Violence and Care – ENGL 111

Saidiya Hartman’s contention that “care is the antidote to violence” and Davina Ward’s counterclaim that “violence can exist as care” are in sharp contrast to each other. Reflecting on my comprehension with the course’s central issues and questions leads me to agree with Ward that care is not the antidote to violence and rather that violence can exist as care. ThinkING through everything that I have comprehended in this course is what led me to side with Ward’s claim. This is as course material such as the book “Zone One” and our focus on Hurricane Katrina, notably the documentary “When the Levees Broke,” demonstrates examples of how violence can exist as care. 

The book “Zone One”  by Colson Whitehead  provides an explanation for violence existing as care. This book tells the story of a plague that completely destroyed society. The novel uses the terms “skels” and “stragglers” to describe those who contracted the illness and became zombies. The skels are robust and harm as soon as they see you, whereas stragglers don’t pose any instantaneous dangers.  Mark Spitz, the main character of Zone One, works as a “sweeper”, and the duty of the sweepers is to kill skels and stragglers. As skels and stragglers are deemed a danger to civilization, sweepers commit an act of violence and kill them in an effort to save their society that they care for from these dangerous creatures. This is an illustration of violence existing in the act of care that I learned from the course. This example from “Zone One” connects to Ward’s assertion of violence existing as an act of care in regard to the armed group roaming the streets of their area, seeking for and firing at potential threats following Katrina. Moreover, Ward’s states, “one would be hard-pressed to suggest that the thought of protecting one’s community against threats is a bad thing”. Both of these examples demonstrate violence existing as care as an effort to protect communities against harm.

“Zone One”  by Colson Whitehead demonstrated another example that I learned from the course of violence existing as care in regard to “kill fields”. Whitehead stated, “word first arrived with the new survivors stumbling through the camp gates with their extravagant tales of meadows and mall parking lots brimming with the fallen dead” (pg 135). As explained in the quote, kill fields are full of dead individuals who died in meadows and mall parking lots. Whitehead stated, “the plague had finally, inevitably exhausted what the human body could endure…There was a limit to the depredations, and that meant a limit the devastation” (pg 136). The survivors gained comfort from the dead bodies in the kill fields that the epidemic was dying down. This is a representation of how survivors saw the violence of the plague, which caused people in the kill fields to die, as an act of caring for a hopeful end to their devastation. This example further connects to Ward’s claim that  violence can exist as care. 

In class we watched When the Levees Broke, a documentary by Spike Lee, which showed the heartbreaking devastation that Hurricane Katrina inflicted in New Orleans, Louisiana. The documentary showed that a large number individuals were looking for shelter from Hurricane Katrina, and were told to go to the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.  However, the center was exceedingly over populated, and the shortage of food, water, and medicine caused even more misery. Hurricane victims were led to believe they would receive care at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, but they instead encountered a lack of food, water, and medicine as well as an overcrowded atmosphere which demonstrates violence in an act of furthering their misery. Therefore, this is a further example from this course where I learned that violence exists as care. Continuing, Ward demonstrates an example of violence existing as care in regard to Hurricane Katrina as well from the film “Welcome to New Orleans”. My example connects to Ward’s example of Malik Rahim who created a health clinic and provided medical care controlled by non-medical personnel who ended up committing acts of violence against those whom they intended to assist. Ward stated “in a very bittersweet way, the clinic was doing an injustice and therefore, in attempting to provide care to people who needed it they were also performing a violence against them”. Both examples demonstrate an attempt to give care to Hurricane Katrina victims which resulted in violence.

“Zone One”  by Colson Whitehead portrayed another illustration of violence existing as care in regard to the love interest between the two characters, Mark and Mim. Whitehead stated, “it was the healthiest relationship he’d ever had, and not because they had a lot in common, such as a need for food, water, and fire”. This demonstrates trauma leading to a strong bond as Mark experienced the healthiest relationship of his life during a zombie pandemic. Moreover, Whitehead stated, “in the time before the flood, Mark Spitz had a habit of making his girlfriends into things that were less than human”.  Therefore, I interpreted that a violent plague caused Mark to appreciate the significance of relationships and to have a newfound appreciation and care for other people. This book demonstrates a violent setting of an apocalypse leading Mark to care immensely for Mim and develop a very strong bond with her.

It was challenging to think through the tension created both Hartman and Ward’s assertions. However, I ultimately strengthened through thinkING  through both of these statements, as well as by thinking through class content that taught me that violence can exist as care. Before writing this essay I thought to myself, is there a right assertion to chose? What if I chose the wrong claim? I realized that there was no “wrong claim” and that this essay was an opportunity for me to look back and think about what we did this semester, and what meaning I could make of what we did.  The meaning I have taken away from the course’s central issues and questions as well as the material I provided in this essay led me to conclude that violence can exist as care,

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