To the youth protesting against violence today:
You are fighting for your life and humanity, and I commend you. You join a long line of folks that have stood up to violence in this country. I hope and believe you will succeed. If I can say one thing that may help you, it would be this: Remember who and what you are dealing with — a structure and system that is based on violence. Plain and simple. So by protesting violence in this country, know that many will think you are in fact protesting the country itself, and that you will be met with violence. Stay strong and steadfast in what you came to do. Know that you are not the first or last people to stand against to this culture of violence. And above all, try to understand that violence is fully ingrained in what America is.
The culture of America is violence. Very simply, the idea of our country has been constructed on, cultivated through, and sustained by violence.
Violence is deeply ingrained into the personality of this country. From childhood, it is taught as recreation. First-person shooter games and toy guns are given out on Jesus’ birthday, and depending on your color, that toy gun may get you shot on a jungle gym by cops doing a drive by — true story. Meanwhile, Muslims are attacked for being violent extremists.
After being fed a steady stream of heroic fantasy and fetishized violence, children begin to mimic what they see. In my lifetime, high school students committing mass murder of their classmates was invented and solidified as an American cultural phenomenon. Some of the perpetrators are the descendants of Manifest Destiny and the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, others merely inherited their violent spirit. But with no-one left to conquer, colonize or strategically eliminate, is it really surprising that this lust for blood didn’t just evaporate?
Domestic terrorism in form of organized hate groups and vigilante “lone wolves” has been a part of the make up the nation longer than baseball and apple pie. And domestic terror doesn’t just mean hate crimes. Violence is sexualized and fetishized to a degree that the smallest interaction can turn into a violent ordeal for women. Denying a sexual advance, or simply being attractive, can result in any number of violent outcomes. When women can be raped while unconscious and somehow the violence is not only acceptable but warranted in the minds of some speaks to how deep this sickness is.
One could argue that violence is just the natural state of people everywhere, and America is no different than the rest of the world. But nowhere else has a culture of violence been this mutated, this concentrated, this advanced, this commodified, this normalized and this widespread. When we speak of it, the blame is always with the Other: the street tribes of LA and every other impoverished community in the country, poster children for American made violence.
These groups didn’t come out of nowhere. They were grown in a greenhouse of pain and suffering, and they’re rooted in the will to survive the constant and unrelenting violence experienced daily by these communities. That violence that was conceived and carried out by the same government and culture that condemns them. Being deprived of food, housing, education, and jobs is rarely acknowledged as a form of violence, but it is.
Poverty is violence. The prosperity and power of a very few outweigh the needs of the masses, and the only solution those with the shovels can muster is to keep digging. But we’re just shoveling dirt from the ground onto our own heads. We’re burying ourselves.
Our violent culture is also a major export item. We are missionaries of war all over the globe, providing much of the planet with its firepower, simultaneously waging war against enemies and former customers alike.
The sad truth is this place is built on human bondage, genocide and imperialism, not by accident but by design. America is an experiment in the effectiveness of violence. And for all the bloodshed, the continuous response is to ignore, normalize and double down on the violent principles that create these conditions. The bandage is made of barbwire and we wonder where all the blood is coming from. The willful ignorance that we all engage in, in some degree or another, is a coping mechanism for all the constant sensory overload of suffering. The media pumps out messages of fear to us daily and rarely do we see stories of hope and love.
I once heard that our personalities are just how we have learned to deal with trauma, how we have learned to deal with violence. Some people choose to distance themselves as much as possible, insulating themselves mentally and physically. Some are frozen by it and become numb from the constant exposure. Others become a product of an environment that fosters and rewards violent behavior, following in the traditions of those that came before, living out their birthright.
Some of us resist. Some fight fire with water, others return fire, but they resist. Some march, some build, some teach, all with different ideas and tactics, but we resist. I make the case for resistance not as some moral cause, not because a higher power is watching, but for no other reason than treating people better makes society work better. If those at the bottom get more opportunities, better health, and happier lives, there's no way the rest of the population won’t have access to those things too.
But the culture of violence is rooted in the idea of scarcity, not abundance. Those with the most tend to hoard those resources in fear of the day they need to use them. But that day never comes, and neither does that day when a kid born in the wrong place or in the wrong body gets their chance.
So that’s why I resist. That’s why I did my part to make Whose Streets? a reality. To even the odds just a little, even if it is just in terms of a narrative. Because a narrative goes a long way in the minds of the people. And resistance in all its forms is us trying to author a narrative where life is worth living for ourselves and our family. So to those taking the streets today, I say write a new story — and resist the old one at all costs.
Damon Davis is a post-disciplinary artist and co-director and producer of Whose Streets? a documentary about the Ferguson Rebellion.