August 30, 2009


Slaughter, Thomas P., Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North (New York & Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1991) (“The book looks more broadly at some of the ways that law functions as an expression of culture and how it represents the interests of some groups against perceived threats posed by others. Sometimes the line between politics and law is unclear; the treason trial resulting from the Christina Riot is one such case. Law is always affected by social prejudices that are embodied in legislation and actions of judges and juries. Tolerance for particular kinds of violence, the presence or absence of sympathy for victims, and the degree of identification with perpetrators all play roles in communities’ responses to violent acts.” “The story told here illustrates some of the ways that sufferance of violence responds t broader social patterns. I explore connections between physical brutality toward other humans and the ways we define who really belongs to our community and who does not—“us” and “them”….” Id. at xiii-xiv. “If the two hundredth anniversary of the Christiana Riot calls for an observance in the year 2051, the sponsors and participants should ask themselves why. Why remember a “tragedy”; why not let the past go? One plausible answer, which occurs to me after writing this book, is that we have yet to learn any number of lessons taught by this story. The first commemoration of the riot reconciled whites on both sides; the second “forgave” blacks for resisting the law and killing a slave owner in order to be free. Perhaps we all can someday acknowledge the continuing injustices that lead to such violence. If some child goes hungry, cannot read, or has no reason to hope, we should not be surprised by what happens next. When we define community narrowly to exclude others unlike ourselves in some sense—if we build better schools, housing, and hospitals for “us”—then we share the burden of violence committed by “them.” If we beat our children “for their own good,” kick our dogs when we have a bad day, or perform experiments on animals because they are genetically similar by somehow different from “us,” we forge additional links in the chain that binds us to our violent past.” Id. at 186.).