The week we announce our Pushcart Prize nominees is usually a pretty happy one for us: Who doesn’t love an opportunity to crow about their best work, to revel in celebrating the fantastic authors we’re blessed to work with?
But that joy is mitigated by the news from Ferguson, Missouri, about the unyielding cycle that always devolves to pretty much to the same stark facts: An unarmed black man being shot to death, and no one being held accountable. And the conversation always unfolds the same way: The forces of authority and corporate media begin a campaign of maligning the victim’s past, painting the picture that he was “no angel.” As if somehow that equates that his death was justified. That argument, with all the logical fallacy it entails, is ubiquitous, and not so dissimilar to the argument that a rape victim deserves what she gets because of what she was wearing, or that the gay teenager deserved to be bashed because he asked a straight boy to the prom. As though the perpetrators had no role in the act of violence. As though they held no blame.
And then, there’s the other refrain: Fear. The shooter was always justified because they were afraid, when clearly one side was armed and the other was not. As if they had not, to co-opt an NRA phrase, become “a bad guy with a gun” at that moment. Would, if all of these young black men were armed at that moment, all be alive today? That does seem to be the lesson our culture of guns and violence seems to be trying to impart these days: Everyone should buy guns, authority is beyond question, and you’re justified to commit murder if you’re afraid.
One can be forgiven for thinking this constant whimpering sounds like the delirious ravings of a coward, and for being concerned that so many of the people utilizing such cowardly defenses for their actions are police officers. We should be extremely concerned about the institutional racism that permeates our culture and particularly our law enforcement agencies, but perhaps we should also take a moment to question the courage and judgement of the people we arm to maintain order. They’re not unrelated: Racism, at its core, is the lashing out of weak people who are afraid of the dark.
Someone will now bring up the “not all cops are bad” argument, which is not dissimilar to “not all priests are pedophiles” and “not all frat boys are rapists.” Sure – on all counts. But the actions of individuals aren’t the point. The point is the overall pattern … and that’s dismal. The point is that the picture looks different when you go into African-American communities, and hear the stories of the deaths of young black men from the other side, how their stories often differ from the “official” accounts. This isn’t to say those accounts are right or wrong, but it feels like sides of the story – of all the stories – are frequently being left out. Are being silenced.
Radius is a literary journal. We really can’t do all that much about violence or institutional racism. But silence is something within our power to address, at least a little bit, and we’ve been lucky enough over the years to work with writers from all over the world who tell us things about their experience, about the human experience, that are powerful and eye-opening. It strikes me, especially in weeks like this, how necessary some of the poems and essays we’ve published are.
It breaks my heart that they’re still necessary. Every time.
So with that far more sober preface than they deserve, it’s our pleasure to announce our 2014 Pushcart Prize nominees:
To our nominees: Thank you, again, for your brilliance, your passion and your bravery, for peering into the abyss and returning to tell us things we need to know. Good luck.
Victor D. Infante
Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge