Getting Educated About America

This is going to be a bit of a confession. Up front I have to declare to you my naivety, because it helps explain why I’ve been anxious for weeks, on the verge of tears all day, and currently unsure if the food I ate today is going to stay down. So, a confession, though like all confessions it obscures a kind of cunning even I may be the target of.

I want to live and participate in a just country. And, as my physical symptoms evidence, I apparently believe that the United States of America can be a just country. It is embarrassing, because I am an educated person. Politically I was made aware of the kind of country I live in by radical Christians and secular anarchists and socialists during my teenage years. And that early consciousness raising by punk rock was felt in my bones only to be confirmed intellectually as a student reading history and critical theory. But, yet, I must still believe something about America. 

Getting educated is hard. I sometimes forget that. Now that I am cast in the role of the educator where I have to embody the “subject supposed to know”, it’s easy to forget those times when first encountering Mary Daly that I wept at the idea I might be part of something so evil as patriarchy. That revelation was not and is not diminished by her transphobia. In fact, it only makes it that much worse, driving home to me the very impossibility of purity or a right state of things. And it is easy for me to forget the rough landing I had coming out of the whiteness of philosophy, suddenly having to place in doubt all of the philosophical commitments to abstraction and universalism as precisely a form of avoiding placing thought under the condition of suffering.

Today is perhaps another day of getting educated. None of us know what the 12-person grand jury is going to decide. We do know that 9 of them are white and 3 of them are Black, in total disproportion to the demographics of St. Louis generally and Ferguson in particular. I also know that smart, engaged Black activists are not trading in hope, but in the strength of organizing and building. Perhaps it is my general pessimism–a real pessimism rooted in reality’s wrong state of things rather than white peans to the horror of Cthulhu and face-tentacles–but I suspect that Wilson will not be charged at all or will be charged with a lesser crime than the one he surely committed. And when that happens I will know. I will know that America remains the country it has always been. A country whose very existence is predicated on the destruction of Black people. Their enslavement, their colonization, their policing, their dehumanization. Economically our wealth is built on their bodies and minds being broken. Relatedly, we culturally depend upon a continued system of minstrel shows that stretches from the worlds of music to sports to film and is largely driven by white producers and writers in the background. And spiritually we depend upon a continued refusal to even examine American history honestly and even more violently refuse to examine the current population’s culpability in the continued system of colorblind racism.

So, with the decision today I will be confronted again with the fact that I do not live in a just country and perhaps never will. That my existence is only possible because of the existence of the Great Satan. I don’t know what to do with that besides get angry and hope for the fall even though such a fall can only bring me great pain. I would be lying if I said I welcomed that. But, like I already said, education is hard.

4 Responses to “Getting Educated About America”

  1. Brad Says:

    In the absence of anything to say, because like you, I’m struck uncomfortable and nearly mute by the dread of the announcement tonight, I’m simply going to quote myself, from a story I shared here at some point:

    “Then Ramsey said: From this gluttonous hunger comes forth vengeance. For these same objects of desire are also desirous objects — the contradictions of multiplication and destruction. From the dumbest herds creeping to the wisest minds teaching, none are exempt the threat of wrath. And Ramsey saw that it was so. For the abundance of some shall come from the stock and/or on the backs of another. This will be appropriately called natural and order, which will render the anger not acted upon fear, which will fester into resentment, which will explode into moments of rage. Rage smolders before and after its eruptions, such that its causes become as indistinct from its effects as the sixth sin is from the sinner.

    Yes, by all means, tell them to confess. Make them sinners, Ramsey, but don’t dare let them get to forgiveness. That’s the end of the line. Confession creates the world, forgiveness ends it. Life is lived in between.”

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’ve been having similar thoughts. It’s as though the election of a black president finally emboldened the white power structure to nakedly assert its continued dominance.


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