Scholar Saidiya Hartman states that “care is the antidote to violence”, meaning that care can be applied to remedy the complications of violence. To this, Davina Ward, a past student of this course retaliates that, “violence can exist as care”, and supports that these opposing concepts are one and the same. From this tension, I was challenged to reflect on experiences with care and violence in this course. I agree violence can exist as care, but more precisely, I find that care can be often used to disguise underlying violence.
Care, while not always, can act as a deceitful fraud. While there are many things that I have learned through the semester, many works have enlightened me about the insincere duality that care can present. In the true sense of the term, to care means to express concern or interest for something or someone. It is the authentic supervision and guidance that one can express for another person or group of people. From this, care can be appraised as a beautifully selfless and well-intentioned concept. And yet, as I have continued learning this semester, I have had the epiphany that care can sometimes be used to conceal violence that had been administered. This misleading motive of care has troubled me, as I have always believed in the uplifting and wholesome definition of care. This realization was a reminder of the societal flaw that allows people to get away with dishonesty, selfishness, and corruption. Through art, literature, performances, and more, it has been revealed that people can sometimes claim to act in the best interest of others, and yet their actions lack the true empathy and understanding needed to tend to people in need.
In opposing care, violence is when a person or group uses force against another. Typically, this word has a negative connotation alluding to physically, emotionally, or verbally harming another being or group of people. Through this semester, one reiterated concept was that violence is often administered by groups that feel superior to another group, and therefore threaten or act aggressively towards a group that they have deemed to be inferior. In Joseph Roach’s 1996 performance “Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance ”, he addressed the concept of violence by claiming that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg. 41). With this, Roach references the idea that violence is often performed by a group of individuals that condescends another group as subservient, unworthy “waste”. Through this course, I have been shown many examples of violence that has been administered by government officials and organizations onto specific populations that are patronized and abandoned following detrimental storms. In these examples of violence, government officials claim to be “doing everything they can” to help the people in need, while in actuality this was a lie. These government officials and organizations were using a falsified sense of care in order to conceal the true violence that they were guilty of.
The film When the Levees Broke directed by Stan Lee exposes one instance of care being used to disguise violence. Lee follows the events before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 hurricane that devastated the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Following the horrific tragedy that the storm presented, the helpless residents of this city looked towards the people that were supposed to provide them with care; The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, and former President Bush. In the film, Lee included a short segment from President Bush’s first public response to Katirina in which he states, “Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives”. And yet, this speech was given seventeen days after Katrina struck and hundreds of lives were already lost. He insisted that he would provide any necessary care that was needed for the residents of New Orleans, and yet, his lengthy delay in response could insinuate that this care was untruthful. In the film, one victim called out that after “Two, three weeks into the game the president takes responsibility”, in response to his long overdue speech (Lee 2006). Lee further reveals the ingenuine care that FEMA exhibited to conceal its violence against Hurricane Katrina victims in the storm’s aftermath. It is the self-proclaimed mission of FEMA to support “citizens and emergency personnel to build, sustain, and improve the nation’s capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.”. Despite this, many victims of the storm argued that this organization left them abandoned, vulnerable, and with a false hope that help was soon to come. This was seen as FEMA repeatedly told the victims that buses, food, water, and medical personnel were coming to assist them, and yet it took days before this help arrived. They offered a false sense of care that they were not true to, and falsely published that they were actively helping the victims. This was an act of violence; they exploited the people in need, and did not truly care for their well-being.
From the many works that displayed the events of Katrina and its unfortunate aftermath, it is clear that Katrina victims felt as though this care demonstrated by both FEMA and President Bush was insincere and dishonest. The care should have begun sooner to evacuate the residents of New Orleans and prepare for the storm; the care should have arrived immediately after the storm resolved when thousands of people were crying out for help. The falsity of care was demonstrated simply by its delay. It is this fraudulent care that exposes the true violence that government officials and organizations administered to the helpless victims of Katrina. It is the role of a governing body to protect, care for, and assist all of their people, and yet, none of this was accomplished following this storm.
