Vulnerable Minds: The Neuropolitics of Divided Societies


(Excerpt from Liya Yu, 2022, Vulnerable Minds: The Neuropolitics of Divided Societies, XXVI)


Burden on minorities’ shoulders to initiate these conversations, history mimicking itself in this cruel intimacy between dehumanizer and dehumanized, but also with a glimmer of hope that new insights and tools are available to the dehumanized to turn to the tables around in their favor.


As I came out of that building, I became hyperaware of my surroundings, as I would again weeks later during election week, when the whole countryside was whirring and overflowing with ominous meaning. This time, what crashed through my sensual perception was the inescapability of being intertwined together in this maddening history. I became hyperaware of the trees around me: sweetgums and blackgums, sycamores and gray elms, black walnuts and red maples, pawpaws and sassafras, dog-woods and white oaks. The history of these trees, I realized, viscerally embodied this inescapability: these trees were used by Indigenous people, colonizers and enslaved people alike to survive, to heal, to create, and to kill each other; the tree barks were used to fight fevers and malaria by the Indigenous people; they were turned into fiber for cloths and stringing fish; saps were used to treat dysentery by Confederate army doctors; acorns were used for bread-making; different woods were transformed into whiskey barrels, ships, toys, gunstocks and pistol grips; tannin from the bark was turned into ink.


Just as with the human body, these trees supported in their barks, saps, and roots all that the inhabitants of this place were capable of: the resource-fulness and the terror, the kindness and the cruelty. The fact that these opposites can coexist in one tree, in one brain, is bewildering and encouraging at the same time. What is left for us now is to face the inescapability of this shared history and the reality of our vulnerable brains, however unfair and uncomfortable it might seem for either side, because, as my students that fall in Charlottesville had already understood, we might have no other choice.