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.
- Mae Ngai. Internment and Renunciation. PDF.
- Rucker, Paul . REWIND. Accessed February 24, 2017. www.rewindexhibition.com/ documents/PRucker_Rewind2_PressReady_rev4.pdf.
- Smith, Andrea. Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy. PDF.
- “Soul Wound by Andrea Smith.” Manataka. Accessed February 24, 2017. http:// http://www.manataka.org/page2290.html.