This week’s writing assignment was given to us by Professor Shadeeda Mensah. She asked us to write a letter to our younger self (at 15 years old). She asked us what would we say and why? She wanted us to say anything that would be important for our younger self to know. But in writing this letter she wanted us to consider Butler’s point that, “vulnerability………becomes highly exacerbated under certain social and political conditions, especially those in which violence is a way of life and the means to secure self-defense are limited.
At 15, I was arrested for attempted murder; which was reduced to assault in the 1st degree. The mind state of that child then was very aggressive and anti-authority; so in reality, the child then wouldn’t listen to the man now. That child was hard-headed and took pleasure in arguing his truth (a future philosopher). He was closed minded and swore he knew everything about life. So what would I say to him?
I know you at a place where you don’t want to be told anything by anyone, especially something positive, because in your world nothing seems positive. But this is coming from you, your future self. So I am figuring that you’ll have no problems listening to your own words.
The first thing I would like to tell you is the prison sentence you are about to do, will not define you; which I know you can’t believe. But it’s true. It’s your actions after prison that will begin to define you. You will enroll in college, and then drop out. That’s your first mistake, and probably the most vital. You will choose drugs and money over education.
Right now, the projects have you feeling like your walls are caving in around you. You feel nothing in your environment seems to be cultivating anything positive in you. All the centers are closing. You’ve tried playing sports, but it doesn’t interest you. You like art, music, and poetry, but there are no programs like that in your neighborhood. This is where you will begin to write graffiti, the only form of expression that you have besides rhyming. They will give you a voice. Some of the only tools you have to fight that vulnerability.
Right now, you’re feeling you have no control over your life. Your friends are dying because of random violence. They’re going to jail because they are committing crimes; they feel helpless. Gunshots have become normal, you almost feel immune to death by a bullet. This is an example of derealization; which is a feeling of altered reality and ones surroundings appear unreal or unfamiliar. The police are harassing you everywhere you go; which is not outside the four block radius you call home. Drugs are everywhere and everyone is doing them. I guess it’s a form of escape (maybe they’re trying to escape or deal with that vulnerability) you feel like you are at war; like your destiny is to die in this ghetto, whether physically or mentally.
Let me tell you now, you become everything you hate. You engage in this Gomorrah because you think that you cannot rise above it. But you can. These conditions do not have to define you. That vulnerability that you are feeling can perpetuate a great awareness. So what I am giving you is a warning: The only way to truly fight for your life and your conditions is become active in your local politics. Become aware of what’s going on in your neighborhood and neighborhoods like yours. Give yourself a true voice and become part of the political process. Begin to fight for what you believe in, correctly. Become an intern or volunteer, pay attention to the news, and go to school. As Judith Butler said,
“Violence is surely a touch of the worst order, a way a primary human vulnerability to other humans is exposed in its most terrifying way, a way in which we are given over, without control, to the will of another, a way in which life itself can be expunged by the willful action of another. To the extent that we commit violence, we are acting on another, putting the other at risk, causing the other damage, threatening to expunge the other”.
This is only one of the outcomes or effects of vulnerability. It is not the only outcome. Vulnerability can also build a character trait in you called resistance. So I want you to resist!