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Acceptable Victims

by Miriam Axel-Lute on January 16, 2013


As we start to emerge from the horror of the Newtown school shootings, I keep finding myself returning to the other half of what I thought to say when I wrote about it back in December but couldn’t fit in it.

I talked about how our 24/7 sensationalizing media bridges gaps of time and distance to make this school shooting seem personal in a way mass murder a hundred years ago did not. I said that though this, in general, is a problem because it skews out sense of risk, in this case it could be a benefit, if our collective distress moves us to fight for sensible gun restrictions that will prevent a wider swath of types violence, many of which are actually all too tragically common.

What I didn’t get to say is that things that are even greater will happen if we can also shrink the far wider gaps of nationality, foreignness, culture, ethnicity, and religion. Those are things, we all well know, that allow us to accept acts of barbarism in our name or that allow us to turn a blind eye to violence toward and among people who feel different from us close to home.

In the article on a just-as-bad school murder spree in 1928 that I quoted last time, Art Markman, author of Smart Thinking, was quoted as saying: “In 1928, the odds are that if people in this country read about this tragedy, they read it several days later, in place that was hard to get to. . . . Michigan? If you were living in South Carolina, it would be a three-day drive. It’s almost another country. You’d think, ‘Those crazy people in Michigan,’ same as if a school blows up in one of the breakaway Republics.”

Ah, and we really shouldn’t be upset when a school blows up in one of the “breakaway Republics.” I’m sure that’s not exactly what he meant. And yet it’s pretty much what he meant.

This is what lets us become blasé about bombing children just as young and just as beloved as the kindergarteners who were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I was very moved to hear that Albany’s own Mothers Against Murders and Shootings organization traveled to Newtown to participate in their vigils and lend support. I would dearly love to think that once some of those affected have had a little more time to grieve and begin to heal that they also reach out in return—not necessarily to Albany specifically, but to poor communities who lose family members from gun violence with shocking regularity. I hope that our legislative responses to gun violence can be crafted with all those affected at the table. And I hope that together we can repudiate the idea of “acceptable” victims of violence, just like those working to end rape culture are trying to do by challenging the disgusting idea of some people “asking for it.”

I know all too well that we can’t feel a deep and personal hurt about every wrong in the world at every moment in the day. I’m not suggesting that. We’d go catatonic and not get anything done. I don’t even think that it’s necessary or realistic for us to overcome entirely our natural impulses to feel more concerned about something affect whoever we’ve identified as “our group,” or circumstances that seem similar to ours.

But I do think that we would come to policies and choices more befitting our better natures, and in the end that would be then better for us and our planet, if we first kept stretching our sense of who is in our “our group.” Especially those affected by our actions or our government’s, and especially those kept out of the limelight. Bearing witness is a powerful act.

Tonight (Thursday, Jan. 17), you have a chance to do this while supporting some local filmmakers. There’s a sneak preview at the Madison Theater at 7 and 9 PM for The Throwaways, directed by South End residents Ira McKinley and Bhawin Suchak. In their words, “The Throwaways tells the story of filmmaker and ex-felon Ira McKinley, who struggles to turn his life around and transform his inner-city community in Albany, N.Y. Weaving McKinley’s personal narrative of survival with stories of emerging social movements, The Throwaways takes an intimate look at the complex challenges facing urban America.”

If you spent any time at Occupy Albany, you probably saw them filming. See on.fb.me/10xjMWB for details about the preview.