Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Considering "Citizen" in Response to Las Vegas #SOL17

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We have all the answers. It's the questions we do not know. --Dostoyevsky

I revisited Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric after a student suggested I write about Sunday evening's massacre in Las Vegas. 

My husband and I said "I do" to one another in Las Vegas at the Little White Chapel, and we visit LV at least once a year. The city holds a special place in our hearts. We grieve for Las Vegas and her citizens. 

This world we live in makes little sense to me these days. My fragmented thoughts can't form words, and I find myself numb. Each act of man's inhumanity to man contributes to my desensitization. That scares me. 

How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another? 

Rankine poses this question as she writes about the Rodney King riots, but her inquiry points to an absence of empathy in our world. 

Are the tensions, the recognitions, the disappointments, and the failures that exploded in the riots too foreign? 

Change one word--riot--and it's easy to apply the question to the LV massacre, and before that the Arianna Grande concert killing, and before that the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, and before that the Sandy Hook slaughter. Of course, these bloody events stand out for their massive carnage, yet other shootings fill the blank spaces between each.

In an unintentional ironic twist, Sunday's edition of "60 Minutes" featured an interview with Congressman Steve Scalise, the NRA supported Republican Majority Whip who was critically wounded during a baseball practice this past June in Alexandria, Virginia. 

The "60 Minutes" story was a piss-poor piece of journalism, a fluff piece that focused on Scalise's wounds and recovery. No discussion of his support for NRA policy positions. No discussion of gun violence in the U.S. and the government's failure to treat it as a health crisis. 

Before it happened, it had happened and happened, says Rankine of the riots. 

She could easily say this about mass shootings. Still, we narrate the same fiction: Guns don't kill people. This latest carnage will likely make little difference in public discourse. We'll hear the platitudes and pretend public safety depends on arming of citizens. Pretend that the only defense against a bad man with a gun is a good guy with his finger on the trigger. If the near fatal shooting of a Congressman won't change the narrative, certainly the gunning down of country and western concert-goers won't alter the story arc. 

We're told authorities have no answers for why a 64-year-old white man toted 42* guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition into a hotel and massacred Jason Aldean fans. We're told the gunman had no prior legal problems, had no ties to terrorists. These "facts" make the gunman's actions no less terrifying. What label do we stick on a man who killed 59, maybe more, revelers from the thirty-second floor of a casino if not terrorist? Does not an act of terror merit that label? Certainly lone-wolf, a euphemism, diminishes the citizen victims. 

The insidiousness of our national denial reeks. Perhaps white America will in time live the reality Rankine explores in Citizen as she describes the lived reality of black people

And where is the safest place when that place must be someplace other than in the body?...When you lay your body in the body entered as if skin and bone were public places, when you lay your body in the body entered as if you're the ground you walk on, you know no memory should live in these memories becoming the body of you. 

I wonder: Will mass violence in public places define my students' teen years? Will they recall their homecoming in conjunction with the Las Vegas massacre? Will the collage of memory form from the shrapnel of a lone gunman's final violent act against innocent citizens? 

*Last edit: 8:50 MST to reflect 42 and not 10 guns.

**Dedication: For Ashley Nicole Hitchcock and Cade Brown, Citizens of Las Vegas. Ashley is one of my favorite Highland graduates, and though I've not met Cade, I know him through Ashley's stories. 

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  1. I read your post and a post by tTara Smith on facebook and I know that teachers feel this mass carnage so deeply as they think about the youngsters in front of them every year. Yes, I do think they and my son as well, have learned how normal mass shootings are--for they are normal, expected, the common thing here. The awful counting. The chatter. The fuicking Congress sending tweets by A+ NRA rated folk to send condolences to the very people their absence of action has harmed. Frankly, I have applied for my Irish passport as I was born there. There are more sensible places to live than here where we elect officials who are owned by the Koch brothers, the NRA, the Waltons and led by their buddies: Trump and Pence.

    1. My husband and I have conversations all the time about moving to a better place. I'm sick of the rationalizing, the vacuous rhetoric, the literalists who only take the Second Amendment literally, the hypocrisy of the gun lovers and their minions.

      I think I read the same post from Tara over on FB if it was the one w/ the article in Ebony.

  2. This may/will seem a picky point; however, I got to your blogpost while trying to track down the source of Rankine's quote from Dostoyevsky. I don't think he ever set down, in Russian, this idea, but perhaps someone can find a similar passage? Of course none of this is to excuse mass shootings, the NRA, racism, the Koch brothers, etc. Perhaps working off a pro-prejudices passage in the right-wing Joseph de Maistre's works we could say that the problem is not so much that we are prejudiced, that may be inevitable, but that we don't recognize our prejudices for what they are. They do not make us as uneasy as they should. (This would be to contradict de Maistre's assertion.)