Smashing Things Is A Natural Response

Once my husband and I had a fight and I got really angry at him and I had a bowl of spaghetti in my hands, and I wasn’t going to throw it at him, so I smashed it on the floor. And it broke. And made a huge mess. I knew it was going to break and make a huge mess. And I did it anyway. I really just needed to do that. It startled everyone, it disrupted the moment, and it actually led to a solution.

I did lose the bowl. And I had to clean up the spaghetti. And I’m not advocating this as a method to resolving conflict as a first line approach. I’m just telling you because perhaps you’ve felt this way once or twice, or more, in your life.

Now, it’s probably worth mentioning here, if you haven’t already noticed from my picture, that I’m white. I’m white, and I was raised middle-class, and I’ve had a lot of advantages in my life. I’ve never been stopped for driving while white. I have never been stopped by the police in the U.S. because I just looked like I didn’t belong someplace. Even though, as a middle-aged white woman, I am the most likely shoplifter in America, I have never been followed with suspicion around a store. I have never experienced what it’s like to be black in the U.S.

So when I notice that white, middle-class friends have been commenting about the events in Baltimore, and sometimes passing judgements, I have to pause. I’ve heard comments such as, “but why are they trashing their own neighborhoods?” or “violence is never OK.” And I pause and consider that these are easy things to say from a place of privilege. These are easy things to say when we haven’t been living in the place where violence is already all around us – where violence has been thrust upon us first from the police and from the rest of society. So I thought I’d give some examples of white people behaving in similar fashion in order to help more white people understand.

Remember at the end of the fifth Harry Potter book? (yes, there’s a spoiler alert here). Remember when Sirius Black died, and then Harry trashed Dumbledore’s office (in the book – the movie, for some inexplicable reason, omitted this scene)? Harry trashed Dumbledore’s office. He was filled with rage and he smashed everything. And Dumbledore understood. He told Harry that they were just things. They could be replaced. Perhaps we should keep that in mind when we’re considering Baltimore – these are things. They can be replaced. Freddie Gray can’t be replaced.

Now, Harry was just one boy. One boy acting out because of his overwhelming grief. But what happens when that grief is the grief of an entire community? What happens when that entire community has no outlet?

Oh – and remember Jesus? Not necessarily a white guy – but a lot of white folks relate to him. Remember when he got pissed at the money changers in the Temple, and he went after them? (That would be in Matthew 21, or Mark 11, or Luke 19, or John 2).  We hold Jesus up in that story, but from the perspective of the Temple leaders and Rome, Jesus was starting a riot.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, in his address entitled The Two Americas, that rioting was the language of the unheard. Well, now the disenfranchised people of Baltimore are being heard. They must be head.

People are hurt and angry and grieving. Freddie Gray is dead. I will not tell ht oppressed to lay down their bricks and rocks before the police lay down their militarized gear and their random attacks on young black men.

It saddens me to see what has become of this. I pray for the 98 injured police officers who have put themselves in harm’s way because of the actions of a few of their own. But I will not question or condemn the actions of those who feel powerless to anything but collectively smash the giant dish of spaghetti on the floor of the city. These are only things. Things can be replaced. Freddie Gray cannot be replaced.

The violence must indeed stop. The Baltimore Police must stop killing young black men.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.


10 thoughts on “Smashing Things Is A Natural Response

  1. If a woman can smash spaghetti everywhere, does that means it’s okay for her husband to rough her up a little, to teach her respect? I mean, it’s only natural for a man to be violent with a misbehaving woman. Women need to be taught discipline. Do you see the slippery slope?

    A reasonable person doesn’t smash his own home anyway. That’s stupid. Instead, he attacks the person who’s oppressing him. The blacks should have attacked the police station, but they were too cowardly to do that, I guess. The American Revolution was against ENGLAND, not America. If the colonists had smashed their own homes to bits, we would have never gotten anywhere.

    I also remember Jesus not fighting back when they crucified him, and I remember Martin Luther King Jr. marching for black rights without being violent. Marching works better than smashing things.


    • Smashing things is not smashing people. No, I do not see the slippery slope. It is absolutely not OK for people to be violent with one another.

      Jesus did not fight back at the crucifixion, you’re right. However, Jesus did throw out the moneychangers at the Temple. And if you’re going to cite Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., then you need to know what he said about riots in his speech to Grosse Point High School in March 1968 – “The Other America.” He said he wouldn’t condemn those who were rioting, because rioting was the language of the unheard.


  2. If you’re into anger, here’s an anime version of David and Goliath (from a TV show called “Dragonball Z”):


  3. So, in case it wasn’t clear, what you should do (instead of smashing the bowl of spaghetti) is to stop making dinner altogether. Just sit down and pout, or refuse to make dinner the next day if this is impractical.

    Then, if your husband is a decent person, he sits down and discusses why you’re upset. (Or, if your husband is not a decent person, you divorce him.)

    All this can be done without doing permanent or costly damage to anything.


  4. The FIRST time my spouse or a good friend smashes a bowl that way, all my attention goes to, “This person is very upset and I need to be responsive her and to whatever it is that’s upsetting her.” The SECOND time she smashes a bowl that way, only then would I start to think about how I might convey the point that this bowl smashing may not be the best way of dealing with whatever is so upsetting. I’d still also be largely concerned with being responsive to whatever is causing the upset. The uniqueness of the act — coming from a normally sane and overall reasonably empowered person — removes it from censure, in my mind. But the second time it happens, it isn’t unique anymore; a more multivalent response is then called for. (How do we decide whether to give our attention to the wrongness of rioting or to the wrongness of the conditions to which the rioters were responding? My reflections on that question are here: )


    • Sure, we need to focus on what causes the frustration. However, we cannot necessarily assume that it’s the same people boiling over again and again. If rioting is the language of the unheard (so said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), then what are the people struggling to say?


      • Sure. That whole “first time” “second time” thing doesn’t really apply to Baltimore at all — I was only commenting on how I’d respond to a single person smashing a bowl. The way I’d assess and respond to that isn’t analogous to what I think about rioters at all. Didn’t mean to suggest it was. I mostly had Matthew’s last comment in mind. He goes to a “what you should do” place, and I just wouldn’t go there unless the same friend demonstrated a pattern of repeated bowl smashings. Even then, it would be more “let’s have a chat about strategies” than “what you should do is…”


  5. Let’s all agree on one thing – anger is an appropriate response to injustice. If you are being continually oppressed, it’s entirely understandable to become angry at the individual or group of individuals who are responsible for the oppression. I think that the question we need to be asking ourselves is this: “Is it appropriate and/or understandable to commit violence in response to injustice?”

    Generally speaking, I feel that violence is an understandable response to anger if not an appropriate one. And I think that MLK felt the same way when he said that a riot is the language of the unheard. King certainly didn’t condone violence, but he understood the consequences of an entire group of people not being heard.

    The events in Baltimore, Ferguson and a thousand other locations tell us one thing: people of color are not being heard ,they are angry, and some of them will resort to violence. I don’t necessarily condone or approve that violence, but I do understand it.

    And I’ve NEVER broken anything in anger – NEVER 🙂


    • Well, I will say this. I haven’t done it much. Just the once, I think. But it disrupted the system and it felt good. And it enabled us all to get back to the table. In a weird kind of way. I don’t regret it (it was a cheap bowl).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Blog roundup: A time to smash things | Daily Planet

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