The color of memories
Race and narratives of loss
Even in death, the politics of race shapes what we remember, who we remember, and how we remember.
A Black US President feels for the children of Newton. He imagines them as his children, and is lost for meaning at the loss of the White children in rich suburbia of Newton. His solidarity for these children is expressed in the pain that he visibly feels and the responsibility he takes for collective action. The President’s sense of solidarity connects his experiences as a father with the fathers of the children of Sandy Hook. His tears offer a moment of authenticity through which we connect with him and with the pain of being a parent who has lost a child. Like him, as a father, I feel pain.
I also feel pain for the children in Gary, Indiana, a place a few miles South of Chicago where Black children die from gun violence. I have heard stories of suffering and hope that community members in Gary share. In Gary, the politics of race is written into the everyday organizing of schools, the opportunities that are absent, the parks that are missing, and the food that remains inaccessible. The stories I have heard in my conversations in Gary speak to the tremendous courage and resilience of community members who work every day to find meaningful avenues for engagement and to build hopes for health. Like the senselessness of the violence in Newton, the violence in Gary is senseless. There is no meaningful interpretive frame through which one can understand the loss of lives.
The dignity of the innocent lives lost in Gary connects in solidarity with the dignity of the innocent lives lost in Newton. The color of loss is different, and so is the economics of loss. A large number of deaths take place as a result of gun violence in poorer parts of urban neighborhoods. These stories of gun violence get written off as stories of crime, criminalizing communities, spaces, and races. In these instances, the victims of gun violence are denied the dignity of having a meaningful story that occupies our imaginations. We don’t hear the stories of poor children of color who are killed by gun violence. We don’t witness large scale global media narratives that are organized around celebrating these lost lives. We don’t feel pain through these stories of loss and don’t connect every day to mobilize for action.
This makes me wonder then, why is it that there are only certain deaths that we are willing to remember? Why is it that we as global collective communities only tell the stories of the dignity and innocence of some lives and not others? Even more so, I remain lost for meaning in understanding what is it that connects an African American President with the stories of loss of White children in upper socioeconomic status neighborhoods, and not with Black children in poor neighborhoods. Why is it that the President sees his daughters in the loss of lives in Sandy Hook and not in loss of lives of African American children in Gary or Chicago.
Through this global storying of violence, I also hope for listening to stories of children of color and children of the poor. Through these stories, I hope we can connect with an African American President who represents the hope for civil rights and social justice. Through these stories, I hope that we can talk about the politics of race that reproduces disproportionate risks for children of color. The storying of the dignity of children of color is essential to political mobilization around the disproportionate burdens of risk faced by children of color. Are there any storytellers out there?