I grew up in the Vermont-Slauson area of Los Angeles, California during the 1990s and 2000s. As a I result, I’ve never had a great appreciation for life. I know that this sounds morbid and incredible, but it is simply a fact of life. It is a product of the environment that I called “home” for the first 17 years of my life. Much has been made of the effects of violent video games on children. The idea is that having a 10-year old blast Russian and Chinese soldiers on his Xbox will inevitably make him want to blast the kid who called him “four-eyes” at school. At face value, it seems like a fair-enough hypotheses, although I’ve probably slaughtered millions of nameless henchmen and megalomaniac bosses and have never had any great urge to kill any real person…that may just be me. Anywho, I mention that because the supposed effects of violent video games on the minds of American youth has, on multiple occasions, ignited debate in many sectors of society. From the entertainment industry to suburban 3-time World Halo champions, the situation has been discussed and measures for solving this supposed issue have been proposed and taken. Solutions ranged from banning the games outright to creating more non-violent games as a balance to the Grand Theft Autos of the world. Nowadays, kids can’t buy certain games without the consent of their parents. Thus, to fix the issue of potential violence from kids with violent video games, the state has decided to allow the parents to decide their children’s access to such games. A great deal of power. Now, what does this all have to do with my neighborhood and the fact that I’ve never had a great appreciation for life.
As a child, I heard murder and death discussed as if it were talk of the weekly kids’ soccer game scores. Two dead on Raymond Avenue, three shot on Normandie. I’m not one of those metaphysical, we’re-connected-to-the-earth type of people, but I was two years old when one of the most violent events of my generation exploded right down the street from my house (Los Angeles Uprising/Riots). We played a game called “Drive By” as kids where we would wait until a car approached on our street and dash to the nearest hiding spot, lest we be “shot.” I hit the floor to dodge gunshots as a teenager. I had seen a person shot by that time as well. What appreciation could I truly get for life when death had already lost its mystique. It was always right around the corner. Yes, I feared death at the time, but only in so much as I was programmed how to act to avoid it. My fear of death came not from loving life, but being told to fear the end. This isn’t much different than the millions of children who grew up in military families and military cities during wartime. To them, death was something to think about early on. Thus, there is precedence for this feeling in a more mainstream segment of America, yet even the problem that causes that insidious lack of appreciation for life receives attention. No one wants war, generally speaking. Most Americans are weary of Iraq and Afghanistan and would rather not send these fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters to their deaths anymore. So the question I ask is this: Why are there no offered solutions for the situations that have drained my appreciation for life?
Now, I have never seriously contemplated any type of violent crime in my neighborhood. I never had a reason to. While we were never well-off, we weren’t dirt poor. But if you flip the script and put me in a lot of these young folks shoes, I would probably be writing this blog post on worn paper in San Quentin correctional facility. See, when life has no value, you have little problem taking it or giving up your own. That’s why the prison system is so well-known in inner-city communities. There are a plethora of reasons that these areas are the way they are and it is, without a doubt, important to understand them. Yet, unlike with video games and warfare, the conversation eludes the mainstream American’s mind and mouth unless it is present only to provoke statements like “they should get their own act together” as if “they” aren’t your fellow citizen. Or “well, they just need to put more police there” as if the police that are there are perfectly trained and behaved as is.
I feel like I’m rambling now, so I’ll cut this short. We, Americans, need to begin focusing on how we can make every square inch of this land one in which every child can appreciate life to the fullest. We need to commit to US. Everyone wants to push problems further away from their neighborhoods rather than use their minds and pocketbooks to address them. Actually, maybe just minds, because many Americans have no problem spending thousands of dollars to travel to Africa to help those poor people when we have millions of poor people right here in the USA. And although this may be the land of opportunity, even the opportunity is starting to require a down payment that a lot of folks don’t have. So, this holiday season and forward, I challenge you all to, at the very least, read up on the problems affecting America’s most vulnerable. Suspend your disbelief that criminals are humans too and learn about what makes them criminals. Imagine the impact of a child seeing a real-life human gunned down versus that of seeing a virtual representation of computer data “shot” on GTA and then commit to doing something about it.
Let’s make America better. All of it….Not just our sweet little corner.