FEBRUARY 21, 2014 9:05AM
Jordan, Trayvon and the redemptive violence of empire
“Empire,” writes Allan Aubrey Boesak, “creates not only the myth of domination, but also ‘the myth of redemptive violence.’ Instead of acknowledging the violence it uses because it needs to for continued domination and exploitation, it ‘enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right.’ Consequently, violence is not only necessary; it is the only thing that ‘works.’”
When we exclude this truth about the violence of empire – of our empire – from our discussions about the murders of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, or about the Dunns and the Zimmermans that our country continues to produce, or about the vigilante justice embodied in “Stand Your Ground” laws and the gun violence that we continue to enshrine as freedom expressing itself – when we exclude this truth, we not only to fail to answer in any meaningful way Salon columnist Britney Cooper’s question, “how should black people respond?”; but we also miss the challenge suggested in the painful words spoken by Ron Davis, Jordan Davis’ father, after the jury reached its troubling verdict: “There are a lot of good kids out there. … They should have a voice. They shouldn’t have to live in fear … that if they get shot, it’s just collateral damage. …”
The challenge in Ron Davis’ remarks (whether intended or not) is for us to “connect the dots,” as Michelle Alexander recently instructed. It is, in other words, to expand our analyses beyond our borders, and to do so precisely because the myth of redemptive violence from which our empire operates, rationalizes the transformation of our children – both here and abroad – into “collateral damage,” the stuff from which those in power and those who align themselves with power believe they are redeemed and made whole.
Viewed from this perspective, we could say that, in a sense, the Dunns and Zimmermans allow us to glimpse up close and personal our foreign policy, our drone strikes, our violence framed as peace and national security – as the Trayvon Martins and Jordan Davis’s allow us to see the casualties of our policy, the bloodied children in far away places, “good kids” who on a regular basis lived “in fear” because they were, or at least might eventually become, terrorists, i.e., international “thugs.”
Conversely, our foreign policy and violent exercise of power abroad can be discerned from the gun violence here at home, and most certainly from the racist violence directed at our children. For here, too, “might makes right” – it is, in fact, the mark of a free man – and the dangerous Other must be contained and dominated at all costs, children included.
Thus, Michael Dunn’s call for “people” (presumably white) to “arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots [i.e., “blacks”], when they’re threatening you,” so that “eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior,” sounds like the language of a war on terror. He is in fact calling for such a war, for preemptive strikes against a perceived threat from the Other who need not do violence in order for the “people” to act because he looks like he just might. And the “people’s” murderous behavior will prove redemptive because it will reestablish the order of things: after suffering the awesome firepower of the “people” (whites), we (blacks) will “eventually” learn our place and modify our behavior in obeisance to the “people’s” will, to their way of life, to their world view. We’ll learn or we’ll die.
Thus, while many of us have offered salient and spot-on critiques regarding the ways that racism, gun violence, masculinity and the demonization of young people were brought to bear on Trayvon Martin’s, and now Jordan Davis’ murder, what we have offered thus far has suffered, nevertheless, from being “too narrow” because utterly localized and thus disconnected from the violence that is done in our name elsewhere, even as it is done unto us at home, with similar justifications.
Yes, of course: there are differences and distinctions to which we must rigorously attend. If you want to make that point and enter the conversation there, that’s all good. Whatever it takes for the conversation to proceed, because the answer to Britney Cooper’s question, “how should black people respond?” is to do (as Michelle Alexander recently instructed) what Dr. King did when he spoke out against the Vietnam war. He refused “to stay in his lane” and “just stick to talking about civil rights.” And as Alexander argued, he did so because the “’radical restructuring of society’” that is absolutely necessary to “ensure justice and dignity for all” requires that we boldly speak up about the connections “between poverty, racism, militarism and materialism,” between “the wars we wage abroad and the utter indifference we have for poor people and people of color at home.”
The answer to Cooper’s question, in other words, is to make the connections, because to do so is to turn toward, confront and speak truth to empire as well as to face our complicity in perpetrating its myths. It is also to make common cause with communities of children, women, and men all over the world whose lives are continuously subjected to domination and exploitation, and whose sorrows, hopes and visions for a more just world we must be willing to speak as our own.
When we fail to connect the dots, we foreclose the possibility of imagining with other “collaterals” a just alternative, of subverting and turning on their head the myths by which our empire sustains itself. We foreclose, too, the possibility of creating a world in which our children can safely walk the streets or listen to their music.
But the answer to Cooper’s question is one that must be offered by everyone who is committed to justice, to peace, to the right of all people, everywhere, to live in dignity, to live without fear, and to live in a world where violence is neither “right” nor redemptive. We must all connect the dots, and follow them wherever they lead.