Ever since I have had my own apartment—for more than seven years—I have not owned a TV set. At first I did not buy one because I simply had neither the space nor the money. When I moved to Los Angeles, the apartment I rented came with a TV. For the first few days, I was literally stuck in front of it. Outside, things were happening, helicopters were flying over, Dodger fans were honking their horns, there was a smell of tamales being wrapped to be sold illegally. I, however, was stuck in this simulated parallel world. The local TV station seemed surreal, even though it corresponded perfectly to the unflattering image of the typical, stereotypical Los Angeles: “Disappearance of Chinese student”, “R. A.’s murder remains unsolved”, “Criminal investigator barely survives gang shoot-out”. The news became increasingly morbid, so much so that it felt unbelievable, fictional. The real-world violence seemed like a part of a performance by this motion-picture city and I, the viewer, was suddenly unable to distinguish between the real—the reality show—and the fictional—the feature movie. Both were equally aggressive. Last weekend yet another fiction, born from the film The Hunger Games, came to life as a new episode in the terrible tradition of the unfulfilled American dream in which an angry young man went on a shooting spree against all “who actually deserve it”.1
When I began, as part of my work obligations and coursework requirements, to join various local communities that strive to prevent violence (such as educational institutions) and deal with its consequences (help people work through traumatic experiences), it became clear to me that killing sprees such as Rodger’s and the glorification of violence in the film industry are both real-world reflections of the American dream. Violence—or to be exact: understanding violence and the development of different methods for teaching non-violence—is the subject of my pure and applied research. In this Mecca of violence I could right from the start begin studying all the possible faces of human misery caused by discrimination. These include extreme poverty, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, banal stereotypes at the very bottom of the pyramid of hate, all the way to various forms of –icides, i.e. the elimination of individuals or groups on the basis of imagined, culturally determined identities. I mostly deal with people from minority communities and undocumented immigrants – all those that Americans with a hurtful metaphor refer to as trash. These are people from the fringes of society, mostly from the lower strata; these are the niggas from southern Los Angeles, the Latinos from the Pueblo and the predominantly non-white transgender and transsexual people with multiple identities from all sorts of places. In light of this, Beverly Hills, both on film and in reality, seems like an odd enclave, an urban mirage, completely separate from the world in which we, the trash and I, live.
As a white person in a predominantly non-white environment, I do not enjoy much popularity; this intoxication with hate, this spectacular violence seeps into all pores of life. Recently, as part of an event celebrating the Liberation Arts and Community Engagement Center, a short public discussion was held. The discussion revolved around the invisible racism in schools and unequal education opportunities. Latifa, a student from southern Los Angeles, insisted that in a constellation involving the antagonist—the oppressor—and the protagonists—the oppressed—the role of her oppressive ballet teacher should definitely be mine. Her reasons for this included my “Eastern European” (before my pointed remark she even called it “Russian”) physiognomy, which according to her embodied not only white supremacy, but also the ever-present media terror of the female ideal (which does not permit, as she put it, “naturally round black butts”). To accept this role, and in particular her arguments for assigning the role to me, would first mean that I help spread the existing stereotypes about the world being divided into white and black and hence that I fight racism—with racism. And secondly, it would mean that I let my white physiognomy determine my, in a way automatically ascribed, settler-colonial tendencies.
This one-dimensional view reminded me of my presentation on the need for new approaches to learning multiculturalism in Europe, which was attended solely by people of immigrant African background. This absurd postcolonial situation and the symbolic position of power (with me, a white woman, as the lecturer and them, African migrants, as the audience) concluded with the audience clinging to the notion of the fight against racism as, using a chess metaphor, black against white.
All these insights into the interpersonal aspects of hatred are interesting because we are so inclined to fetishise radical violence that we forget how ignorant we sometimes are on the epistemological level alone: the unavoidable egocentric position constantly leads us to focus on others, on their mistakes and their dark, aggressive sides. We learn non-violence through suppression and decontextualisation. We condemn the Holocaust, genocides and radical coalitions of hate without realising how violent we ourselves are in the fight against our own frustrations. How we unwittingly begin to fight hate with hate. Like Latifa, who sees me as a de facto white oppressor.
In the workshops, teenagers and I usually begin by deconstructing the myth of great aggressors such as Hitler and Osama bin Laden and conclude with their own degrading of their spotty, busty classmate or Almir, the Yugo. In the Ljubljana community centre where I work, teenage girls with migrant roots and I struggle with the same narrative—not black/white but white/black—as they put me down right at the start saying my boyfriend is “definitely a loser, ‘cos he’s a Slovene”. Hate is not a one-way street, nor is it something ‘radical’. The odd addiction to spectacle, in which violence becomes our daily fetish, and the heroic drive to eliminate the great -isms and -phobias make it seem as if hate and discrimination were the characteristics of a few specific people—perhaps just a small number of pathologically questionable individuals—and leave us blind to small, mundane routines, which should otherwise be recognised as microaggressions. The inexplicable intoxication with hate begins with our hurt ego, effected by envy, possessiveness, (self) control and unreflecting moralising.
We like to think of power as something that comes from the top down and vehemently reject the idea of vulnerable positions and endless exclusion practices, even though we often secretly fantasise about having some degree of power—no matter what kind, over whom or in which position. We try to turn a blind eye to our small aggressions, such as mere queue jumping, subtle elitisms, staring through a window in a packed bus when we should have stood up and offered our seat, cyberbullying on forums and social networks, raising our voice at an employee at the local bakery and frowning at other people. But if we find it so hard to resist the fetish of wielding our small private powers, how can we stop much larger hate marches, rallies and expulsions? How can I ardently lecture on non-violence and anti-discrimination practices if I am unable to put up constructive resistance to a passing driver spewing vulgar comments and catcalls?
Author: Nena Močnik. Junior researcher at the Faculty of Social Sciences, collaborates as an activist and lecturer in various projects for the promotion of non-violence and intercultural communication. As a Fulbright student she currently studies Applied Theatre Arts at the USC School of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles.
1 The protagonists in the film Hunger Games frequently emphasise that they will kill only those who deserve it. Elliot Rodger supposedly used the same words in his manifesto, in which he threatened to kill all those better than him, who made him invisible and irrelevant to the world – for which they deserved death.
Title photo: Ryan McGuire.
Translated by: Peter Mesarič.