Hello, so as not to crowd the blog with 8 blog posts, I’ve condensed them all into one major blog post. I believe they function similarly to a commentary on the semester. Please enjoy.
- Earlier in the semester, Beth (re)introduced the poem The Gun Joke by Jamaal May. The two opening lines of the poem are “It’s funny. She says, how many people are shocked by this shooting & the next & the next & the next” The first time I read this poem, I was intrigued by the thought of an ongoing expectation of mass shootings. She first introduced the poem to me nearly 4 years ago during my freshmen year & the poem has remained relevant. We have gotten to the point in America where it feels like there will always be a “next” mass shooting. It brings into focus the glaring failure on the part of the government to do something about it. The call for stricter gun laws are reminiscent to the calls for help from people devastated by Hurricane Katrina’s wrath. It seems as if the government has failed in both these respects. The United States is a place where it is completely legal to own a gun and where natural disasters are completely unpreventable. The problem arises when the gun owner (not necessarily the owner either) has the ability to kill 58 people. It arises when the citizens of New Orleans were led to believe that the levees guarding the city from floods would hold, and they don’t because they were never able to do that & it was known. It arises when there is a “next” shooting & when bodies are left in the street after FEMA has gone. While the government continues to shrug its shoulders.
2. “Violence is the performance of waste.”
I think it is interesting to try to explain why I’m not sure what this statement means, even after completing this course. The language is frustrating and intriguing at the same time, because like any language it is open to interpretation. What can be thought of as violence? What can be thought of as waste? Does performance mean action? Is everything that is wasted done so in an act of violence. Does it matter? I think I tried to approach the statement philosophically, that is likely the problem. Philosophy requires things to be definite, the language is not open to interpretation, what is said is meant in one way and explained in that way. In philosophy, the red wheelbarrow is always just a red wheelbarrow, in literature it could be communism for all anyone knows. That is both the difficulty and the draw to English and interpretation. The closest thing I’ll ever have to an answer as to what the statement means is my own interpretation. The greatest thing in my opinion that can be wasted is life/potential. How is it wasted? Both senselessly and without meaning. What’s the first thing that comes to my mind that fits into both these categories? Gun violence.
3. Dr. DeFrantz lecture was very informative and entertaining. On of the statements he opened with was “I do believe that we can be better. I don’t intent to be naïve with that.” That is a beautiful statement. As soon as he said it, I was reaching for my pen and trying not to forget it. I think there is such a rawness and vulnerability in expressing hope. Personally, I think in writing the previous sentence, I just figured out an issue I’ve personally had with being hopeful. It’s scary. There is a safety in cynicism because it is easier to be prepared for when things go wrong as opposed to let down. I learned a lot from Dr. Defrantz’s lecture, but I think that that opening statement is one of the things I will continue to contemplate and carry with me for a long time. I say contemplate because I believe that the very first thing that will help us be better is knowledge. We need to understand and fully comprehend, not where we are necessarily failing, but where we can improve for the betterment of all. I just wanted to draw attention to that statement and idea in case it escaped notice behind all the other interesting things Dr. Defrantz said.
4. Watching Beyoncé’s “Formation” video was as close to a religious experience that I’ve ever had. I do not say that lightly. I got goosebumps. Real-life goosebumps. I very nearly cried. Everything in the video was deliberate in expressing what it means to be a black girl/woman in the United States. There was a scene that likely seemed out of place, it was a shot of a man eating from a bucket of crawfish. That might not mean much to other people, but for me it took me back to being 8 years old in Mississippi trying crawfish for the first time. The shot with three women standing in a wig shop reminded me of every time I stepped into a beauty supply/jewelry/clothes/hair, wigs, and weave store anywhere in a predominately black neighborhood. The natural hair, the references to police brutality, the confidence and swagger throughout the entire video is something more than just a couple scenes thrown together for a successful singer. It was an unapologetic ode to the experience of black women, and it was beautiful. In the context of Dr. DeFrantz’s lecture I think that it gave an example of how black women tend to be sexualized in their dancing. Watching the video for a second time, it was clear that Beyonce was performing; not for mass audience but speaking to the black audience. Dr. Defrantz asked everyone to write 2 things down about the video. I wrote the following “What happened after New Orleans?” This speaks to the concept of memory and forgetting. Assuming this was a reference to Hurricane Katrina, Formation was released in 2016, 11 years after Katrina, hearing the song for the first time, the question went completely over my head. I had actively forgotten Hurricane Katrina in relation to New Orleans. The second thing I wrote was that after looking around the room I saw only three people dancing, myself, Tree, and Dr. DeFrantz. We’re all black. That was the difference between myself and the rest of the audience. I’m still working on what I think that means.
