Violence 5: The Other-Group

In reviewing these unscripted meditations on violence (1, 2, 3, and  4) I notice one theme especially: violence pervades and implicates us all.  It is notable not for being exceptional but normal.  So normal that we ignore all but the most grievous examples, examples that exist away from us except when they are done to us.  We are so accustomed to violence that we can hardly imagine ourselves as violent.

This deceptive view of violence lets the individual off the hook while insidiously transferring the guilt of violence to the societally-accepted other. And unlike me – the one who is not perceived as violent – the other is a group, a people. This other-group allows we individuals to escape the stain of violence.

Photo credit: Shaz Rasul (C.C.).
Photo credit: Shaz Rasul (C.C.).

Each weekend in Chicago we are told how many people have been shot and how many have been killed. In these warmer months these statistics are particularly grim.  The bulk of these shootings and murders take place on our side of the city or to the west, the vast swaths of the city inhabited in most cases by women and men and children whose skin is darker than mine and whose cultures developed in response to the supremacist tendencies of my own.  It is these who are understood to be violent, not as individuals but as the other, the group who acts violently. It is a convenient if thoroughly wrongheaded way of understanding the terrible headlines on Monday morning; I’m allowed to feel sad (and, on a good day, sympathetic) without any guilt at all.

Reducing violence to the specific, willful action and transferring these actions to the other(s) is deceptive twice: I’m undeservedly relieved of a violent identity while entire groups are first removed from a history of violence suffered and then reduced to contextless, tragic moments.

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