Is Care Enough to be the Antidote to Violence?

Saidiya Hartman proposes the idea that care is the antidote to violence. I both agree and disagree with this statement. Care is the antidote to violence but only when it’s paired with the actions of the general population and the government. Care without the actions of the public and politicians results in unresolved issues that continue to build causing even deeper issues for the present and future. While the public has to care and take action, it’s the people in power that make true change. Without the actions of politicians change can not occur. The public can take action to force people in power to care and take action to make change more permanent, however, sometimes this doesn’t work and change doesn’t occur. In Joseph Roach’s Cities of the Dead Circum Atlantic Performance, the second chapter Echoes in the Bone explains the idea of memory and forgetting, connecting it to the past, present, and future. During class discussions, we discussed how the past “comes back to haunt the present.” An example of this is the history of mass shootings, specifically school shootings, in the United States. Mass shootings and gun violence have been a persistent issue in the United States for decades and the government has yet to take action to prevent more from continuing to happen. The result of their failure to take action despite the pleas from citizens across the country was the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that happened on May 24th, 2022 that resulted in 22 deaths and 18 injuries. Instead of taking action after one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States, politicians offered “thoughts and prayers.” This display of apathy for the victims and citizens of the United States resulted in more mass shootings as the year continued and into the following year of 2023. In the first three months of 2023, 131 mass shootings occurred. Memory plays a factor in care and how that could be the antidote to violence. As this problem continues to go unsolved and shootings become more and more frequent, much like politicians, the general public are beginning to forget how devastating these events truly are. This leads to apathy among people resulting in less care and less action.

Throughout the Hurricane Stories course, we learned about course concepts such as memory and forgetting, violence and its connection to waste and performance. These course concepts can be found in the texts we read and the media we consumed in class. Roach’s Cities of the Dead Circum Atlantic Performance introduced the ideas of memory, forgetting, and the idea that violence in the performance of waste. Beth McCoy’s Second Line and the Art of Witness: Steve Prince’s Katrina Suite explains how Steve Prince uses The Dirge and The Second Line in his art, its connection to Hurricane Katrina and how survivors were treated by law enforcement, and how they allow us to move forward without forgetting and dismissing the painful past. We read Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith, a collection of poems that describe Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. We watched When the Levees Broke, a documentary that allowed survivors the space to share their stories and the realities of the situation and put a spotlight on the parties that failed the city of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.

The first step to determining if care can be the antidote to violence is to understand what violence is. Violence can be defined as behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. However, Roach defines violence as the performance of waste. He gives it this definition because in human societies violence is performative and always meant to be meaningful, in order to commit acts of violence “it must spend things”, and lastly because every act of violence must have an audience. During class we discussed what waste could mean as it relates to violence. We determined that waste could be a disregard of life. When believing yourself or a group of people to be better than others it allows for apathy toward other groups allowing for lives to be wasted because violence performed on them by yourself or others. We determined that forgetting the past results in violence and can be seen as waste in that context. The person or thing that violence was performed on can become waste itself. Wasting of resources was something else we determined could be seen as waste.

Just as there are many forms of violence, there are multiple forms of care. Understanding these forms of care is also important in determining if care is the antidote to violence. When researching on the different types of care I discovered two types of care, passive and active. While passive and active care are usually associated with chiropractic therapy, this essay will define passive and active care differently. The term passive care will be used in this essay to describe avoiding active harm while not taking action to remedy a situation. When caring passively, one cares, but not enough to take actions to make change for a cause or people that you care about. Active care can be defined as caring enough to take action for the betterment of a cause or group of people. To understand active care, action must also be defined. In this sense action can take many different forms. Protests, voting, calling representatives, and donations are all forms of action. These actions usually have consequences that lead to change. Passive care achieves nothing because no action is being taken to make change while active care can result in change however even when practicing active care change may not come.

Throughout the history of the United States active care has been practiced in hopes of change. On example of this was the March on Washington that happened on August 28, 1963. The March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech forced the president at the time, John F. Kennedy, to put support behind civil rights protestors. This event led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, or promotion. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed discriminatory voting practices against people of color in the United States and aimed to desegregate schools. A more recent example were the protests in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Along with the protests, when the presidential elections were held a record breaking number of Americans took to the polls to vote out Trump who introduced extremely harmful policies and took actions that did significant damage to many different communities in the United States. While the harm done by Trump and his party continues to affect us, the people of the United States demonstrated care for effected communities and used action to strip Trump of power.

Unfortunately, there are cases were both action and care from the public just aren’t enough. Just as there are instances where action from the public allowed for change, there were many instances where no action has been taken by the government even when it’s clear that the general population cares for these issues and takes actions to demonstrate care. When watching When the Levees Broke in class we witnessed as the government ignored protestors and Hurricane Katrina survivors as they asked for help. This resulted in even more people in New Orleans dying as they went without aid for days. In more recent events, more and more children are dying at the hands of gun violence, not for a lack of care and action by those in the community, but because of the lack of care and action of the United States government. While the general public cares very much about this issue and have taken many actions in an attempt to make the government care about what’s happening and take action, unfortunately, action has yet to be taken by the government to put an end to or at least reduce mass shootings and so they continue to happen.

