Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lessons from The Hunger Games

I just finished reading A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, author of the The Hunger Games. This prequel is as gut-punching and well written as the rest of the series, but is especially hard to read because of what Snow grows up to become. The book is set in that pivotal moment when his choices tip his life on a decidedly evil path. Part of this is the way he is built-- narcissism and sociopathy are in his personality-- part of it is his circumstances and part of it is the ideology he is exposed to. It's a disturbing look inside the mind of a young man destined to murder in the name of law and order.

Which brings me to the world we are living in today. It strikes me that The Hunger Games series has many lessons that we can apply to understand the social unrest across the country right now. Systematic racism is often hard for white Americans to understand, but the Hunger Games and the way the Districts are treated by the Capital offers as a parable for what Black Americans experience at the hands of U.S. police in many areas today.

The Districts in The Hunger Games are essentially treated as occupied territories-- the Peacekeepers come from the Capital and a few favored Districts to police people they see as lesser than them and deserving of their circumstances. Just as we see white suburban Americans policing urban Black neighborhoods and coming into those neighborhoods with suspicion and judgement.

In The Hunger Games the laws themselves were unjust and unjustly applied, and often the punishments were far more severe than the crimes would appear to merit. In the United States today the War on Drugs has resulted in mandatory sentencing that far exceeds what we might consider fair for relatively small crimes. And many Americans are no longer convinced that our drug laws are just to begin with.

In our society, when an unarmed Black man is hurt or murdered by police officers some will say that if that man broke the law than the police were not necessarily to blame for the outcome. Yet, in the Hunger Games we see Gail being whipped and though we know he broke the law by hunting a turkey and trying to sell it we are on his side. We can see that the law is unjust, unjustly applied and that the punishment far exceeds the severity of the crime. This same set of circumstances applies to many young Black men who have been killed by police today and many others who are killed were actually innocent.

The Hunger Games takes white people and puts them into Districts and we see them for what they are-- victims of state sponsored terror. We need to put aside racist blinders and understand that Black Americans are experiencing the same treatment here in our country and do all that we can to stop it.

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