This isn’t the United States

Joseph W.H. Lough

While flipping through the FM radio dial this morning searching for hip-hop music, my eleven-year old son settled upon a station whose DJ was at that moment offering his commentary on the events unfolding around the Boston Marathon bombing. The DJ, whose indeterminate age could have been anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five, was lamenting how it was almost like “this wasn’t America.”


Several things struck me about the young DJ’s remarks. The first was whether this DJ was aware of the interminable wave of daily bombings Iraqis and Afghanis have had to endure over the past decade and whether he was prepared to acknowledge that the unending violence families endure daily in these regions was at least in part due to his and my insatiable appetite for unrenewable energy. My second thought was to wonder what “America” he was dreaming of that today’s “America” no longer was. Perhaps he was thinking of the America — today’s America — where inner-city youth (compelled to attend schools funded by a declining tax base and to negotiate families and communities torn apart by the financialization of America’s wealth — we used to make stuff, we now make money) are subject to increasing rates of violence (Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology 4:1 Spring 2012). Or perhaps he was not thinking of inner city youth. Perhaps he was thinking of the lynching days when, during my life-time, angry poor underemployed white men roamed southern (and northern) communities, under the protection and usually with the assistance of “the law,” looking for lone black men they could torture and kill. Or perhaps he was thinking of the era when Carnegie and Rockefeller hired thugs to assault and murder striking workers at their factories and plants. Or perhaps he was thinking about America’s march westward, when US soldiers ruthlessly murdered thousands of native Americans in order to clear territory in the Mississippi Valley and Texas to expand human slavery. Or perhaps he was thinking about the colonial era when my ancestors worked in church basements building IEDs to blow off the legs of British soldiers.

But, no. I suspect what he was thinking of was that other America, the America that traditionally has been insulated from this unending spree of violence.

Truly was it said that we wish to “sow where we do not reap.” But it is also true that we are very poor judges of the seed we are planting and therefore fail to recognize the crops we are sowing. We are and always have been a terribly violent people. Only recently, only after the rest of the industrialized world, did we even think to care for our elderly. We still don’t care for our young, sick, or our poor.

What happened in Boston was a terrible, cowardly act. It should not go unpunished or defended. What is unusual, even perhaps pathological, is how many of us jump to the conclusion that such acts of violence are foreign to our soil; as though they must have been introduced from the outside, or as though they have only cropped up recently; for example, since we elected an African American man with an Islamic name.

But, no, tragically, what happened in Boston is not so exceptional, except perhaps that it happened to people who looked like us, doing things that we might do, enjoying a run in the park, just like us, through neighborhoods that, like our neighborhoods, should be safe because of the wealth we have invested in them, but are not.

Welcome to America.

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