May 19, 2013
Hoodie Politics: Trayvon Martin and Racist Violence in Post-Racial America
Posted on Apr 4, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
An echo of the conditions that are responsible for Trayvon Martin’s senseless killing can be heard in the words of politicians who embrace a culture of cruelty, suggesting that children who have predetermined illnesses not be given access to health care. It is evident in laws that sentence young people to adult prisons; it is clear in economic policies that drain income from working families and their children in order to line the pockets of the extremely and unproductively wealthy and private hedge fund managers. It is also visible in a carceral state that wages war on the poor rather than on poverty, defunds public schools so that they can be privatized, and demonizes young people while teaching them that punishing them is more important than educating them. A culture of compassion has been replaced by a culture of fear that radically forstalls future possibility. The manufactured national hysteria over private security has become a disease, massaged by endless moral panics about poor people, immigrants, minorities and dangerous youth, and all the while making us less safe and ever more vulnerable to violence. A consumer and hyper-militarized society that defines all relationships according to market values and enshrine a “survival-of-the-fittest ethic” leaves behind a string of abandoned visions, dreams, hopes and belief in the future. Symptoms of ethical, political and economic impoverishment are all around us.
When traces of the social contract and our responsibility to present and future generations were still alive in the United States (prior to the late 1970s), many Americans believed it took a social state and a strong community to raise a child. That is, they believed in social safety nets that offered social protections, decent health care, child care and other important social rights that affirmed the centrality of, and shared experience of, the common good, if not democracy itself. What many Americans now accept is a mode of “failed sociality” that has turned the principles of democracy against itself, deforming both the language of freedom and justice that made equality a viable idea and political goal. Community as a metaphor for the common good and social contract is dead in America. Community is now gated and policed, and responsibility is reduced to a private and privately contracted affair shaped by a set of values that breathe a kind of mad savagery into a new form of economic Darwinism. In this market-driven, hypermasculine and militarized society, shared modes of sociality that provide collective protections and expand the rights of the social contract are now viewed with disdain. In fact, for some pundits such as Rick Santorum, they are derided as a pathology, a religiously inflected notion of evil and sin that poisons the body politic.
Young people now find themselves in a world in which sociality has been reduced to an economic battle ground over materialistic needs waged by an army of nomadic individuals, just as more and more people find their behavior pathologized, criminalized and subject to state violence. Youth now find themselves in a social order in which bonds of trust have been replaced by bonds of fear. As Zygmunt Bauman puts it: “Trust is replaced by universal suspicion. All bonds are assumed to be untrustworthy, unreliable, trap-and-ambush-like - until proven otherwise.” All forms of social solidarity are now abandoned to a free-market logic that has individualized responsibility and reduced civic values to the obligations of consumer-driven self interest advanced against all other interests. How else to explain the fate of generations of young people, especially poor white, brown and black youth, who find themselves in a society in which 500,000 young people are incarcerated and 2.5 million are arrested annually, a society in which, by the age of 23, “almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime.” What kind of society do we live in that allows 1.6 million kids to be homeless at any given time in a year? What social order allows massive inequalities in wealth and income to produce a politically and morally dysfunctional social order in which, “45 percent of U.S. residents live in households that struggle to make ends meet, [which] breaks down to 39 percent of all adults and 55 percent of all children”? What is clear is that we now live in a society that invests more in what Etienne Balibar calls “the death zones of humanity” than in life itself, at least when it comes to poor youth.
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