Addressing Racism to Reduce Gun Violence
The Hidden History of Guns and the 2nd Amendment
Addressing Racism to Reduce Gun Violence
He got his fat dreams, he got his slaves
He got his profits, he owns our cage,
He has his prisons, he has his gates
He has his judges, they have our fate.
—Richie Havens, “Fates”
Louise was lucky, for a white girl. When she was 14 or so, the public high school she attended in East Lansing, Michigan, had a mandatory school-wide “Black Awareness” class.
She read everything from Alan Paton’s 1948 classic novel about South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country, to the writings of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. She learned the history of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Brown v. Board of Education, and the civil rights laws being passed those very years she was in school, and came to understand what redlining and other forms of institutional racism meant.
“It changed my life, even before I became an adult,” my wife recalls. “That experience altered forever how I understand race in America and gave me a deep empathy for the challenges people of color face in my nation—and around the world.”
The simple fact of the matter is that, as noted repeatedly in this book, genocide and racism are interpenetrated with and driven by racist laws, policies, and racial theories that purely benefit Caucasians and have turned America into a hyper-armed camp with more guns than people. And, as noted in the story in the introduction, white racism continues to animate the gun issue in this country daily, in ways large and small.
For white Americans older than 30 who’ve had little contact with black, Hispanic, Asian, or native people, their understanding of such folk is deeply rooted in racist stereotypes. From cartoons and movies to TV shows, from the 1930s to the 1980s, pretty much every depiction of a minority person was as either a villain or a buffoon.
We’ve come a long way from Buckwheat, Jemima, and even Sanford and Son. Young white people today are far more likely to understand race in a holistic way and to have friends or acquaintances who differ from them racially. But there’s still a long way to go to achieving both racial equality and racial reconciliation in this nation.
Integration is proven to be one of the most effective ways to diminish the racially charged impulses that drive everything from killer cops to vigilantes like George Zimmerman to white nationalists like Dylann Roof. Once a person has had the real-life experience of getting to know “the other,” that otherness generally dissipates rapidly. To this goal, the racial “forced busing” of the 1960s was a positive first step; a national conversation is needed to determine what would be the next few steps to bringing people together.
Similarly, reparations in the modest form of affirmative action programs have lifted many poor people of color into quality jobs and educational opportunities, helping to create a substantial Black and Hispanic middle class.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to equality of opportunities among the races is our public school system. Unlike pretty much anywhere else in the world, we pay for local public schools with local property taxes.
The consequence—the intended effect, in fact—is that poor and minority schools lack the resources needed for a quality education and turn out students who can’t effectively compete in the modern world. Wealthy neighborhoods, on the other hand, turn out students with well-rounded educations who can easily make the transition into quality colleges and then into high-paying jobs.
Thus, when poor Black kids from poor neighborhoods can’t perform to reading or math or science standards, the white racists say, essentially, “See, I told you they’re inferior. And, because they’re not so bright and are poor, I definitely need a gun to protect myself from them.”
This one issue—property-tax-funded schools—is one of the greatest drivers of intergenerational poverty. It’s urgent that state, county, and city legislative bodies reject this system nationwide and move to fully funded and high-quality standardized education in every community in America. And that requires elimination of local funding of schools; they should be funded statewide and required to perform to national standards.
The other institution in America deeply in need of reform is our system of policing and imprisonment.
Inroads are being made, although they’re mostly in more affluent or well-funded communities, in part because, again, local property taxes pay a portion of local policing. There are also no national standards for hiring, training, and supervising police.
Washington, DC, has lately integrated racial awareness classes into the curriculum for officers; it’s a single, all-day class that includes a visit to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. One of the teachers noted to the Washingtonian magazine that “at the end of one session, a white, 25-year veteran of the force asked, with tears in his eyes, if he was a racist because he treated people in [Black area] Shaw and [wealthy white] Georgetown differently. After another class, an officer came up to Thompson and put it more simply: ‘I didn’t know. I didn’t know.’”1 More police departments must make this small start, at the very least.
Meanwhile, the private prison industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States as of this writing, and their lobbyists and campaign contributions are generally directed not toward high standards for rehabilitation, as in other developed nations, but instead toward longer sentences for more types of crimes.
In both education and imprisonment, the profit motive has been highly corrosive of equal justice under the law, particularly when comparing communities that are racially different. Private prisons should be banned, as they are in every other developed country, and public schools and police departments need national funding and national standards.