Violence is any action perpetrated with the intent of harming oneself, an individual, a group, community, establishment, or idea, which results in or has the potential to result in any form of tangible damage. While the outcome is an important part of the understanding of this definition, the focus should be on the notion that violence is enacted when the intention of the perpetrator is malicious. The perpetrator’s intention in any act of violence is to cause either physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological harm, socioeconomic deprivation, degradation, to strip one of their agency, maldevelopment, or even death.
Fortknox Kentucky U.S. Army Base, C. 1970.
My father was immediately drafted in the military after he graduated from UCLA in 1969. Being ethnically Japanese, he was heavily discriminated against by the white people who also served with him, and it did not help that the U.S.’s enemy were the Vietnamese, as the whites often called anyone who was of Asian descent a “gook”, as they did my father. He was thus immediately marked as the enemy despite his U.S. citizenship, his actual ethnicity, and the fact that he too was fighting for his country. As his story goes, my father encountered violence midway through his training in Kentucky. One afternoon, the drill sergeant was explaining to everyone how to detain and capture “the enemy” when out in the field. He told my father to stand up, pointed at him directly in the face, and told the room, looking straight into my fathers eyes with contempt, that “this is what the enemy looks like”. My father, intelligent but prideful still, raised his middle finger directly at the drill sergeant and said, “I am an American citizen and you just violated my civil rights”. Without delay, two drill sergeants grabbed my father and dragged him to the barracks where they ruthlessly and incessantly beat him with sticks and bats to the point where he had to be hospitalized. That afternoon, yet another instance of violence enacted against a person of color occurred with the intent to degrade, dehumanize, and hopefully kill. This act, amongst countless more at the time, were meant to demonstrate to colored people that White Supremacy was still alive and well, and that no matter how hard they tried, no matter how loyal they were to the U.S. government, they were and would always remain the enemy. This is violence.
Violence is geographically and historically ubiquitous, covering large spans of time and physical space. It is present insofar as greed is perpetuated, and can be best understood through a cross-sectional analysis of three particularly shaking events that have marked entire generations and palpable landscapes, intertwining beautifully to comprehensively rework the definition violence.
Native American Boarding Schools C.1869 into 20th c.
“U.S. and Canadian authorities took Native children from their homes and tried to school, and sometimes beat, the Indian out them” starting in 1869, enacting further cultural genocide against Native Americans, as if literal genocide and the appropriation of their lands was not enough. “Through a process of forced acculturation that stripped them of their language, culture, and customs”, the U.S. government maintained and eternalized not only a physical structure of violence, but a timeless, unbroken practice of systematic oppression through the forced co-optification of White Supremacy, and this “genocide is the law of the country”. As The violence here is permanent, affecting generations of Native peoples, as not only were their mouths “scrubbed with lye and chlorine solutions for uttering Native words”, but their culture was violently assaulted and consistently undermined. Through this experience, we reshape our conception of violence, understanding its ability to cross generations through traumatic emotional and physical wounds, its geographical and structural permanence manifested through the physical buildings of these schools that still stand today, and its ability to desecrate cultural pride. Violence thus becomes a discursive and defining narrative for Native peoples in America.
African American Lynching; Post-Reconstruction Era
Lynching, “the practice of killing people by extrajudicial…mob action” is a central and reoccurring theme in the African American, post-emancipatory narrative. “The major motive for lynchings… was the white society’s efforts to maintain white supremacy after emancipation of slaves”, and was responsible for the inexplicably cruel deaths of 3,446 blacks in less than one hundred years. Onlookers and participants treated these deeply violent lynchings as social events, where white people would bring their families to picnic, their sons to partake in the physical abuse as a rite of passage, and where people would celebrate White Supremacy and the further social death of black men, women, and children. The blood of the lynched is physically located in the soil below which these bodies were burnt, beaten, dragged, hung, and slaughtered. This fetishized violence is ingrained not only in this country’s White Supremacist narrative, but it is situated across every generation of black ancestry. It is precisely this tangible and conceptualized violence that was sanctioned and promoted by law enforcement, celebrated by the democratic left, and photographed to freeze in time — that serves as a tool to better understand the aspect of violence that is intentional and preserved in order to further a historically oppressed group’s maldevelopment.