5. The language of the law is beautiful, but only because it is so well done, so intricately, and decisively written, that one must admire it. It is a labyrinth of meaning and intentionality. Earlier in the semester we read about the 13th amendment, which is the one that “abolished” slavery. The problem, or interesting thing about it is that it didn’t completely abolish it & it would very technically be legal to have a slave today. It reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The language here “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” suggests that slavery is legal as a punishment. What does one do with that knowledge? Hope that it’s deemed cruel and unusual by the 8th amendment and therefore inapplicable? Here’s to hoping. Congress.gov offers some examples of where the 13th amendment is not applicable. An excerpt reads
“Thus, under a rubric of “services which have from time immemorial been treated as exceptional,” the Court held that contracts of seamen, involving to a certain extent the surrender of personal liberty, may be enforced without regard to the Amendment. Similarly, enforcement of those duties that individuals owe the government, “such as services in the army, militia, on the jury, etc.,” is not covered.”
I think that it is completely reasonable to believe that forced service in the military under the threat of punishment and the law is unethical. However, the language of the law prevents it from being deemed that in the terms of law. This is just one of the ways that the performance of the language of the law is fascinating. I’m not going to get into it in this post, but I would also suggest looking up the definition of murder and the significance and implications of the word “unlawfully” found there.
6. Throughout the course, I am not sure if being a menstruating woman during natural disasters was discussed. I know for a fact, we discussed dogs and their place in natural disasters, but I am not wholly convinced that we discussed women. Typically, after natural disasters, aid is flown in not immediately, but as soon as possible in regard to safety. A woman on her period needs hygienic supplies just as much as a child needs diapers. During one of the videos we watched in class about the aid being provided to those in need, diapers were one of the first things mentioned after water bottles and food. However, I did not hear pads or tampons being mentioned even once. I imagine a woman looting a convenience store after a disaster, just so that she might have a clean pad or tampon, even if there is no running water. It seems to be a performance of forgetting, or at least not acknowledging these things. An entire city under water does not stop the body’s functions. It is interesting to me that this additional survival tool is necessary for women who might have to cross borders with babies on back and blood running down their legs. Is it a gruesome picture or one of resilience? There are entire charities that exist for the sole purpose of providing sanitary items to women in the case of a disaster. Being a woman is hard work even in in the face of natural disaster.
7. Earlier in the semester we watched a video of a recording of huge oceanic waves against the window of some sort of sea vessel. The person recording seemed at ease and in awe of the huge waves pounding against the window and filling it entirely. What was missing was the expression of fear. It was astounding to me that in the face of nature’s raw power one could feel such ease. Objectivity and assuredness, these things don’t seem to be in line with what one should feel in those circumstances. However, looking back on some of the interviews from When the Levees Broke that’s exactly what some of the victims of Katrina felt. Some older participants felt that they had already ridden out serious storms in their youth and didn’t feel the need to leave. They felt safe, they had the levees and the previous experience. Then the levees broke. Safety was floating in your basement just before the flood water reached the top and experience was waiting for death or rescue. These people did what human beings do, they lean on experience and common sense to make decisions and still they became victims of one of the worst storms in Unites States history. How does one reconcile that?
8. The poem below, was written in response to gun violence in a conversation with care as the intent. I think it best demonstrates my interpretation of both the phrases “Violence is the performance of waste.” And “Care is the antidote to violence.”
The Problem with This Shooting (& the next)
(In Response to The Gun Joke by Jamaal May)
Somewhere history is
Echoed in gunshots
It is banging on chained doors
knuckles bleeding raw
begging to be let in
to be learned from
this shooting (& the next…)
to stop these bullets from entering bodies
whose years haven’t surpassed the number of fingers on their hands
to silence the haunting chorus of ringing phones heard only by first responders
the calls of loved ones seeming to whisper through each body
& maybe god is tired of draping the souls of theater patrons, church-goers, concert lovers, high schoolers, clubbers, & five-year olds across his shoulders
ushering them into the next life before they’ve gotten a chance to finish the first
& maybe the news will call the white shooter a terrorist
or perhaps that’s not so important.
Because we all know what it means when a man walks into a public place and opens fire
I catch myself Memorizing the exits of buildings, just in case, I need to escape the war-zone of
A coffee shop, the library, the grocery store
I don’t want to know what it is to be just a body on a cold floor; wet, sticky.
chest heaving trying to coax air through a collapsed lung
& I’ve never been one, to discard my rights, but I don’t need a gun
I need people
to understand that we’ve buried too many corpses over
The pistol you keep in that cabinet in the garage, in the safe in the living room, on your hip at the post office
Empathy hurts, I know
I understand heavy hearts, but know that a heart is a lot heavier with a shotgun bullet lodged in it
After every tragedy like this one (& the next)
I spend days soft, breath heavy, remembering
That I was 11 when my brother brought home an illegal pistol, put it in my hands, taught me to cock it, and finally pull the trigger
ripping through the walls of our basement
I can’t help imagining what that bullet would have done
to a ribcage
& I want to send the NRA every bullet removed from dead flesh
And have them imagine every prayer
Leaking from gunshot wounds
& mouths screaming.
God only knows just how much every
Last second amen meant