And why not? This question gave rise to speculations about the systemic discrimination of certain races and economic classes. New Orleans is a complex city with a multifaceted identity; rich in culture and diversity in some areas, but also challenged by poverty, crime, and stereotypes in others. Unfortunately, these social and economic challenges are often looked at by my government organizations as profitable prey. Author Timothy Brezina alluded to this downfall in government systems, and referenced the inexplicit violence that occurred in New Orleans during Katrina’s aftermath. In his examination, he explained the perversity theory, or “The idea that government assistance creates perverse incentives, and makes people helpless and dependent on the state, has a long history in Western society”(Brenzina 2008, pg.25). New Orleans was vulnerable to this theory as a result of their struggles both before and after Hurricane Katrina; they were led to be dependent on a government that proved to be covertly ill-intentioned. Especially with the storm, Brezina explained how this theory “has been used before to deny aid to disaster victims, and its application to evacuation-related failures appears to represent a novel extension of the argument”(Brenzina 2008, pg. 27). This pattern of government behavior is dangerous as they are able to withhold help from those that need it the most, those who are often entirely dependent on their assistance. As many New Orleans residents were reliant on these governmental systems, this tactic could have been utilized by government institutions in order for them to gain a sense of power and authority, all while concealing the violence they were inflicting upon a marginalized group. Unfortunately, this may be the answer to why the US government did not truthfully care for these victims.
Outside of Hurricane Katrina, care was also used to disguise violence following Hurricane Maria’s destruction of Puerto Rico in 2017. The wake of this storm left the city of Guaynabo flooded with debris, and the people with very scarce resources. Artist Jhoni Jackson depicted the events and aftermath of this storm through 23 tarot cards, and explained what each card was referencing. His twelfth card was titled “La Ayuda”, or the help, and outlined former President Donald Trump’s mocking attempt to assist the city after the storm. Jackson quoted a resident’s opinions on this visit in explaining “When he came here, they took him to Guaynabo to a chapel; not much had happened there. He went to the prettiest corner of Guaynabo. He came here and instead of giving us food, he gave us paper towels. It was like a joke to him.” (Jackson 2018). Trump visited in order to provide care to the victims of the storm, and yet, his mockery of throwing paper towels at the victims was taken as a gesture of violence. This direct affront offended many, as his “act of care” did not demonstrate any true empathy or concern. Therefore, similar to Katrina, a false sense of care was used to conceal violence taken against the sufferers of the storm.
Despite the underlying violence following Hurricane Katrina and Maria, there have been contradictory examples of honest and well-intended governmental care for storm victims; one example was after Cyclone Fani, a storm that devastated the city of Odisha, India. Prior to this storm, India’s government authorities took extensive measures to warn residents of the impending danger. They prepared hundreds of cyclone shelters and evacuated over one million residents. They deployed thousands of volunteers, healthcare providers, and military personnel both before and after the storm, and thus minimized the fatalities and tragedies of the storm. This vulnerable state experienced an abundance of profound care. The genuine care that the government demonstrated was not delayed, deficient, or for the purpose of self-promotion; there was no institutional violence that suspended their aid. They set a precedent of care for others to follow.
Spiritual leader Dhali lama quotes “If we are sincere in taking care of others, if we protect their lives and respect their rights, we’ll be able to conduct our lives transparently and that is the basis of trust, which in turn is the basis of friendship.” He emphasizes the beautiful relationship that can develop when genuine care is administered. Furthermore, he suggests that care should not be administered with an expectation of benefits in return. As the care provided for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and Maria opposed this interpretation, I have been challenged by the idea that a falsity of care exists. To counter this disheartening concept that many governmental systems have exemplified, I expect to be more critical in examining claims of care that could be doubtful. It is important to recognize and challenge this ingenuine care to create a society of equity and kindness. Overall, through the works of this course I have been exposed to the duality of care, and from this have developed an appreciation for the precedents of care that uphold the term’s beautiful and empathetic connotation.