Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fighting structural violence

Found this over at Fourth World Eye:
Eloisa Tamez, Lipan Apache grandmother, has been sued by the Department of Homeland Security for refusing permission to build a border wall across her property. A relative of Jumano Apache Esequiel Hernandez (who was murdered in 1997 by U.S. Marines while herding goats), Professor Tamez says she is continuing to do what she has always done — fighting structural violence against indigenous peoples. In 1950, Eloisa Garcia Tamez led a local fight against segregation in public schools.
There's plenty of structural violence to fight with regard to the border wall, which is not only threatening indigenous livelihoods along the border, but also basic cultural practices.

For those needing a quick refresher course on structural violence, here's what appeared here a couple weeks ago:
Structural violence refers to physical harm (including death) suffered by a particular group of people who do not have access to the same services and benefits as the rest of society. Those who are displaced would be considered victims of structural violence - in this case due to the collapse of their baseline socio-economic situation as a result of the whatever changes have been imposed upon them in the form of invasions or "free trade" agreements. Structural violence is often the most deadly and insidious forms of violence. To take a few words from the book, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan (1985):
Structural violence is a feature of social structures. This form of violence is inherent in the established modes of social relations, distribution of goods and services, and legal practices of dispensing justice. Structural violence involves more than the violation of fairness and justice. [p. 136]

Structural violence is the most lethal form of violence because it is the least discernible; it causes premature deaths in the largest number of persons; and it presents itself as the natural order of things. A situation of oppression rests primarily on structural violence which in turn fosters institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal violence. Structural violence pervades the prevailing values, the environment, social relations, and individual psyches. The most visible indicators of structural violence are differential rates of mortality, morbidity, and incarceration among groups in the same society. In particular, a situation of oppression increases the infant mortality rate and lowers the life expectancy for the oppressed. [p. 155]
The displaced are systematically deprived of the basics for survival, resulting in poverty, malnutrition, premature death. That's what structural violence is. The physical harm suffered in this case usually falls underneath the mass-media radar because it is less salient, less spectacular than deaths due to IEDs or aerial bombing raids, less shockingly noticeable than the mass killings by death squads. The structural violence in this case (as is true of various colonial genocides of the past) will also fall underneath the radar because it is built into the very fabric of the oppressors' worldview. Starvation and malnutrition for example are simply written off as "those savages cannot take care of themselves." The more liberal of the oppressors might even acknowledge such phenomena as partially their responsibility, but cheerfully contend that in the end "it was worth it" as Madeleine Albright said of the half million Iraqi children under five who had died as a result of economic sanctions during the 1990s. The deaths caused from the stress of being displaced, and without access to fundamental human needs for survival are no less real, even if they don't make their way to the front page of New Pravda.
Indeed, the Apartheid Wall being built along the border threatens a number of folks with displacement and social death, which as I've mentioned before are consequences of pursuing a neoliberal framework for economics and politics. If such policies were pursued by some other nation whom our elites disapprove, the term "genocidal" might become "fit to print" in the corporate media. Regrettably, we don't call things by their true names in what comprises polite society when the focus is our own government. Even if the warning signs are there, the tendency is to engage in denialism. That denialism doesn't make the structural violence any less real, and places an even greater burden on people of conscience to continue to speak out as often and as loudly as possible.

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