The Rittenhouse Verdict and the Question of Nuance
Fanon had written that the colonized belonged to a higher cognitive category than the colonizer for a simple reason: The colonized have to be able to think of themselves and their masters as human whereas the colonizer thinks of his subjects as merely “things” or chattel.
I have thought about this with regard to two peoples with whom I have some familiarity: African-Americans and Indian Muslims. African-American parents have to inject nuance into their children’s worldview- they understand that teaching them to hate their oppressors as a monolith is not right, that they must understand people as individuals. The same with Indian Muslims with regard to the Hindu majority. On the other hand, from the perspective of the majority community, it is tenable to consider the entire minority as one monolith- inferior, other, even subhuman. One doesn’t need too vivid an imagination to remember which “we were twelve years in power”- group this reminds us of.
Today, November 19, 2021, I am thinking about this as we receive the disappointingly predictable news that Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges, perhaps in a different context- surely less severe than colonialism and racism, but nonetheless important.
How does one raise children, especially children-of-color, in the United States? How is it possible to help children understand how to think of citizenship, decency, humanity, fairness, discretion, nuance, or justice in a world where a young white man who took lives in a brazen act of vigilantism- in an obviously racially-motivated posture — is both lauded as a hero, hailed as a victim, and set free to, perhaps, do it again? How do you help a child think of kindness, embrace and feel the world, wonder about her future, maintain a dignified happiness, and feel good and safe in such a place? Is it right to push children to understand the “shades of grey” in a world in which white-and-black (yes) appear to be the only two hues?
Or is it better and safer to inculcate a Manichean worldview, to teach them to both hate and to fear? I’m sure I could learn a lot from African-American and Indian Muslim parents — who might be able to help me answer these questions to myself. Of course, I imagine, these are the questions asked by thousands of minority groups in thousands of areas.
For Americans, it is worth grappling with a few facts: The “city on a hill” was never that and is degrading quickly. What passes as “debate” in this country is pathetic. The degraders are winning- we all now have to understand that they have set the agenda. We legitimately “discuss” whether one Congressman’s public meme of killing a Congresswoman is okay. We legitimately discuss whether killing people with an AR-15 because they are protesting is okay. We legitimately discuss whether a young African-American man should be shot for jogging in the “wrong” place. We also legitimately discuss whether getting a vaccine for a communicable disease is the right thing to do and whether ensuring that sealing the fate of humanity is worth doing in order to maintain lifestyles. Drill baby Drill. Kill baby Kill. That is where we are.
Of course, we have no real exemplar. There has never been a country as powerful as ours, with the capability of wiping out the world in a few minutes, with such a stunted notion of discourse and citizenship. So we have to decide which way to go. We appear to have decided that the abyss is the best option; can we reverse course?
I fear for my children. I tremble at the thought that my parents have to deal with this in their old age. I’m going to fight.