Executive Order 9066: Japanese Internment; February 19, 1942
Executive Order 9066, or the forced, mass internment of Japanese Americans beginning in 1942 under President Woodrow Wilson, “nullified [Japanese American] citizenship, exclusively on grounds of racial difference”. The remnants of their physical internment can still be found on this country’s soil, the stories and trauma still shake the lives of the U.S. citizens that were deemed “the enemy” by the country they pledged their allegiance to. “A Jap is a Jap”. The color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, the combination of letters that formed their last names — these were grounds on which the U.S. government constitutionally appropriated the dreams, lives, property, and sense of pride that belonged to these people. In attempting to “protect” U.S. citizens, the government deeply compromised the lives of thousands of U.S. citizens, just not the ones that ‘mattered’, or white people. Violence is deeply rooted and its origins are in unfounded debates, constitutionally upheld and often perpetuated by those who we trust the most to protect us.
Through this triangulation of historically situated events, violence is modified from its original definition, as it is able to cross generations and indirectly affect individuals whose ancestors were hung or interned, it is able to seep into the ground of countries, to be the law of countries. Violence still aims to harm, it maintains that intention that is so central to its definition and to its spirit — but what I have discovered is that the pain is meant to be felt for hundreds of years, through millions of lives, and on limitless acres of land.
for fucks sake.
I often think back to when I first encountered poetry. I was about 6 years old and had just started first grade at Le Lycée Français, an international French school in Los Angeles. I had never had homework before, as they only started giving it out in first grade. So when my French teacher announced to the class that we would have to memorize and recite a poem of her choosing every Friday, I was both nervous and curious. Intrigued, I raised my hand and asked Madame Renoir, “qu’est-ce qu’un poème?” (“what is a poem?”). Amused by my innocence, she proceeded to read beautiful combinations of words I couldn’t quite understand — but I fell in love with the rhymes, the rhythm, the emotion, and the discursive nature of poetry itself. I didn’t know why it existed, or how anyone could understand the content, but I knew that I had discovered something very special indeed.
Fast forward a few years to 10 year old Brianna, and I had been reciting poems every week for four years, honoring the words of Jean de La Fontaine, Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Aimé Césaire, Racine, Jacques Prévert…etc. I was becoming quite the poetry aficionado, scoring 20/20 on every recitation, perfectly enunciating and inflecting, I had fallen deeply in love with this new language. It was like a secret code, a complex problem that could be interpreted differently after each reading. I was entranced.
In 6th grade, I was assigned to write my own poetry in English class. Not any different from my six year old self, I raised my hand and asked, “But Mr. Kennedy, what should we write about? I’ve never written a poem before, how do I do it?”. What I didn’t realize was that I could write about anything I wanted, and that there was no right or wrong way to go about it.
And I chose to write about my depression. And I shared it with the class, after everyone had shared their poems about trees, sports, traveling, and their pets. And I was deeply embarrassed. But I had discovered a new way to express myself, a way that I understood more than anything else in my little bubble.
So I went home and I wrote. I filled up journals with poetry, pages smeared with blood, drawings, scribbles, and calcified salt deposits. I didn’t show anyone anymore, because the more I wrote, the more honest I became with myself, which meant my words were pretty grim. I learned a lot from a very young age, and grew jaded quickly.
In High School, I wrote sophisticated shit — I analyzed my life and the absurdities I experienced. I wrote about love (or so I thought it was love), and I wrote about things I didn’t understand. I wrote about suicide because it was on my mind. And I wrote about nearly dying, about hospitals and doctors and trauma. But I was less honest with myself in High School.
I didn’t write as much my first semester of college, I was happy and in love so I lived life instead of writing about it. But once I experienced real heartbreak, I retreated back to the only think I knew: poetry. I spilled my heart out; I cut it open and dissected my feelings for what they were. I learned about myself and my limits — but I disregarded my limits, I went past them and discovered my middle school self again. I hadn’t changed a bit; I was just as empty as I had always been. I was just as alone. But poetry helped me realize that it was all okay, because the emptier I felt, and the more honest I was with myself about how I felt, the easier it became to accept life as such.
