Weekend Reading

It’s the answer to the question raised by the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained when he asks, “Why don’t they just rise up and kill the whites?”  If the movie were real, it would have been a purely rhetorical question, because every southerner of the era knew the simple answer: Well regulated militias kept the slaves in chains.

Sally E. Haden, in her book Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, notes that, “Although eligibility for the Militia seemed all-encompassing, not every middle-aged white male Virginian or Carolinian became a slave patroller.” There were exemptions so “men in critical professions” like judges, legislators and students could stay at their work.  Generally, though, she documents how most southern men between ages 18 and 45 – including physicians and ministers – had to serve on slave patrol in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

And slave rebellions were keeping the slave patrols busy.

Past day 315, population growth slowed. More than six hundred mice now lived in Universe 25, constantly rubbing shoulders on their way up and down the stairwells to eat, drink, and sleep. Mice found themselves born into a world that was more crowded every day, and there were far more mice than meaningful social roles. With more and more peers to defend against, males found it difficult and stressful to defend their territory, so they abandoned the activity. Normal social discourse within the mouse community broke down, and with it the ability of mice to form social bonds. The failures and dropouts congregated in large groups in the middle of the enclosure, their listless withdrawal occasionally interrupted by spasms and waves of pointless violence. The victims of these random attacks became attackers. Left on their own in nests subject to invasion, nursing females attacked their own young. Procreation slumped, infant abandonment and mortality soared. Lone females retreated to isolated nesting boxes on penthouse levels. Other males, a group Calhoun termed “the beautiful ones,” never sought sex and never fought—they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection. Elsewhere, cannibalism, pansexualism, and violence became endemic. Mouse society had collapsed.

The “it’s suppose to happen” in inner-city communities reframe is not surprising. Places like Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown exist because of the fear-industrial complex. The white middle-class flocked from cities into the suburbs and rural communities partially due to fear of black and Latino youth, integrated schools, and urban crime. The continuously deployed the narrative of “it’s not suppose to happen in Newtown” and their neighborhoods mirroring “American family’s dream” embodies this entrenched belief. The efforts to imagine Holmes and Lanza as good kids turned evil, to scour the earth for reasons and potential solutions, works to preserve the illusion of safety, the allure of white suburbia, and the power of whiteness.

In imagining the killers as good kids who did a bad thing, who snapped because of a divorce, because of too much medication, because of inadequate mental health treatment, because of too much mental health care, because of guns, and because of who knows what, white manhood — the visible link that binds together so many of these shootings –always gets erased.

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