This is what happens every time a straight white male does something terrible in the United States – the conversation in majority society becomes about how he is a “bad apple.” This happens when people gang-rape a fellow soldier in a shipping container; when a white supremacist asks for a sitting state senator and then murders him along with 8 others in cold blood; when soldiers carry out their explicit orders to torture people in their custody. The discussion becomes about mental illness, or some other individualistic aspect of the perpetrator’s personality, family history, and so on. He (and it is almost always a he) is just one bad apple, and we can’t let that bad apple spoil the bunch, can we?
For the past decade or so, it has been raining bad apples. The list of murderers, rapists, torturers, rioters, liars, thieves and scoundrels would stagger the mind and waste a bunch of my time Googling people and becoming sadder and angrier. At some point (and that point is long past), we have to look at these reeking heaps of bad apples putrefying and moldering all around us, making us sick and killing some of us, and think, maybe there’s a pattern here.
When a perpetrator is black, or Middle-Eastern, or some other kind of “ethnic”, it’s easy for the majority society to see that person as part of an overall pattern in society. Usually the connections made by majority society are spurious and idiotic, but still, it is clear that there is a pattern in there somewhere, even if we are idiots and think that pattern is rap music or speaking Spanish or reading the Quran.
What is the tree from which all of these bad apples are falling? To ask another way, what is the tree that we are protecting, that majority society is so desperate to protect that there is no lie we won’t tell ourselves in its defense? No excuse we won’t make for people doing horrifying things over and over again?
What kind of horrifying fruit is growing on that tree right now?
There are so many bad apples raining all around us. Bad apples murdering children one at a time; bad apples murdering children and calling it “collateral damage”; bad apples torturing innocent people; bad apples wearing blue uniforms gunning down unarmed civilians, or drive-by killing them in a park, or choking them to death, so often that sometimes you can catch it on your smartphone, like a rainbow or a celebrity without her makeup. Bad apples burning down churches, and bad apples pretending that the acts of racist arson aren’t even happening.
It can be enough to lead a person, me for example, to question the whole damn orchard. What is this orchard, that has at least one tree in it that rains down horror and violence and suffering and injustice, day after day, moment after moment, for my entire adult life? This can’t possibly all be coming from one tree, can it? There must be many trees, dropping rotten fruit.
How do we not chop that whole orchard down?