Poetry was and will always be my shoulder to cry on.
Google defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint,” but there is much more to it than just this. When I was younger I completely believed, and was convinced, that in our day and age everyone had freedom. I thought that everyone could do whatever they want and, knowing the consequences of doing the things they want to do, could decide freely, “without hindrance or restraint,” if the consequences or rewards were worth it. I realize now that I could not have been farther from the truth. I realize that no one has complete freedom.
Every single living being is constrained by some sort of fear, desire, or external or internal pressure to be, think, do, and speak a certain way. To me, freedom can be seen through two distinct lenses: freedom of body and freedom of mind. Freedom of body mean materialistic freedom. It is the tangible freedom that people who have violated the law in some way and are locked behind bars lack. It is the freedom that our new administration constricts when they implement travel bans for people from a particular origin. It is the kind of freedom that allows people with a valid passport or visa to travel wherever they want to and explore and experience the world around them. It’s the freedom that allows people to do whatever and go wherever they desire. It’s the freedom that people with physical disabilities lack in many ways to participate and engage in any activity. Freedom of mind, on the other hand, is not directly associated materialistic liberties. Rather, it is something very intangible and something that everyone, whether they know it or not, lacks to some extent. It is the kind of freedom that allows people to love, think, feel, be happy, learn, and experience whatever and however they want. I touched on this earlier but to be more specific, there is no possible way to avoid all the pressures and constraints of society, accessibility to information, fear, insecurity, and hopes and dreams from getting in the way of what you think or believe.
My first two years of high school in 2012 and 2013 I lived in Los Angeles with my family. I attended my local all-girls private high school and was the MVP of the varsity cross country team. I worked extremely hard to stay at the top of the team and did not let myself be relaxed about my performance. I was constantly anxious because in my head I could never let a single person beat me—that would be the end of the world. In my own head, I created a barrier of stress and anxiety that enclosed me to the experiences, happiness, and lightheartedness that I desired. I lacked freedom of mind in this case. I could tell my body to do whatever I wanted but that was was confined to the thoughts and feelings I had. I tortured myself and put myself down during practices and devoted much of my weekends and free time to training. Essentially, I had no social life. My entire self-confidence depended on my performance in my sport comparatively to my peers. Before races and meets I would shake uncontrollably out of fear that I would not be able to beat every single one of my peers this time. I feared what my family, friends, and teammates would think of me if I let them down. But what I did not know was that it was not them who cared, it was only me. I was stuck in my own mind.
At a certain point, I decided that I could not withstand the pressure and anxiety that I had brought upon myself with this sport being a vehicle. I told my parents that I wanted to change high schools because I wanted to quit my athletic career in cross country because I realized that my anxiety around it was taking over me. I decided to go to a boarding school in Rome, Italy because it would give me so many opportunities to learn and experience new things and start fresh. I did not want to admit to my peers that a large reason for moving was because I was, in reality, “giving up” because I realized that my obsession with being the best in the sport was getting the best of me. During my time in cross country I was confined to my mind’s pressures that I truly believed were external pressures. Separating myself from those experiences I now realize that I gained so much freedom in escaping my anxieties and fears of not only what people thought of me and my successes or failures but what I thought about myself and how I used cross country to value my worth.
play hard to get.
“Talking of Pleasure,
this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine – good God, how fine. It went down soft, pulpy, slushy, oozy – all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry”
Feeling orange because I need the sunshine and ripe fruit
lots of these are Slim Aarons and also some from Liliah Summer’s shoot for Stoned Immaculate linked here
My face is hot. I feel the cold air hit my cheeks as I walk down Piedmont, rehearsing my speech over and over again until I can’t even remember what I’m trying to do anymore. With each step, my heart beats a little faster than before, and I can feel the beads of sweat fall down the palms of my hands. I rub my hands on my skirt, trying to get rid of the sweat, but they only stay dry for a second. And I try to hold back tears that have been falling for days now, but my eyes start swelling and all I can do is try to hide the overwhelming bursting sensation in my chest from everyone walking beside me. I’m broken. But I am stupid enough to believe that I ever felt whole. Or that I thought he was my other half.
