March for Whose Lives?

I think it’s good to be proud of these Parkland student activists; not only are they young people organizing and inspiring hundreds of thousands of fellow young people and adults (largely parents and teachers), they are also standing up to the death industries and their asshole lackeys who would dare threaten children. However, despite their alleged wokeness, their Manifesto makes it clear that their solutions to gun violence are those modeled by White, Middle Class generations before them. And this is troubling because their solutions are more of the same retrograde ones that honestly exacerbate the violence in certain communities and among certain marginalized people groups.

In this White, Middle Class vision, it is perfectly fine to argue for imperialist violence, such as when they say: “Civilians shouldn’t have access to the same weapons that soldiers do… their availability puts us into the kind of danger faced by men and women trapped in war zones”; and, “With the exception of those who are serving the United States in the military, the age to obtain any firearm must be raised to 21.” This Veterans for Gun Control perspective (which they also openly support) allows that these weapons are perfectly fine, only when they’re used to hunt down black and brown people in the Global South. Or, in the case of the police, in urban areas (and wherever else black and brown people are found).

There is also the factor of blaming mental health issues (and bullied victimization) for these mass murders: “Many of those who commit mass shootings suffer from (PTSD, depression, and other debilitating illnesses).” While this statement is verifiably false, that fact hasn’t aided in this ableist, stigmatizing, and harmful narrative. The manifesto also opens the doors for police to perform surveillance on people with mental health issues. To wit: “Change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement.” This only assists a police force that targets rather than assists people with disabilities and mental health issues. (Helpful discussion here.) Doing such puts already-marginalized people in harm’s way and keeps other people (specifically black and brown people) who need that service from seeking it.

Finally, these students are asking for even more police presence in and near the schools. “We believe that schools should be given sufficient funds for school security and resource officers to protect and secure the entire campus.” This does nothing to protect black and brown students nor those with disabilities but instead strengthens the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

As we talked about earlier this month, these harmful would-be solutions come about, at least partly, from an inadequate (but useful-to-capitalism) diagnosis of the problem, which itself stems from a feeling that this violent society is functioning. The truth is, it functions for some but at the expense of others.

However, I have hope for these students. It’s not as if they don’t have useful models in front of them, delivered by people who’ve experienced life from a different perspective, which these same students say they want to honor. The Movement for Black Lives and tons of aligned black-youth-led organizations (such as this list of demands by a group of Chicago high school and elementary school students) as well as anti-war movements have been laying down alternative, holistic responses for years. To reduce access to guns, it is necessary to reduce the amount of guns manufactured and distributed; thus, we need to look at who the largest buyers and marketers/dealers of these weapons are. The answer, in case you need a refresher, is the US military, CIA, FBI, and district and state police, the very ones that the Parkland and liberal gun control agencies believe should be armed to the hilt.

Here’s to hoping these young people will take notes from the right people as they have the ears of the nation right now.

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laws, guns, & money, Pt. 2: The causes are coming from within the house

A couple of weeks ago, we took a look at the proposed solutions for mass random killings[1] in the States and how the would-be solutions can actually lead to worse conditions for the marginalized. What we found is that it would be a better use of time and energy to look at systemic causes and then try to seek solutions from there. Looking at such may even save us from other problems.

For the United States, the root of our mass shootings may be traced to the lack of accounting for the fundamental exploitation of violence which continues in an intractable pull towards violence, death, and destruction as the key component of our way of life. Like George W Bush, we may talk about our way of life being freedom—which *THEY* hate us for. But that is only true in a strictly consumerist perspective, which depends on spendable and gathered capital of both the society and of the individual. In America, unlike the East Germany of the 1980’s, we are free to buy Jordache Jeans, but only if we have enough money. We can buy our health, but only if we have enough money. We can buy elections, but only if we have enough money. We can buy enough tasty food, but only if we have money.

In a country founded on guaranteeing negative rights[2], primarily shoring up the livelihood of slavers and land-usurpers, we cannot expect much more than what we have now: A few are made rich on the backs of the poor, the workers, the enslaved, the racialized, the indigenous. And none of this capitalist concentration of wealth and inequality is sustainable without extensive and sustained violence and containment.

To understand random violence here (and, I’d argue, abroad), we must look to the militarization of our society. It is this militarism that guarantees that those who amass resources and wealth can maintain and keep what they’ve stolen. Dole, United Fruit, Exxon, Boeing, Walmart, Raytheon, Nike, etc, rely on the 800 military bases in over 70 countries under the United States’ direct control in order to extract resources and make a killing (what pun?). Those forces exert pressure on would-be sovereign nations to also keep working conditions at a disposable level, optimal for capitalist extraction. This partnership is strengthened by the Wars on Terror and Drugs as well as through more apparently benevolent strategies such as monetary aid and NGO’s. If the governments were to get out of hand, there’s always the CIA.

The violence that the US exerts throughout the world is necessary to keep peasants and workers from effectively demanding their own economic and workplace freedom. The answer to both civil and personal unrest and unease is breaking bones and breaking wills.

us military shooting

And this violence comes home through various policing strategies. The priorities of the local police and criminal justice system are to protect private property—to protect capital. As such, they are generally in opposition to the needs and often the safety of marginalized and oppressed people, among whom are the Working Class, People of Color, People experiencing homelessness, and those with mental health issues. That there is a large overlap is not incidental. The police and justice system in capitalism resolve the internal conflicts of capitalism through violence and escalation.

Capitalism at its height needs waste. Waste is what the Free Market resides in, how it operates. Its nature is to mine, alter, consume, and discard. The US, with 1/20th of the world’s population, consumes 1/5th of its resources. Yet it has the audacity to throw out a third of its own food[3] and judge other nations for not being able to properly feed their own, even as it embargoes them. This waste expands to the wider economy and to other precious resources, such as fossil fuels, innovation, and labor. The waste is considered beneficial because it illuminates both plenty-as-reward and scarcity-as-punishment, the carrot and stick of the Meritocracy Myth. Labor in this system is deprived of meaning because it is wasteful; it doesn’t build to anything that has any value. The Free Market ideology does not lead to anywhere but capital gain for its own benefit; it does not lead to truth or beauty or value or health but to monetization and only to monetization.

So Capitalism also disposes of people—not just the Working Class who toil to survive with the minimum means and relationships to survive—but even the Petty Bourgeois and the Bourgeoisie themselves as their lives are filled with the meaninglessness, the nihilism, of monetization. All relationships become monetized under Neoliberalism, and the United States is at the height of this contradiction as we citizens spend our days worrying about either not having enough money or worrying about holding onto money. Indeed, as with cash, private property rules everything around me.

Other violent enforcers of American capitalism include Immigration and Border Patrol agents—ICE allows conglomerates to hire immigrant workers at a small price and then run them out when they begin to mobilize—the feds—despite the FBI’s celebrity status among the #Resistance, it continues to upend movements of actual resistance—and of course the CIA—which along with the DOD works to destabilize international resistance to US and capitalist hegemony.

This violence is state-led for the purpose of maintaining a destructive way of life. It is proof that capitalism is destructive externally and internally, for the world, the community, the family, the body, and the soul.

As King suggested before his assassination (yet another touchstone of American capitalist violence), we can’t point fingers at instances of seemingly-random violence done by Americans without considering the extent and depth of the violence of the bourgeois state upon the world and upon our own. White Americans wreak havoc in public spaces of  innocence because that is what they know, what they see, how they experience the body politic of their country and identification. How else to explain our involvement in Vietnam, in naked attempts to overturn the will of the people in state after state  (including our own, where the choices are already breathtakingly narrow), in the militarized police occupation of Black communities during protest, in the extrajudicial choking of Eric Garner and the seventeen shots into Laquan McDonald’s body? It is how vigilantes have dealt with encroaching threats and kept populations in line, from the post-Reformation lynchings to subway “heroes” who shoot teens like they’re Dirty Harry (and are elevated to that status) or have a Death Wish, to George Zimmerman in Florida and Theodore Wafer in the Detroit ‘burbs.

Lastly and most importantly, we cannot ignore the connections between mass random violence and intimate partner abuse. Not only are many of these shooters cisgender men, but they have made it clear that they feel entitled to enact violence onto the women in their lives. What is practiced at home is a practiced enactment of ownership and brutality. This is tried in the private and semi-private, and then carried out in large scale. From intimate and gendered to public and indiscriminate.

The only viable solution for potentially-lethal problems in violent capitalism is escalation; the solution for fear and foreboding nihilism is lethality. We must cut out the heart of the problem.

—–Note: This content first appeared in the Patreon page. Consider subscribing for early and exclusive access.—-

[1] Mass random shootings need to be understood within its many contexts as distinct from yet also familiar to intimate partner violence (and the mass shootings that are extensions of that) and neighborhood violence in underground economies. More on the connections between MRS and IPV later. For more on VIUE, read here.

[2] I have been working on this connection for a while and hope to have something up on it soon.

[3] According to the USDA, this also leads to tremendous pollution in the making and wasting of unused food. To wit: “Food waste, which is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United States.”

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

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.