“The market scans my child, calculates pecuniary value.”
Illustration by Jason Arias.
My daughter plays hide and seek with white floor-length panel curtains in front of a window in our living room. Dusk traffics light, the light scans her. She is gold leafed in the curtain before the window.
Can’t you see her gold?
“I do not know whether you have seen the building of the Metropolitan Company in New York,” Charles Coolidge Read stated before the Massachusetts Legislature in 1895. “Go up to the directors’ room where the floor is soft with velvet carpets and the room is finished in rich red mahogany…there you will find these gentlemen who think what a beautiful thing this child insurance is… ”
Read insisted that from every block of marble in the Metropolitan Company building peered “the hungry eyes of some starving child.”
In 1895, one could purchase a ten dollar life insurance policy for a one-year-old child or a thirty-three dollar policy for a ten-year-old child for three cents a week. 1.5 million children were insured in the United States in 1896. By 1902, that number climbed to over 3 million.
Advocates said the policies served as funerary insurance as well as protected poor and working-class families against a loss of income at a time when child labor was common. Opponents, like Read, believed it provided incentive for poor or working-class parents to neglect or outright murder their children for profit. Such opponents never questioned the ease with which they believed poor or working-class parents might be tempted to kill their children. Actual incidents of infanticide related to child insurance appear to be rare.
Still, a writer for the Boston Evening Transcript declared: “No manly man and no womanly woman should be ready to say that their infants have pecuniary value.”
When we lived in the two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, once every couple of months I would hear gunshots, often on Saturday nights, usually late enough that I was in bed.
We purchased the house through the Obama tax credit program for first-time home buyers, a response to the economic crisis of 2008 and the housing market crash. Because we could not afford to put 20 percent down, we had two mortgages, the second of which included a balloon payment.
We purchased the two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas because we were trying to have a baby and the neighborhood had the best public elementary school as well as two Montessori charter schools.
The average per-student expenditure for public elementary and secondary schools in 2012-13 ranged from a high in Vermont of $19,752 per student to a low in Arizona of $6,949.
The market scans my child, calculates pecuniary value.
Parents register and respond often seeking out the places (the “good” neighborhood or private school) where a child’s value is high enough in relation to the needs of others to make them relatively safe
or a parent may reaffirm existing market valuations.
And if the child is female or presents as female
And if the child is queer or presents as queer
And if the child is poor or presents as poor
And if the child is of color or ethnic or presents as of color or ethnic
a little spark of mica in a field of sand.
Pregnant women and new mothers have a heightened sense of smell and easily disrupted patterns of sleep.
One night after a particularly loud series of gunshots heard from the bedroom in our two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, Farid called the police. I don’t remember what he said, what kind of injury we could have reported, what response we expected.
When we bought the house, we joined the neighborhood association. We also had the option of paying an additional $180 for “an off-duty police officer to patrol our neighborhood each week” as well as “answer our emails” and provide “special patrols” while we were away.
Per day, per pupil, per square foot
many parents may want to register and respond to the values the market places on their child, but a parent’s own depressed value may leave her with scant time to challenge market valuations of her children, child, self.
“Boys are easier to raise than girls,” my mother told me.
I feel my depressed value as a woman
as well as my surplus value as a white ethnic.
The consultant in the TED talk teaches me to stand bigger.
In 1908 a ten-year-old boy working in a mill made thirty cents a day.
In 1911 an eight-year-old girl shucking oysters made thirty cents to thirty-five cents a day. An eight-year-old boy, who had been shucking for three years, earned forty-five cents a day.
In 1917 a ten-year-old girl working on a tobacco farm made fifty cents a day.
As recently as 2014, Human Rights Watch reported it remained “perfectly legal” in the United States “for a twelve-year-old to work fifty or sixty hours a week in tobacco fields, as long as his or her parents consent and the work doesn’t directly conflict with school hours.”
Often the day after hearing gunfire from my bedroom of our two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, I would scan the Internet looking for some piece of news to link to the sounds. I never found mention of a shootout or injury or killing.
The gunshots existed as fragments in a storyline that seemed to have no relation to me, a non sequitur, a piece of conversation overheard in a language in which I had no fluency.
But those metaphors are wrong.
My legislative representatives cannot or will not pass gun control legislation, my tax dollars support the purchase of surplus military equipment by police. The white imaginary criminalizes non-white bodies.
On December 2, 2014 the Dow closed up 17,879.
On November 22, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On November 20, 2014 the Dow closed up 17,719.
On August 19, 2014 the Dow closed up 16,919.
On August 12, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,560.
On August 9, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On August 5, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,429.
On August 2, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On July 17, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,976.
On March 22, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On February 16, the Dow was closed.
On January 28, 2014 the Dow closed up 15,928.
On January 16, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,417.
On each one of those days, one unarmed person of color (most frequently an African-American man, sometimes more than one) was killed in the custody of police according to information released by the NAACP. This list is by no means exhaustive as no central agency tracks the number of police shootings or killings of unarmed victims in a comprehensive way.
