Lou Hartman did not give many talks in his later years, but when he did, they invariably followed a theme, to the extent that I came to believe that this theme was the message more than the content was. He would start off by saying that he had had a wonderful talk prepared, but then something had happened – something he had read, something someone did – that meant that he couldn’t stick to his prepared script, and so he gave a different, fresher talk, though to his telling a less adequate one.
I had been meaning to try to write something that might synthesise some of the various pieces of atrocity and suffering in the news this week – before the Dallas shootings happened. Now the narrative is inevitably different for the moment, but the underlying issues are not changed – as powerfully articulated in this article by a writer I have found constantly illuminating. We can still ask the deeper questions about why these events happen, even as this article, at just a few days old, seems out of date already. The elements of the equation are still power, fear and anger.
As all this was unfolding, I was reading a quote presented by Jasmine Seydullah in Radical Dharma:
‘The perception that human life has different exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to “civilized” and “uncivilized” peoples is not only quite common in liberal democratic cultures; it is necessary to a hierarchical global order.’ (Talal Asad)
The context for the quote was a reflection on the American criminal system as an extension of slavery, but it also resonated as I read articles wondering why terrorist atrocities in other countries get far less media attention than ones close to home, and also as I read about the report published in London this week that highlighted the political flaws that lead to the second Gulf War, the repercussions of which are being played out across the region and the entire world and will be for many years. Alongside which, these articles about the narrow cliques involved in British politics and the gender politics currently in play after the referendum to leave Europe might seem unrelated, but I think it is important to thread these connections, as they all speak to power, and who feels entitled to it.
My starting point for this post had been the speech made by Jesse Williams that different people alerted me to, which is perhaps even more moving to listen to in the light of everything that has happened since. These lines stopped me in my tracks:
‘Now dedicating our lives to get money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.’
‘If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression.’
Which did not stop the inevitable pushback, admirably dealt with in this article.
I don’t know if I have a neat way to wrap this up; I know the tone and the title may not be as phlegmatic as I was the other day, but this is how I feel right now.