Thursday’s class discussion made me want to delve more deeply into the love/hate dichotomy as represented in the film, and the role violence plays in it. The idea of love/hate is emphasized most bluntly by Radio Raheem’s knuckle rings, as pictured above: love and hate are side by side. It’s important to the narrative that our most explicit portrayal of love and hate comes through Radio Raheem’s narration of them as engaged in a constant battle, demonstrated by his mimed battle, full of jabs and punches. Violence, then, the violence of this fake fight, is not affiliated with either love or hate: rather, violence becomes the vector through which love and hate are expressed.
Violence as a vehicle for love is expressed most fully for me by the scene in which the mother spanks her son. She isn’t spanking him out of hate: she’s spanking him out of a fear and anger that arises from love. It’s a love that’s saying, through the violence of corporal punishment, “How dare you put your life at risk like that? How dare you put your life at risk like that when there are so many other ways you can be taken from me?”. This, for me, is the most powerful act of love through violence in the film: “I appreciate you helping my Eddie, I truly do,” she says to the Mayor, “but I’ll have nobody question the way I raise him, not even his daddy.” She’s shot from below as she says this, with the incredulous faces of the (entirely male) crowd behind her: she is authoritative and in control. Her love is not weak, or compromising: it expresses itself through this particular mode of violence, and it is powerful, protective, moving.
Her response to her son’s reckless endangerment of his life exists in tension with, and is refracted through, the death of Radio Raheem. His murder at the hands of the police is the film’s most profound act of hate through violence. It is an act of hatred towards the black body, a fear of and hatred for what the black body represents: it is hatred, subconscious and conscious, expressed through violence. This act of hatred links back to the mother’s act of love because it is, in large part, fear that motivates parents punishing children, mothers punishing children. Black mothers live in a world where their sons might be taken from them at any moment, without any rhyme or reason or justice, simply for their being black. Such hatred through violence shapes the mother’s love through violence: how dare you risk yourself, her spanking says, when any night you may be taken from me by the very people who are supposed to protect you?