaned…”
Taking inspiration from Schenwar’s section “Hurt People Hurt People” from Locked Down, Locked Out, I started to think about the cycle of violence we see in Butler’s Parable. When I think of violence being the performance of waste it makes me think that violence is a cause and a consequence of something being allowed to literally deteriorate or waste away. In Parable, we see things deteriorating everywhere. Homes, communities, local and federal government, families, infrastructure, even lines between right and wrong seem to blur together as society seems to waste away.
Keeping this in mind, I want to touch on the people in Parable who are affected by the violence they encounter on a day to day basis. As Schenwar points out, there is an unceasing and cyclical history of people committing violence and harm to others if they themselves have been victims of violence and harm. This is evident when we see how the poor interact with each other in Parable— the poor steal from the poor, but only because they’ve a) been stolen from before, b) have no other options, c) have never had any other options or d) all of the above. This leads to entire communities abusing and harming one another. Resentment and mistrust builds, and things seem to turn into anarchy.
I’ve been thinking about this throughout my entire reading of Parable. That’s why when Lauren thinks. “I wonder what a badge is, other than a license to steal.” I stopped reading and thought for a moment. From Lauren’s perspective, police are already in a position of power over her. Why would they need to steal from the already poor, deteriorating communities they are supposed to be protecting? Do they really have as much power as Lauren and the readers perceive? Really, what’s their damage? Is it just the mere fact that they have power over another that causes them to harm others? Or is there more to it? I don’t mean to play Devil’s Advocate (or maybe I do), but how are we sure that there isn’t violence affecting them as well?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, nor am I sure if it’s valid to really spend time asking them. But! I do think it’s valuable to look at from Schenwar’s point of view when considering the vast majority of people who are supposed “perpetrators” are also victims of violence themselves. (I also want to point out that when I’m talking about police I’m talking about the police in Parable, not real life. Although once again, maybe the lines between the two aren’t as clear as I’m perceiving!) Thoughts?
Years ago, I remember hearing about what I now know as hostile architecture. Hostile architecture is when a public space is designed to bar people from using it in ways in which it wasn’t originally intended to be used. It’s associated with a variety of behaviors like skateboarding, littering, loitering, but most notably homelessness. When I first read about it, I was unsure of its validity as something that actually happens in cities– it seemed so grotesque and unrealistic, especially since I think I first saw it on tumblr (things like this tend to get blown out of proportion on tumblr). But it’s very real. In fact, hostile architecture has gained the nickname “anti-homeless spikes.”
I was reminded of these anti-homeless spikes when I read the section about Amy’s death in Butler’s Parable. Lauren states how Amy’s family wants to “sick” the cops on the homeless in order to find Amy’s killer and she points out, “It’s illegal to cap out on the streets the way they do [the homeless]– the way they must– so the cops knock them around, rob them if they have anything worth stealing, then order them away or jail them. The miserable will be made even more miserable.” I immediately thought of those jarring stories about violent architecture intended to keep away homeless individuals that I read about long ago, so I decided to look into it.
I found a several articles that focused around the homelessness of Sarasota, Florida, dubbed “America’s Meanest City” due to its increasing legislation imposed on homeless people. This article states that the city of Sarasota suffers from chronic homelessness–its average is six times that of the national average. While many of these individuals suffer from addiction (according to the article, about a quarter to half of them do), many also have been victims of the economy who have families and children to think about. Instead of creating laws to help the homeless the laws seem more like an attempt to cover it up and pretend it doesn’t exist.
Our conversation about shelter and how we think about it when we don’t have any was on my mind as I did some research. The homeless seek shelter and help where they can find it– public transportation, on a bench under a tree with maybe a real blanket or one made of newspapers, on the sidewalk under an awning, in cars, panhandling on the streets, etc. Legislation in Sarasota has made these exact things– things that people need to do for basic human survival— illegal. Essentially, making it illegal to be homeless. The homelessness are fined, jailed, pushed even further out of the “normal realm” of everyday human existence, quite similar to how the cops in Parable “rob [the homeless] if they have anything worth stealing, then order them away or jail them.”
Two more articles with some interesting information on the anti-homeless legislation in Sarasota that I used for this blog post can be found here and here.
Original post here.
The article shared by Pam really got me thinking about the blame and lack of control felt when one is involuntarily pushed into homelessness. In Pagliarini’s attempt to explain how “learned helplessness” is an eventual learned symptom of being poor in America, he undermines the real issues at hand and continues the endless cycle of blaming the poor for being poor. In effect, he’s labeling the victims of systematic violence as the actual origin of this violence because they haven’t taken a hold of their own “control” yet.
The thing is, people who have fallen victim to foreclosure and homelessness really don’t have a lot of room to exercise their own control and agency. The mindset that these people have merely “given up” as a result of endless financial strains is problematic.
Despite Pagliarini’s attempt to set his article outside of the “Get Rich Quick” mentality, it ends up being exactly that. His article is riddled with a white privilege perspective with some classist ideals sprinkled in here and there. If we were to shove this article into Lelah Turner’s hands and say “Alright, here’s the answer to your problems. Get going!” she would laugh our face. It almost reminds me of the pee scene in The Turner House when Cha-Cha realizes the kind of life he is “destined” to live. From Cha-Cha’s perspective, as a black boy growing up in Detroit it’s as if his agency had been inherently taken away from him from day one. Ideas like “Get Perspective!” and “Achieve Success” are unrealistic and problematic to advise to people like Cha-Cha or Lelah (Cha-Cha being a black man and Lelah being homeless, both under their own kind of systematic pressure) because they haven’t had the same set of opportunities laid out for them.