My goals for this paper are to describe the way America teaches literacy of violence. I am proud of my descriptions, evidence, and general conclusion. In the future, I look forward to mastering making my language tastefully concise.
Most 4th of Julys I spent with my dad’s side of the family in Atlanta. I loved how the lights painted the sky bright reds and whites. It took me a while to care about the smoke that came after, to wonder how it choked thousands of Eastern Bluebirds each summer. The few times I witnessed the sky light up on America’s independence day with my mom were quite different. First was the house. When I was little I had imagined our 19th century home was built by a spy. Most walls had large windows overlooking the neighborhood and the bricks allotted the conversations of passerbys to seep through. Usually this front row seat to the average west Philadelphian was entertaining, but on nights like the fourth of July my house felt more like a bomb shelter. The painted sky to Julee was more a reminder of blood than patriotism or maybe they were one in the same. I would sit next to her and play the wawa welcome america concerts loud but the explosions of light in the sky were always louder.
“Zoey turn the volume up!”.
“Yes mom.” I raised it up a little.Another explosion rang the house. My mother held onto my hand. My wartorn mother was alway caught in a state of limbo with the dead bodies she had to step over on her way to school tugging at her waist while squeezing my innocent American hands. Shaking her head she directed “again”. I turned it up. The sky lit up before us through the windows and my mother shut the blinds. We were in for a long night. In America there seems to be a widespread acceptance for blind patriotism. There is a lot of pride taken for the scriptures soaked in freedoms and rights. There is little conversation however surrounding the cost of these freedoms and who’s paying it.
Millennials born and raised in America have never really experienced war. They unlike many around the world their age have not seen it outside of images, screens, and textbooks. They may know people who have, after all this is a country priding itself on its melting pot of diversity. However this does not change the overwhelming culture surrounding how we understand violence, how we talk about it, how we react to it. From the words given to us by news reporters, historians, entertainment, and in classrooms we are taught to read violence and more specifically war in a very distanced and desensitized way. This I argue is quite intentional. When Americans distance themselves from the violence displayed on the news they no longer have to evaluate their country’s role in it. Making patriotism appear as a no brainer and oversimplifying its’ cost.
But I was raised by a war refugee. I wasn’t allowed to watch anything making light of events mirroring the source of my mom’s ptsd. “These children are much more outward looking. They see books less as mirrors and more as maps” (the apartheid of children’s literature(christopher myers). In other words the information children acquire from books and other mediums are maps defining their relationships to the world and others. When it comes to violence they are in deed flawed in their oversimplified approach. We recount the events of 9/11 and our victorious assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Yet we seldom discuss the countless villages bombed regularly overseas to achieve our victories. The few times history classes witness gore in war is in a glorious light.
Not only are children being shown the wrong approach to violence but those willing to create texts with broader perspectives are not given the platform to sell their products. “The MArket, I am told, just doesn't demand this kind of book,...has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won't buy a book with a black kid on the cover -or so the market says” (the apartheid of children’s literature). Is there a market then for games and shows and books that create empathy? In history classes we discuss the 60s and racism as if they occurred centuries ago. Teachers gloss over the brutality with sugar coated versions of peaceful protests. This quote is also showing how people are being raised to not just be ignorant of the depth of the injustices this country is responsible for but that they also are being taught to reject any narrative opposing the former . THe quote refer specifically to the lack of literature accurately describing the black experience in America. If white people will not read about their neighbors then they surely are not equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to understand and build empathy and agency for those a sea apart from us. This quote also comments on profit. This country time and time again chooses profit over education. Games like call of duty and Halo are mass produced and actively desensitize children of the pain in war. The focus is on profit not concerned at all with the affects the product has on the children. It seems there has yet been a time when the focus was about how educated people are, about how this is impacting the country’s overall sentiment or lack thereof towards other countries. There is a barrier being created it seems, preventing americans from caring about the impact of the myriad of US bullets piercing through foreign bodies every day.
There is a very tangible difference in the literacy of violence in America than in other countries. Privilege becomes clear in the necessity of the literacy. This literacy in America gets much more complicated when you zero in on each neighborhood. For those who live in neighborhoods where the illegal acts in call of duty are everyday occurrences just beyond their front porch the literacy of violence is a necessity. In Sanyika Shakur’s Monster he describes the violence between the south central LA gangs as war because for those who dealt with those affected by this violence every day their livelihood depended on seeing it as war. “Language, incontestably, reveals the speaker. Language, also far more dubiously, is meant to define the other--and, in this case, the other is refusing to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize him”(James Baldwin).This language reveals our focus as said previously on demonizing and desensitizing. We have the privilege of rarely being on the receiving end of war in terms of physical danger and we often take this for granted. We have also distanced ourselves from staying aware of the impact of our presence in other countries. This and our entertainment has helped desensitize us from war. My mother is fluent and well practiced in her literacy of violence. She can interpret how far away a plane is to determine whether or not she needs to seek refuge. This language “comes to existence by means of brutal necessity” as said by James Baldwin. There was a necessity in Liberia in the 80s to speak the language of violence in this way. There on the other hand in America seems to be a necessity for speaking about violence in the way that we do. In order to maintain support for the egregious act of violence inflicted on “enemies” we must begin with how we describe and discuss the issue. It must continue to be supported even in the aftermath through an interpretation of violence that is understanding of the US and demonizes the victim.
After years of numbing people of the devastation that is war, the language surrounding it changes. Millennials in America do not understand war the way their parents or grandparents understand it. They most certainly do not understand it as other countries who see it every day understand. We are taught to be literate in violence in a way that strips it of the value in its impact. We are taught to react to the bloodshed as if it were as fake as the games imitating it. We have comfortable to the point where we gain entertainment from it. This literacy perpetuates the oppressive machine that is America. Our patriotism and consumerism has blinded us and we must stop willfully accepting this perspective.
Christopher Myers, The Apartheid of Children’s Literature
James Baldwin, If Black Isn't English then Tell Me What Is
Sanyika Shakur, Monster