Tracksuits, Trauma & Class Traitors
Review by George F
“Content warning: throughout this book there are references to sexual violence, racism both interpersonal and institutional, gendered violence both physical, psychological and verbal, various forms of physical violence, suicide, drug usage, transphobia, suicide and police brutality.”
My own 2021 exploded like fireworks into arrests, evictions and broken bones at the hands of bailiffs and security guards, delaying my completion of this review even more so than the lockdown-induced lethargy of last year had already done so. Although I read D Hunter’s second auto/ethnographic book several months ago, since then it has haunted me from the bookshelf of our squat, lingering in my mind like the drifting smoke of a looted shop in the aftermath of a riot, as I wondered how to respond to it. I could taste it in the back of my throat.
D Hunter’s experiences of abuse, of love, of queer and working class identity, of dignity in the face of unrelenting contempt are like the autopsy of a car crash. It is a visceral and unflinching analysis of the systemic oppressions that marginalised people face on the daily. Reading it I did not only relate but also gasp in shock at the strength and clarity with which he explores and deconstructs the brutality inflicted upon his younger self, his family members, friends and loved ones, and indeed the harm the author himself did to others.
This vital piece of writing clinically frames multiple short narratives in the context of class analysis, queer methodologies, carceral abolition and Whiteness studies – a framework which allows the searing honesty of the following stories and viewpoints to achieve his stated aim of humanising those who suffer in poverty. He couches this intention with the idea of not reinforcing the traditional reductive narratives of pity, individualism and personal blame, but instead to create an analysis that reveals how poverty, criminality, abuse, addiction and mental health are complex patterns, indeed symptoms, endemic to a White-supremacist, ableist, capitalist patriarchy. As he quotes his friend MD saying from prison:
“I was responsible for my decisions, and as I made them, I knew it might one day put me inside this cage. I take responsibility for that. But out there, where I made those decisions, I had nothing to do with making that. Black people don’t make these cages, we just live in them. We just die in them. White people make them. White people kill us with them. Both in this one and out there.”
D Hunter offers potential alternatives, examining how his abusive grandfather and abused family might have responded to Transformative Justice, for example, or how his relationship with MD helped him to intersectionally deconstruct his own Whiteness. Through his analysis he champions how Transformative Justice, accountability and our individual and collective work can be invaluable in abolishing carceral culture. Yet they are never clear-cut solutions, they are new routes to examine, new potentials to try out. There is an immense sense of a desire to heal, to grow, to move beyond the destructive habits, the violence, the pain of the past. There is a heartrending urgency, an awareness of the necessity to shatter the framework imposed upon us, to destroy the current State and seek options that can genuinely liberate people.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again those of us in ‘our’ class who have resources, whether directly through economic capital, or via the social and cultural capital we have accumulated, need to find ways of putting it to use for the good of those who are most affected by the never-ending onslaughtof global capitalism. Not just saving it up for a rainy day, or so that we can have a slightly-more-physically-comfortable life.”
Hunter’s critical eye is unblinking and merciless, his self-reflection poignant as he regards his own resposibility. In the final section he turns that eye fully upon himself, confessing his own culpability in the harm he has caused to himself, to others, and to his class. He outs himself as the eponymous traitor, and lists like a judge passing sentence how in each chapter he and others committed acts of treachery against their class. Again, and again, and again, he fearlessly calls out how he has gone wrong, and in doing so possesses the strength and the urgency to potentially redeem himself. This process of analysis and action is a redemptive process, a literary embodiment of Transformative Justice, whereby instead of punishment and guilt these experiences are put to work for the benefit of not only his individual liberation, but potentially, ideally, a collective, societal shift. To know, to understand, allows us hopefully to act, and thereby transform.
“The social model of social work is a call for social justice, one which requires the defunding and then the abolition of the causes of harm against all marginalised people. These causes of harm will often be found within the mechanisms and institutions of the state. It needs repeating that, given the legacy of trauma generated by these mechanisms and institutions, given the collective memories of marginalised communities, it is a tall order to expect that these vehicles of harm can expect a second chance to right the wrongs of the past.”
True friends stab you in the front, we sometimes say. I rely upon my friends and comrades to call me out on my behaviours once they become harmful, to myself or to others, and I aspire to do the same for others. For this, I am grateful to D Hunter for what he has shared, what was reflected back about myself, about my relationship to my class, my Whiteness, my queer identity. It was rough, but at times also deeply tender, and throughout intellectually and emotionally rigorous. Eventually you realise you aren’t being stabbed, but operated upon without anaesthetic. The diagnosis is not personal but social, and as those friends proceed to carve great bloody chunks of trauma-tumour from our carceral society’s cancerous carcass, we hope to heal, and to survive, and to grow strong again. To ignore these problems, to dehumanise the people who experience them, to ignore our own responsibility to our class and to each other, is to doom us all to repeat these patterns ad infinitum, D Hunter is like a rogue surgeon doing backalley midwifery delivering ideas of autonomy screaming and bloody into the night. It fucking hurts, like the truth hurts. Growth is painful and messy and raw but it has to be done for the sake of all.