“I love you. I promise I’ll change, I promise. I want to be with you forever, like we’ve talked about. I want to live in that house with you with the dogs and the horses. I want all of it, and I’ll do all of it with you if you give me another chance”. Standing outside of Clark Kerr, I’m repeating myself over and over again in my head, waiting for someone to open the door to the building. At this point, my heart is beating so fast that I feel like he can hear my chest thumps from his room. “Stay strong, everything will be back to normal tomorrow”. And then someone comes up from behind me and opens the door. And I walk through. And all I can think of is turning back. What in the world am I doing here?
Taking a deep breath in front of his door, I knock once. And I hear voices coming from inside of his room, so I know he’s there. He’s probably reading about the Cold War, or laying in bed listening to Johnny Cash, or playing some stupid game on his new PS4… Regardless of what he’s doing, I wonder if he’s feeling the way I do, but I have no way of knowing considering it’s only been three days. Three agonizing days. As my mind moves faster, and as my thoughts become increasingly circular, I knock again. And then again. And then again, the knocking becoming more frantic as the minutes pass by. The voices stop after awhile, and all I can hear is the sobbing coming from my own pathetic self. People come out of their rooms looking for the source of the clearly audible weeping, but then realize it’s me and awkwardly retreat.
The sobbing doesn’t stop, and I haven’t moved from his door for an hour. His roommates text me to let me know that he refuses to open the door despite their pleas. He sits in his room listening to me cry for that entire hour, listening to me profess my love for him, listening to me make an awful fool out of myself. But I’ve lost the only thing that has ever mattered to me, so I figure that there isn’t anything left to lose at this point.
My head starts spinning and as soon as I know it, the two of us are in the study room next door, and my tears have soaked the collar of my shirt, the salt depositing slowly on my neck. Unaffected by my pain, he sits in front of me stoically and logically explains why we don’t make sense together. I look at him desperately, trying to find an ounce of empathy in his body, giving him the benefit of the doubt — after all, he must have a heart.
“Brianna, I am in so much pain right now telling you this, but I just can’t do this anymore. I am going to have to cut you out of my life completely”. His face is calm and collected, and he crosses his arms and sighs as if he had just told his daughter that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I’ve fallen to my knees, slowly watching the world crumble around me as he walks out the door without remorse, and without saying goodbye.
I’ve offered him my entire heart, life, and being, and none of it could ever suffice for him. I stay in the study room and nothing makes sense to me anymore. All of the memories we shared, the plans we had for the future, and the way we made each other feel — all of it was meaningless, all of it means nothing to him now. But until this moment, I hadn’t realized how much empathy he truly lacked, and how he placed his own self worth above all else. Of course he refused to open the door despite the apparent suffering I was enduring, as it would have been too much for him to handle. And now, still on the floor, my face entirely smeared with mascara and salt, I think back to all of the times where he valued himself more than he valued me. I think back to when I would ask him why he was so against veganism, and how his responses amounted to him just deciding that he just doesn’t care about killing animals. I think back to our political arguments, and how he was so stubbornly conservative. And I would ask him how he could just ignore the problems of so many good people, and to that he responded similarly. He just doesn’t care, as it doesn’t affect him.
Filtering out the beautiful memories, I realize quickly that the man I’ve fallen in love with is in fact a dark reproduction of everything I absolutely despise. But of course, I can’t live without him, because even though our views on nearly every single topic are polar opposites, this man has captured my heart unlike anyone else. His clearly narcissistic characteristics only truly shine through after realizing how disillusioned I’ve been throughout the entire relationship. And as I sit here thinking about my future, I start eliminating any possibility of a future with him, and the tears come flooding down my face again.
Even though I am capable of rationalizing the situation, I physically feel my heart splitting in two as I remember what we always used to say to each other.
“You’ve got me, and I’ve got you”, and these words stick to my heart like glue.