Responses to a recent tweet by Pete Buttigieg rightly called out the presidential candidate for his use of the phrase "American Heartland" as "code for white." The incident raises interesting linguistic questions about how we unpack complex cultural metaphors.
When it comes to questions of how to respond to the cultural demand to "honor the soldiers who died for you," I find that the problem is not so much that I do not want to comply, but that I literally do not know how. Assuming, of course, that our honor and memory should take a form other than silent complicity in the continuing violence and militarism of our government — what should my honor look like?
It has happened again. In fact, it is still happening, even now. If not here, then somewhere, in this country, in this world. There is almost no end to it. There is almost no space between one moment and the next, between the pain and the noise it makes.
What do we do now?
Last night I had a dream. I was enrolled in a class that taught self-defense. The instructor was a thin, over-eager man. He split the class in half and gave half of the students bats. To the other half, he said, "They're going to come at you with bats. So you need to practice how to defend yourself." I kept waiting for some advice, some insight into how you fend off a person with a bat. But that was all he said.
And they came at us with bats. Swinging for the head, the shoulders. I raised my arms over my head to protect myself, and they swung their bats until my arms were bruised and shattered in a pulpy mess of pain. The instructor called out, "Swing harder! You need to learn how to defend yourselves against an enemy that will show no mercy. This is a serious threat, and you need to take it seriously." And it dawned on me that those of us without the bats were not the only ones being taught. The students with bats saw themselves as warriors, defenders learning to wield their weapons for the right cause, in the name of justice. Their eyes burned with pride and power.
When I look at my own response — even the immediate, uncensored emotional response I had when I first heard the news — there is not even a trace of relief or joy. Bewilderment, yes. But honestly, more than a little bit of cynicism and scorn, as well. There's a part of me that immediately began to wonder what the "game" was that the government was playing this time, how they would turn the event to their advantage, and to what extent the killing of bin Laden was carefully orchestrated for calculated purposes. The seeming rush to dispose of the body, the lack of evidence or corroborating story from any sources outside the U.S. government, and now the rapidity with which the "official story" seems to keep changing, sparked my inner Conspiracy Theorist.