Fear, loathing, racism and violence in the US
This is the 11th in the blog series by Morgan Healey, immediate past President of ALRANZ, who has recently returned to the US. It aims to bring to life the uniquely absurd state of reproductive rights and justice in the US.
It has been another brutal, violent week in the US — the vicious police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile followed by the mass shooting in Dallas, Texas. I have read the stories and heard the calls for more and better gun restrictions, the need to end racial police profiling and killings, and the need for criminal justice reform. And to all of that, I say yes — quickly before more blood is shed.
Perhaps it is because I have never owned a gun, never handled one and never wanted to that I do not understand, nor support a reading of the Second Amendment that asserts it as a right. I have lived in countries with histories of colonization, war, and violence, which in many ways mirror the pain and suffering, the segregation, and the loss of cultural and spiritual identity seen in the US. But in those contexts, police do not as a rule carry guns, gun violence happens but it is rare, and mass shootings do not dominate the evening news. That does not mean that racism has ceased to exist, or high rates of mass incarceration do not disproportionately affect non-white people. Statistics highlight the extent of racial inequality in both the US and New Zealand. However, racism in New Zealand does not appear to lead to dead brown bodies in the streets, gunned down by the people who are supposed to protect society from harm.
Why are the two so inextricably linked in the US?
Unfortunately, I do not have the answer.
But I will say that to my mind gun violence and racism will never be solved unless we understand them as interconnected, two sides of the same coin. We are a nation born of violence and bloodshed, built on the inhumane enslavement of non-white bodies. And yet we assert this has little import in modern society. Instead our national creation myth has always focused on throwing off the chains of British colonization, never the trail of tears it left in its wake. Even the liberal philosophies and tenets that we triumph, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are flawed. Designed and perfected with white, male, property-owning bodies in mind, they remain the reserve of white, heterosexual, economically well-off, cisgender men. So while we hold dear the ability to own and ‘defend’ one’s body and home, we simultaneously and systematically deny safety and autonomy to certain bodies. A black person holding a gun is understood as a threat, a white person holding a gun is a token of liberty. We are a nation of contradictions and inequalities.