I recently watched an episode of a TV series For the People, which is described as 'set in the Southern District of New York Federal Court.' It seeks to provide a more progressive representation of attitudes in the USA, in the context of the 'Southern District of New York Federal Court'. The main characters are defense and prosecution lawyers, with the context being a different case or cases in each episode and how they respond to these.
Episode 2 from season 2, titled This is America, aired in March 14, 2019.1. It deals with the tactics, approaches and actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in finding and deporting people from the USA. The focus of this episode is Merced, a cooperating witness in a case. We are introduced to Merced and his 7 year old son Ramon, with Merced asking Ramon to stay seated on a a bench in the courthouse until he returns. Merced is arrested by ICE agents (in the court room), and he intentionally does not tell them about Ramon. Tina, the district court clerk determines to take care of Ramon when confronted by the ICE agents looking for him. The scene is set for a challenge to current discourse about immigration in the USA — or as the producers describe 'taking on the current immigration situation in our country'. How the situation is taken on is worth reflecting on. it comes across as seeking to re-present the history of the USA in a positive (re)imagining of the trajectory of change. Part of a larger — heavily romanticised — all-to-common narrative. One that seems to want to provide a form of inclusive low-level critique, if we could call it a critique at all. There are strong messages about the horrific manifestations of racism in the USA, yet these are tempered by the narrative. This is quite evident in Tina's monologue towards the end of the episode:
This is America. It expands and it contracts. Advances and recedes. Opens and closes. This is a country birthed in freedom and built on slavery. Separating families. They separated black families in America for 250 years. What makes this feel so bad, nows, is that we expect more. And that is a good thing. This pain is progress. But, do not forget who we are and where we came from...
This is the America I know. A beacon and a curse. Light and darkness. Hope and despair. This is America right now. But... America never ends.
There is a central narrative of progress, of a form of hope. Tina is referring to a long view, yet earlier directly referred losing site of individuals in taking such a long view of justice (and social change). The hope she refers to encompasses elements of Derrick Jenson's challenge.2 It is more and different to that. It comes across as a hope that things will change, yet one that seems to situate itself in a national imaginary of regressive cycles within an overall a progressive trajectory. We can read this as an acceptance, even and acquiescence. Almost apologetic in a way. An acquiescence to a nation building, nationalist, even patriotic narrative. To draw a parallel, former Prime Minister of Australia (as well as self appointed Minister for Women) Tony Abbot describing the arrival of the first fleet as a 'good thing' for Aboriginal people.
The overall narrative of this episode stood out to me as seeking to foster some questioning, yet not wanting to really challenge (seeking to not offend) those who implicated in actions of ICE and the broader social discourse within which it sits. Those whose language, everyday interactions and actions are fundamental to enabling such an offical-government approach. It's a bit too much status quo.
This stood out to me fostered a want to put some words down, to muse on this. I also think the direct context in which I watched this plays a key role in my response to it: what is happening in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand at the moment. The mass killings, the coming together of people. Overall — and this is something I would like to come back to — quite a distinctly different narrative. Rather than a focus on the past, of seeking a common middle ground of sorts. A clear rejection of hate and how it has manifested of late. Including rhetoric, discourse. Otherwise structured as seemingly benign actions. A direct emphasis on societal complicity and a need for change. Not what comes across as a rose-coloured narrative of cyclical trajectories...
I have not doubt that the title is some form or response of homage to Childish Gambino's song of the same name ([wikipedia article](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_IsAmerica(song), music video on Vimeo. I look forward to reading a comparative analysis of the two. ↩
I have reflected on this previously(action post-Foucault – directionless or inspirational & challenging?and life as means. hope. existence. In particular Derrick Jenson's call to go Beyond Hope, based on hope being a position of powerlessness. ↩