Structural Violence and the American Experiment

From the comfort of my home in this peaceful region of the world I find myself reflecting on the most recent incidents of violence that shook the core of American culture and identity. What happened in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas is another cycle of violence in a series of racial confrontations between whites and non-whites. We tend to forget that we are an integral part of this nation-building experiment called the United States of America. Our public education system, our policy makers, our elected officials, historians, and media do not remind us often enough or even make the public aware that we are part of an ongoing experiment that did not take into account racial, income, gender or sexual orientation equality in its early stages of design. What happened this week and what happened in Orlando last month should remind us that we are part of an experiment gone wrong in the eyes of those who feel threatened by the revisions of Democracy and Capitalism that have paved the way for greater social justice and the guarantee of basic human rights. All minorities were not meant to be equal but the system has been flexible enough to allow the social construction of equality for those who lacked this basic human right. It is over this principle that our society continues to collide, as it has done so for the past 240 years.

Putting aside the pain, anger and frustration that we currently feel, we have to admit deep inside our hearts that the people’s sacrifice has been worth the cause. Ours is a dysfunctional experiment but it is one of the few experiments that have spearheaded socio-political transformations such as the Civil Rights Movement. It is difficult to be objective after what happened to the victims in Louisiana, Minnesota, Dallas and Orlando, but this nation-building experiment is still in its infant stage. Not even sixty years have passed since the initial policies for the elimination of racial segregation and discrimination were first implemented. Some of the roots of racism are still alive and continue to plant the seed on new generations but this is not the norm as the racial stigmas are broken by the powerful experience of human interaction. Those who perpetrated the most recent violent acts are a minority and are not representative of the future of America. We are slowly moving toward a raceless nation but this will take a long time.

As we walk on this long road to change, new social, economic, and political challenges will interfere with its forward movement. In today’s world, where information is power, we are confused and manipulated by media that is no longer public but privately owned. Media’s thirst for high ratings combined with high-end communications technology in the hands of the public result in a new concoction of social-political communications that instigate greater violence instead of rational peace and dialogue. This short-lived 240-year experiment we call the United States is now confronting a new high in racial tensions and while the evidence of structural violence is irrefutable, it does not justify social anarchy and an escalation of violence. Media, as we have seen this past week, advances the idea that we are racially divided but the real issue is not race but poverty and income inequality.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. "Rate of law enforcement killings, per million population per year, 1999-2011."

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. “Rate of law enforcement killings, per million population per year, 1999-2011.”


What is at the center of this most recent escalation of violence is structural income inequality and not just racism. Media that is controlled by the powers of American capital is quick to advance the racial agenda in order to deviate the public from the present realities of increasing income inequality. Black men, representative of today’s urban poverty and disenfranchisement, are just the tip of the iceberg. The violent tensions of the past between newly arrived European immigrants and police authorities throughout the Gilded Age have now been replaced by the current tense relations between urban police and urban poor. Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” is the closest we can get to a live-stream video of this particular era of violence, but violent times that resulted from the structural pressures of income inequality are once again peaking around the corner. Hidden under issues of race, it will only become more evident that the real problem with structural violence is poverty. In the future, when the targets of violence are no longer blacks, Latinos or Native Americans but white disenfranchised members of our society, and when media is forced to center on new forms of structural violence, it will be inevitable for our elected leaders to talk about poverty and the pressures of structural income inequality.

This reflects the median household net worth by race.  Tami Luhby. "Income inequality in America:  Worsening wealth inequality by race." CNN Money. June 21, 2012.

This reflects the median household net worth by race. Tami Luhby. “Income inequality in America: Worsening wealth inequality by race.” CNN Money. June 21, 2012.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth. These are my personal views, and they do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine.