laws, guns, and money, pt 1

In the light of horrendous massacres, those who have a heart cry out to “do something” to prevent further atrocities. However, a narrow focus on gun control—or worse, mental health—at best only treats symptoms. Homicides are not merely a fact of weapons (which is to say tools) but of will, of psychological possibility, and apparent necessity. As we see in other contexts around the world, semiautomatics are but one efficient way to kill a group of people, but far from the only. So, we need to not just look at the tools of homicide, but the motives as well. Not just the how but the why are important. I’m convinced that in the context of the United States, it’s helpful to look at how state violence is carried out here and abroad on behalf of corporations and that violence becoming internalized. Digging further, the fact that the US leads the world in energy and food consumption (and waste) is not unrelated to the fact that its military dwarfs all other militaries. Combined with its repressive and militarized police and incarceral system and extreme income inequality, this helps explain why we have a more abundant gun and violence culture than other rich countries.[1] We will cover more of the why’s later, but for now I want to highlight how this concentration on the how is problematic, perhaps futile, and often worse.

Much is made in liberal circles of the over-abundance of guns. The United States leads the world in terms of firearm ownership with just slightly more guns than people (101:100 ratio). However, it rates low in terms of the guns to gun-death ratio, with several countries tacking upwards of 70 to 1000 times the number. Clearly, someone is stockpiling these weapons,[2] so the overabundance isn’t the only factor. And while this may sound insipid, perhaps there is something to the conservative argument that taking away guns merely means those who seek to commit mass murders will find other ways to do so. Lethal retaliation against random members of targeted populations (otherwise known as terrorism) takes the form of knives, homemade bombs, vehicles, and, hell, planes. However, reactionaries are always looking for distractions and scapegoats to continue the perpetuation of massive violence. On the other hand, liberalism avoids searching systemic causes. But a nation and world in such dire straits as ours must radically cut to the roots of the problem, particularly if the proposed solutions may garner more problems than solutions.

And the problems are many. On the one hand is the gun control debate where we question how to regulate the flow of weapons. A waiting period is reasonable and should not be discounted, but most of these mass random killings had been planned for months and the weapons bought well in advance. We must also take a hard look as to how historically and presently such laws have been used to criminalize Black and Brown citizens, much as anti-drug laws have done to racialized people. In fact, gun laws have the double effect of targeting black people for contact with law enforcement (and thus increasing the likelihood of death and prison) and of stripping black people of self-defense (as seen in the Reformation era, Jim Crow, and the Black Power movement). Despite much crowing from self-appointed– if not self-righteous–ministers of non-violence (who tend to be White and have little skin in the game), it was the Deacons of Defense and other armed revolutionary Black Southerners who kept the Civil Rights Movement safe in the hyper-violent Jim Crow South as witnesses such as This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed testify. Notice that there are two different standards in the application of gun laws and in how it works in relation to encounters with law enforcement: One is for White people and those connected to Whiteness and the other is for Black people and those connected to Blackness. Playing with toys did not save John Crawford or Tamir Rice. Being lawfully compliant and polite did not save Philando Castile. Carrying a phone and not a gun did not save Cedrick Chatman nor countless other Black youth and adults framed for their own murder by police who are supported by liberal fear of Black power.

If the liberal answer is to look at the tools as flawed, the conservative answer is to look at the people as such–not to seek solutions but to further alienate and oppress specific populations. Targeted here are racial and religious minorities and people facing mental health issues. While liberals tend to indirectly indict these same groups,[3] reactionaries like to go for the jugular. This can lead to travel bans, more militarized policing and crackdowns on protest, and of course ableist rhetoric that blames violence on mental health and stigmatizes mental illness. Not only are these not solutions and detrimental to the targeted populations, but they involve implementing and releasing more violence. Stigmatizing mental health, for instance, leads those facing mhi to resist assistance and therapy. This undergrounding of mental health leads to victimization for the person with the disability. By now we should all be aware that those who suffer mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Further, going underground and not seeking help or voicing needs leads to a higher likelihood of being preyed upon.

Not that mental health access isn’t necessary, but the US doesn’t have more people facing mental health issues than anywhere else. We need to disentangle talking about mental health and mass shootings or we risk combining the two and trapping many of us into a villainized victimization.

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[1] It’s important to note that the US does not lead the world in gun-related deaths, and even less so with firearm-related homicides. In fact, it is around 15th place depending on how metrics are measured. But it does lead in so-called developed countries. What this reinforces is that poverty kills. And as the US leads rich nations in wealth inequality and gun ownership, so it leads rich nations in homicides and suicides.

[2] Apparently, half of the weapons are owned by 3% of the population, with an average of 17 guns per owner at that top tier. Thanks to ___ for pointing this out.

[3] By supporting anti-crime bills and deportations as well as malignant rhetoric about “Muslim extremists/terrorists” and stigmatizing mental health problems

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What Is a Microaggression in the Era of Black Death?

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trending topics on Facebook was a story about a Black actress who tweeted something after getting a patronizing greeting while boarding her flight in first class. I recognized it as a microaggression on the part of the employee, but I thought it was not just petty for that employee to respond in such a way, but also petty for the actor to tweet about it, and petty for it to become a trending topic.

I’ve lately been caught up in the political measures and actions that disproportionately and devastatingly affect material realities for people and communities of color, particularly poor ones. The ways that Midwestern governors are stripping the social safety net on a daily basis. The Blue Lives Matter law when the practice of police lynchings of black people has become public. The recent gutting of the Fourth Amendment by five of eight Supreme Court Justices. Using capitalist-style competition (which is not how the Capitalist Class operates but merely how they have us operate) to dismantle and destroy public schools in Detroit and, frankly, everywhere else. Islamophobic police strip searchesPre-crime policing of black and brown youth in Chicago. The Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that gun control is being used to further police and surveil Muslim and Muslim-misidentified communities and people.

These stories were not trending on Facebook.

And this isn’t even hinting at the militarization of security at airports that targets people of color and people with disabilities.

And so I continued the trend of pettiness and surpassed the previous levels of petty pettiness by posting the story and pettily adding the petty lines “BFD” [“Big Fucking Deal”] and “*rolls eyes*”. A friend confronted me on it, and I’m grateful to her because it re-grounded me.

I had to confront what in me (outside of just a crappy mood for personal reasons) positioned me to such pettiness. Part of it was the material realities outlined above. But then there were three other takeaways as well:

  1. While microaggressions themselves may seem minor, a thousand papercuts are lethal, and dozens take their exhaustive toll on an already-exhausted public body.
  2. The metaphor is reality. I say this as an English teacher and as a student of society and racial realities. In this case, the metaphor denying and policing space for People of Color is intricately connected to the public and societal policies denying and policing space for People of Color. A black woman feels a patronizing slight against her having a seat in first class? Look into who tends to occupy those seats; they are rarely black people. While the employee may not have intended to send the message that  Danielle Brooks doesn’t belong in the luxury portion of the airplane*, that is still the message. A White Christian makes a joke about a Muslim woman being a suicide bomber, but it’s a joke get it – no harm done! Except that the harm is done and that is to publicly police private people whenever and wherever the State and corporations have yet to exclude, detain, or kill them. In point of fact, the whole Donald Trump campaign is wish-fulfillment to turn microaggressions into public, perpetual policies.
  3. This one is just a reminder for me and all the other white (and white-passing) people: I don’t experience racial microaggressions** so maybe I should be reverential around the issue?

*Intentions are often a red herring that center the story back on white people and their presumed innocence rather than on the system of White Supremacy and how it daily affects people of color

**Being called “white ass” in grade school and having people stare me down in my own neighborhood because I don’t look like I belong doesn’t really count. While they happen, they’re far too infrequent to be at the level of irritant and they are not connected to, say, lynchings or redlining, respectively.