“identity (is) something we do, not something we are.”
- Pamela L. Caughie, Passing and Pedagody
It feels most days like we are living on the edge of a great chasm, each moment edging closer and closer to self-destruction. It’s commonly said that since the 2016 election the United States of America has felt very different. Less ‘United’. Maybe even less ‘America’. Racial divides we thought were closing, no longer are. Authorities and sources we thought we could trust, we no longer can. And the President seems more concerned with cultivating a Twitter following and picking fights than running a country. It feels like citizenship of this great United States of America has become a spectatorship of United States: The Television Series. On tonight’s episode, an alternative dystopian reality where Hitler won the war. Complete with canned laughter. Could Orwell have predicted the future would lead us not to the desert of the real but to the feral wasteland instead?
Foreign Policy ran an article in March suggesting a 60% chance of a civil war over the next fifteen years. Further, although the FBI only reported ~6,000 hate crimes on its annual list, ProPublica found this year a further ~109,000 reported hate crimes (90% violent) that never made the list and evidence of a total of ~250,000 hate crimes. News sources like the New York Times and ThinkProgress confirm the idea that these are all on the rise under the current government. Mass shootings are also commonplace. At the precise moment, I finished the sentence above, 11:45 on October 1st, 2017, the LA Timesannounced that two people died and 27 injured, in a shooting at a Las Vegas strip mall. The next day the death toll would rise to 59, and become the deadliest US shooting so far.
We could blame Him for all that has happened. While the use of bigoted rhetoric and the demonization of others is “nothing new in American politics” says scholar of the far right Chip Bartlett, when the current leader of the nation contributes the legitimacy of his office to dangerous people and dangerous ideas, he clearly has a high level of culpability. We could blame those that follow Him. They are of course the ones that ‘pull the trigger’. But to blame and to demonize is unproductive. In the words of Wendy S. Hesfort in ‘Spectacles of Identity and Difference’, to make someone like him a spectacle and to invoke binaries like “good/evil and mad/sane” is to “pathologise, individuate, and isolate racist violence from its social conditions”.
The alternative strategy that has inspired and charged this film is a desire to understand rather than demonize those who perpetrate hate crimes and racial violence. While publicly calling out someone with condemnation and disgust might give the makers of the statement a sense of moral affirmation, it is not productive. Instead, what is required is for us to look deep into the eyes of the perpetrators of the vilest hate crimes with a desire to understand. In the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson not guilty verdict, then-President Bill Clinton expressed a similar sentiment: “In terms of the way Americans see the world differently, generally, based on their race, that troubles me. […] I think the only answer to that is for us to spend more time listening to each other and try to put ourselves in each other’s shoes and understand why we see the world in different ways and keep trying to overcome that.”
The team of Saint Paul