Looking at Violence and Care Through the Right Lens

Saidiya Hartman and Davina Ward have opposing views about violence and care. Saidiya Hartman says “Care is the antidote to violence” while Davina Ward countered with the idea that “Violence can exist as care.” The existence of these two sides of the argument is very interesting. There is no way to fully prove or disprove either side. Both sides made me think about examples from the course where violence and care intersect, in one way or the other. Throughout the course we have talked about violence and its consequences in both fiction and real-world events, like in Hurricane Katrina. We have also talked a lot about care and where that exists in violent real-world events and fiction. I believe that both of these claims about violence and care are correct, but only when looked at through the correct lens.

Saidiya Hartman’s claim that “Care is the antidote to violence” is a great idea to explore. Is she saying that as long as someone cares about someone or something, they are immune to violence, that they will be safe? I don’t think that interpretation can be seen as true. It could be easily disproved by any number of areas we looked at in the course. The example that comes to mind first is Hurricane Katrina. People near and far cared about Hurricane Katrina, they cared about the people of New Orleans, they cared about the city, but that did not prevent the horrible violence that struck the city in August of 2005. Nor did it prevent the violence that developed and lasted in New Orleans for the months after. We witnessed the violence from the storm and the people by watching Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke. During the second act of the documentary, we see an interview with Darnell Herrington, a resident that was impacted by the violence of the storm, and the violence of people that developed after Katrina. Darnell was just walking down the street with his cousin after Hurricane Katrina hit when suddenly he was shot with a shotgun for no reason other than that he was walking by. There was a lot of seemingly senseless violence during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, despite all the care that people around the country felt. So that should completely disprove Hartman’s theory, right? Care is not the end to violence in this situation, so she was wrong, it is not an all-encompassing truth that care is the antidote to violence. However, I would argue that Hartman’s claim could be true when looking at it through the right perspective. Going back to Hurricane Sandy, the violence could have been prevented and/or lessened through care, but it had to be the care of the right people. People all over the country cared about the people of New Orleans, but they did not have the resources to prevent the violence. However, some people did, the government officials and the Army Corps of Engineers who built the levees that failed. From the book Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, we found out that the levees built to protect New Orleans failed due to negligence on the part of the Army Corps of Engineers. They knew that the levee walls needed to be higher to prevent overtopping. They knew that the levees were not properly reinforced in many areas. Why did they allow these inadequacies to slip through during the construction? It was because of the cost. The government did not care enough to spend the money necessary to prevent disasters like Hurricane Katrina. During Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were President and Vice President of the United States. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the people in the city were in desperate need of assistance, they lost their homes, their jobs, their families, their entire lives. Despite this, the care for Hurricane Katrina’s victims and the city came very slowly. There was not enough government aid coming to truly help the people or the city. We saw that in When The Levees Broke through a number of different ways. We saw the amount of people suffering in the streets and dying while little to no help was arriving. We saw people waiting for weeks and months to get temporary homes after their home was destroyed. And all while that was happening, while the city was in ruin, garbage everywhere, George W. Bush made an appearance in New Orleans. A camera crew and government team tidied up an area and set up lights and generators to make the city look like it was close to being back up and running, minimizing any signs of damage when the president gave his speech. His visit to New Orleans came far too late, and with far too little actual help. He was there for himself, to boost his image. If George W. Bush had cared about the tragedy that hit New Orleans, he could’ve sent aid that would have prevented so much of the violence and further tragedy that occurred after the storm hit. Essentially what that means is, Hartman’s claim is not wrong, it just needs to be interpreted the right way. Care can be the antidote to violence, when that care comes from the right people.

Davina Ward’s counter to Saidiya Hartman’s claim is that “Violence can exist as care.” When considering care, violence is not something that first comes to mind. Violence almost seems like the antithesis to care. When you care for someone or something, you treat it kindly, you may try to help it, and act gently. However, when you are violent toward someone or something, you are physically attacking it, hurting it, trying to tear it down. It seems impossible to have violence exist as care, because something cannot be the opposite of itself. However, after considering Ward’s claim, it makes sense. Consider William Shakespeare’s final work, The Tempest. In that story, Prospero wields his power to inflict violence on nearly everyone in the play, excluding his daughter. The reason Prospero inflicts violence on the others in the play is because he cares for his daughter, he wants to provide her with a better life, and violence is the avenue through which he is caring. In that example, violence is being used because of care, but the violence is not inflicted on the person that is being cared for. Is it possible for violence to be used on the thing you’re caring for? I think yes. We can look at Colson Whitehead’s Zone One for examples of that. In the book, Mark Spitz is a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. In order to survive the zombie apocalypse, you have to kill zombies, even if you recognize them. “It happened every so often that he recognized something in these monsters, they looked like someone he had known or loved. Eighth-grade lab partner or lanky cashier at the mini-mart, college girlfriend spring semester junior year. Uncle.” (Whitehead, 19). This is a very important idea because it deals with death, memory, and forgetting. These zombies that Mark Spitz recognizes were once people too. Some that he loved and really cared for, despite that, he has to kill them. But that is an act of care itself. Once those people that he knew and loved turned into zombies, they were no longer really themselves, they looked like them, but they forgot who they were. Mark Spitz holds the memories of these people and cares for them, and himself. The best thing that he can do for them, and for him, is to kill them. And that act of violence is the best care that they can receive. From these examples it’s clear that violence can exist as care, but not all violence is care. For violence to exist as care, it needs to be in the right circumstances, and be used in good faith. 

Both Saidiya Hartman’s and Davina Ward’s were correct, as long as you looked at them through the right lens. Care can be the antidote to violence, and violence can exist as care. If you take the quotes at face value and apply them to everything, they don’t work as well. However, if you take the time to unpack and understand what the quotes mean, then they will take on a new meaning that can be applied in the right cases. These quotes helped to illustrate how important it is to look at things through different lenses. They wouldn’t make as much sense unless you really looked at them in the right way and unpacked them. This is also a great example of why it is so important to unpack every piece of information you can, that way it leads to a deeper understanding. Saidiya Hartman’s and Davina Ward’s claims about violence and care are both correct in their own respects, when looked at through the right lens.

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