There are some instances where only passive care is practiced and so action by the government is not taken. The fight against climate change is one of these instances. While there are some taking action to reduce the effects of climate change there just aren’t enough people willing to take action against companies and policies that continue to harm the environment. The lack of care by most people around the world has led to inaction and unresolved conflicts that continue to grow. This lack of care has already begun to effect us and will continue to effect us in the future as we continue to do nothing. As we continue down this path the past will come back to haunt the present and future resulting in more violence to life on Earth.

When considering the prompt, care is the antidote to violence, I find myself disagreeing. The answer to the prompt is no. While care is a part of the puzzle, action is the real antidote to violence. However, action can not exist without care and this action needed to be done by the people in power. While actions done by everyday people can convince people in power to care, it must be those put into positions of power that need to care and take action to resolve conflicts and create a better future for all. While politicians and the general population can care about a subject or issue, the issue with continue to exist and grow if action is not taken to irradicate the problem.

The Performance of Violence and it’s Consequences

In Joseph Roach’s Echoes in the Bone, he introduces the idea that “violence is the performance of waste.” There are many examples of this, both in the book and in real life. People can be seen as waste by others. This view of seeing others as waste allows people to commit violence against others without remorse. Throughout the history of human society, this idea of some people being beneath others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, social status, etc. allowed for unspeakable acts carried out by people onto other people and treated as normal or acceptable. The hoarding of resources can be seen as violence to people these resources are being withheld from. Roach also raises the idea that “all violence is a performance because it must have an audience.” Throughout this course, we’ve learned about hurricane Katrina and not just the devastating effects it had on the residents of New Orleans, but also the response of the United States government, or lack there of. The United States government’s utterly mediocre response to Hurricane Katrina and the damage it did to the city of New Orleans and its residents is an act of violence in itself, witnessed not only by the citizens of the United States but by many others around the world.

Violence can be seen as waste in that when violence is done to a person or thing, that person or thing becomes waste because damage has been done. The wasting of resources can also be seen as violence. When rich people waste tons of money on ridiculous things no one needs while others could have used that same amount of money on basic needs that they don’t otherwise have access to, that can be seen as violence. On the other hand, the rich may see poorer people as disposable or waste. This way of thinking has contributed to catastrophes across the globe. In one specific instance, this way of thinking of poorer people or people that are different as disposable or as waste had devastating effects on the victims of Katrina as the government and politicians watched as over a thousand people perished and refused to do anything about it because they saw New Orleans and it’s residents as waste.

While the entire city of New Orleans was under water politicians were seen vacationing. This blatant display of ignorance and apathy towards the situation in New Orleans is an example of the detriment done when others are seen as waste. Some politicians even going as far as to say that hurricane Katrina was a cleansing of the city. The waste of money and resources used in other areas that the United States government deemed more important than their own people was another example of the violence used against the people of New Orleans. The people of New Orleans have repeatedly expressed irritation at the waste of money being spent on the war in Iraq while residents of New Orleans continued to die as a result of the hurricane and the heat of the summer that followed. This waste of money was an act of violence against the people of New Orleans. This act of violence was a performance as the entire world was the audience that witnessed it. Hurricane Katrina destroyed countless lives but the poorly constructed safety measures, withholding of resources, and slow reaction of the United States government was the true cause of the catastrophe that came out of hurricane Katrina. Roach brings up the idea that the mistakes of our past follow us into the future. The poor construction of the levees was the past that followed New Orleans into the future and reeked havoc on residents living there. This poor construction of the levees ties into the idea of waste and the thought of human beings as waste. The United States government didn’t want to spend the money for the proper construction of the levees that would have protected New Orleans from category 5 hurricanes such as Katrina. They thought of the money spent as a waste and as a result left the levees unfinished and in turn left New Orleans residents unprotected.

The carelessness showcased by the United States government added to the death tole of Katrina. Without food and water the people that had survived the actual flood were dying. People were also dying because of the lack of shelter and the unrelenting heat that came after the storm. People were dying on the streets waiting for help that would never come. With houses destroyed, people were left homeless. The government promised them trailers, these trailers did come but it took way longer than it should have. By ignoring the suffering of the New Orleans residents, the government wasted the lives of well over a thousand people. Even today the effects of Katrina can be felt in New Orleans. This is another ghost of the past haunting the present. While people continue to come to New Orleans from all over the to celebrate Mardi Gras and experience the rich culture that survives there, the suffering of the residence is very much ignored by the rest of the country and the world. Many places have yet to be completely rebuild almost two decades later. While the initial catastrophe is over the effects of it and the government’s lackluster response continues to effect not only the residence of New Orleans but the rest of the country as people saw just how faulty our government truly is.