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Friday, 18 December 2015 00:00

Busted at Birth: Becoming Instantly Disposable in the United States

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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As I saw a clip the other day of CNN promoting a presidential debate - yet again - as some sort of gladiator event, I was disgusted by how the mainstream corporate media thrives on promoting conflict to attract viewers.

It's not just politics that becomes a caricature of a series of World Wrestling Federation bouts - it's also the superficial and sensationalistic corporate media coverage of struggles for a just, equal and enlightened democracy. With all the courageous advocacy happening around the United States to achieve social justice, movements are often portrayed as some sort of pitched battle between "the forces of law and order" and activists. Corporate-run television, in particular, tends to reduce vital struggles over moral imperatives to viewer-attracting "clashes."

Activists around the country are making it very clear that the instances of violence that are the subject of protests - for example, police killings - occur within the context of systemic oppression. However, when covering protests, the mass media rarely reports that the overall goal of many of these actions is transformative change, nor do corporate outlets generally discuss the ways in which oppression has taken root in their own coverage.

Mass media does not reveal the perniciousness of the "white settler" narrative that has been handed from one US generation to the next - and how crucial it is to disrupt that narrative. Of course, with the change of narrative must come a metamorphosis in attitudes and institutional structures within the US.

What is at stake is a seemingly permanent condition of regarding many lives as having no value, which comes along with an accepted bigotry in which no wrong can be done by people who hold white privilege - while those without it are already guilty.

This is a concept that reverberates in the poem "Busted Boy," written by Simon Ortiz. The Poetry Foundation describes Ortiz as "a leading figure in the Native American literary renaissance that emerged in the 1960s." Ortiz is a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe.

In "Busted Boy," an Indigenous man who is getting off an interstate bus describes a Black teenager being arrested and handcuffed. The narrator then describes the atmosphere in the bus terminal, as he exchanges glances with the other Indigenous person in his vicinity:

Nobody seems to notice or they don’t really want to see
Everything is quiet and normal, nothing’s disturbed.
The other Indian and I exchange glances, nod, turn away.
Busted boy. Busted Indians. Busted lives. Busted again.

As with many of the best poets, Ortiz's words are straightforward and succinct but resonate with profundity.

Ortiz reminds us that so many people are regarded as "already busted" - busted at birth - and that this ingrained presumption needs to be taken into account when justice is discussed. Justice can only be achieved when the prejudices bound up in the US's national "heritage" (which includes both slavery and the Indigenous genocide) are replaced with a deep-founded understanding that all are actually born equal - that these are not just the words that were hypocritically chiseled into imposing monuments in Washington, DC. Furthermore, this understanding must create new conditions in which all people in the US grow up with equal access to the economy, to quality education, to social acceptance and to individual rights.

White supremacy and settler colonialism are conditions that corporate television headlines - with their coverage of isolated incidents and "debates" - will not acknowledge, let alone alter. We must listen to the activists who are calling for transformative change: A spiritual and institutional transformation is necessary - and urgent.

Not to be posted without the permission of Truthout.