From 2001 to 2011, Department of Homeland Security grants provided police departments with $34 billion to fund their militarization, making profits for military contractors and for-profit law enforcement training organizations
like special ops supplier Blackhawk Industries (founded by a former Navy SEAL), ThunderSledge breaching tools, Lenco Armored Vehicles bulletproof box trucks, KDH Defense Systems’s body armor, like HaloDrop “flying robotic services for serious incidents and situations,” D-Co, Leaders and Training LLC, like Innovative Tactical Training Solutions, like Winchester Ammunition.
Every altercation helps justify the militarization of police
and someone makes money makes money makes money makes money.
I want to teach my child to shed numbers like a skin in the summer, in the shimmering heat of the ever-warming summer.
We were able to afford the two-bedroom house on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas because it sat on a street with six lanes of traffic separated down the middle by a small park or a large median of trees.
Most of the windows in the house were painted shut. Many rattled from the vibration of passing cars.
We kept a small padlock on the gate at the top of our driveway.
Before the padlock, men sometimes came to our door smelling of liquor selling magazines or asking to use our phone. Once I watched an old sedan lurch onto the sidewalk in front of our house. A woman shouted from the driver’s seat while a man reluctantly exited from the passenger side, pieces of clothing flying out the door and window after him.
From the front windows of the house you could see cottonwoods, oaks, and black walnut trees. From almost anywhere in the house you could hear the traffic.
Mothers attempt to erase integers, to move decimals, to point out discrepancies in the ledger, disrupt the protocols of exchange.
When the mothers of the victims of police violence march on Washington DC,
when mothers in Central America set their children like paper lanterns
on a breeze,
when warehouses of children wait at our border,
Mother is Marxist, exposing as false and pernicious the mystification of capitalist instantiations of value, promiscuous relations of value and their violence.
Mother is not a biological or relational subject position, but can be an attitude of resistance before the market.
Underfunded public schools show their cinder block, reveal their district paint purchased from the lowest bidder, can’t hide their too many desks, their too tired, their underpaid.
You see it in their lunch trays.
Private schools flaunt their walls of windows, famous architect library, flagstone pathways, full-time counselor.
In such places, children learn to read
their market value.
Scholar Viviana A. Zelizer explains: “Children’s insurance began as outright bets among 16th century European businessmen on the birth and lives of boys and girls.”
A police officer flaunts his gun and in the amount of time your child is afforded to pull their hand from their pocket
you can learn their market value.
Value differentiates. Metaphor makes false equations.
When we talk about metaphor we talk about “vehicles,” but metaphor can erase distance, conceal the mode of transport: the ride hiding in the wheel well of the 747 or the journey along a dry riverbed through the Sonoran night.
The work of all mothers is not equal, although the goal to challenge market valuations may be the same. The market exploits our attachments, makes its violent calculations. The market, mothers, divides and divides us.
And someone makes money makes money makes money makes money.
I want to slur the equations.
My love for my daughter is dumb and simple
all of my feeling focused, funneled
into the leaky sewer line
running down the front yard of our two-bedroom house
from which the black walnut tree feeds.
Sentimentality is a shard from the shop front window of family. What sliver of American plate glass do you see?
I sympathize with the desire to throw a brick through a shop window
and steal a television set.
But sympathy is not enough.
Children are not paper lanterns set on a breeze.
Imagine cutting off an arm to save the body.
Dear mother, you feel like the arm.
In Tucson, we buy a 2/2 house in a “good neighborhood” with a neighborhood association. We no longer hear gunshots at night. We no longer have the chance to pay for additional police patrols or attention. We hope to get our daughter into a better elementary school than the one in our neighborhood through an open enrollment lottery.
Often we fall asleep to sound of helicopters or fighter planes taking off or landing at the nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base: the A-10 Thunderbolt II or the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, the HC-130J Combat King II transport or the F-16C or F-16D Fighting Falcon.
The financial advisory giant Deloitte predicts continued decline in revenue for the global defense sector, with the US defense budget “a key driver of this decline.” Still, the financial news website TheStreet gave A+ ratings to stocks in this sector, including Textron, Honeywell International Inc., Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., and Curtiss-Wright Corp.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, scan the Sonoran desert for moving bodies.
There are no accurate numbers for the children killed by US drones outside of our country.
Sometimes when I look up I can see the pale underbelly of the HC-130J Combat King II transport gliding over the streets of my neighborhood or the playground of my daughter’s preschool like a hand passing over a velvet rug in the boardroom of an insurance company.
If we traveled far enough, we could find 1,000 children waiting on the border;
they were walking toward us.
Susan Briante is the author of three books of poetry, The Market Wonders (Ahsahta Press 2016), Utopia Minus (2011), and Pioneers in the Study of Motion (2007). She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona.
Excerpted with permission from The Market Wonders, copyright © 2016 by Susan Briante, published by Ahsahta Press.
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