The Smile that Precedes Atrocity

I don’t know this boy, but I know that smile. I know its cruelty; its sadism born in notions of supremacy. I’ve seen it when I’ve been mocked at antiwar rallies, or anti-racist demonstrations, water and land protection ceremonies, or LGBTQ events. I’ve seen it from young men whose insecurity cannot abide another’s liberation.

I’ve seen that face chasing me down the block with clenched fists or preceding a spit at my face. It is easily recognizable, that face, that smile. It is the smile of mockery that precedes violence, that is the precursor to atrocity.

Yes, he is only a boy. They are only teens. But history is replete with examples of youth who have been emboldened by the twisted lies of supremacy. Rivers of blood have poured down allies and stairwells by young souls twisted into beasts.

There is still time for this young man to change. Still time for him to reclaim his humanity. But there isn’t much time left for the society in which he emerged. The society that made that smile possible in the first place.

Kenn Orphan   2019

4 thoughts on “The Smile that Precedes Atrocity

  1. Regina Christianson

    As a girl and as a woman, I recognize that smile and my blood freezes. That is face of entitled violence. I shared your words on my FB timeline, with my own response. Other women say that was their first thought as well. Your words and insights have been appreciated and shared by many of my friends and beyond. We are hoping that some wise spiritual leader will bring these boys through self-reflection, repentance, and restitution.

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  2. mike k

    Beautiful Kenn. One of your best pieces. It says so much in a short space. If only our culture taught all of us to Love as it’s highest priority. That would be the foundation of a true education.

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  3. uilyam

    Two thoughts occurred to me.

    First, I recall a short exercise with my first two children when they were young (late fall 1982). It began with a question: How do people smile? Their answer was the standard “with their lips, with their mouths.” I then randomly covered the upper or lower half of my face with a sheet of paper while experiencing different emotions (I can, if I wish, force happiness, sadness, anger, etc., although I prefer not to do so without good reason). Their task was to identify my emotional feeling under the different covering conditions. I then repeated the opening question. They answered with some surprise, “With their eyes!”

    Second, I regret the lack of words in our language to adequately describe facial expressions, in particular, the planning right side of the face and the emoting left side of the face. If we had such a vocabulary, then I expect this boy’s expression would not be called a smile.

    I have in fact used a small piece of paper to see only the upper, lower, right, and left halves of the boy’s face in the photo (trying to mentally compensate for the viewing angle not showing both ears equally).

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  4. Judith Lewis

    I, too, have seen that expression. Barbados. 1950s to 1960s. It was always a white boy preparing to beat up a black boy.

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