23 December 2012

Random thoughts on Sandy Hook and other murders by numbers

While I, like most of America, mourn the loss of the seven adults and 20 children, killed on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conneticut by 20 year old Adam Lanza, I have come to realize (no, I have somehow always known this) that all mourning ain't equal.  This makes me both curious and angry in so many ways.  I'm curious why some deaths are less deserving of the same kind of mass, social and political empathy and call for action/change around gun control and violence.  I'm angry because while all this national sorrow is going down, murder by numbers has been kind of the American way since the invasion and theft of this land by intruders and interlopers (and depending on the victims and the underlying reason for their deaths, much of it doesn't matter).  I'm angry that the media has wrapped the perpetrator in a soft blanket of "troubled", "genius" (unlike the rough, pathology-riddled propaganda that is reserved for non-white perps), and continue to search for answers why this particular young man (read white, affluent--not wanting for anything materially, having the privilege of his skin color to move pretty much under the radar--who'd thunk?) committed such a horrific crime. And not being able to get the answers they seek because Adam Lanza left no tangible clues, they find it easy to say his mental stability comes into question. Certainly this isn't the kind of behavior befitting a young white male from the suburbs.  No, this is the kind of stuff that only happens in the movies or in those urban (read, ghetto, underprivileged--lacking basic needs like jobs, healthcare, housing, decent schools...) areas where this kind of "senseless" violence is expected.  We do not profile white people, especially, white men.  We do, however, profile the hell out of Black men.  Racial profiling begins on the darker side of the spectrum.  But I know you already know this.

"We can’t tolerate this anymore" the POTUS tells members and families of the victims of Newtown and those of us watching this proclamation via television or the internet.  "We can’t accept events like this as routine."  Hmmmmm…well it seems that America does indeed tolerate the deaths of young Black children, teens, and adults.  In fact, I'm willing to venture that this country seems to accept the killing events of this population as routine. Trayvon Martin's murderer, George Zimmerman, raised funds for his defense, likely by some of the nation's mourners of the Sandy Hook tragedy, a tragedy in and of itself.  117 children have died of gun violence in Chicago this year, 124 in Oakland (as of this writing), and I don't see tears from the POTUS or any national mourning or outcry, let alone a call to get assault weapons off the streets.  In fact, the killing of Black children has become so normalized that much of America has come to ignore it.  We are numb.  We are distracted.  We are self-centered.  We are self-contained by gated communities.

"Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year, after year, after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"  Well that depends, Mr. President.  Whose freedom do you speak of?  When a Black person is killed every 36 hours in the U.S., by the hands of law enforcement, and almost always with impunity (paid-leave suspension is hardly a punishment, but it does indicate that while their innocence is investigated, they can still walk about the world freely and without concern for their livelihood--that shit don't go down like that for the rest of us), I don't think that their freedom matters at all.  And I am not ignorant to the sad fact that Black on Black crime is out of fucking control (and I don't have any special affection for murder committed by non-white people in case you may be thinking this), but we don't call what happened in Newtown white on white violence.  We dare not speak about the kind of intra-racial violence happening in white communities.  As Tim Wise weighs in on this discussion, appropriately:

Still, after all these years, and all these sanguinary calamities, there remains the utter surprise that yes, evil can visit the “nice” places too. What’s that you say? Childhood death isn’t just for the brown and poor anymore? Not merely a special burden to be borne by the residents of South Chicago, West Philadelphia, or Central City New Orleans? There is dysfunction and pathology and general awfulness where some of the beautiful people too reside? Yes precious, yes indeed. This time would you please write it down? Perhaps make it your Facebook status forever, so you won’t forget?

Although our communities are dying (figuratively, literally, economically, culturally...), I can't help but feel that the POTUS isn't addressing us/me when he says shit like, "I can only hope it helps for you to know you are not alone in your grief that our world too has been torn apart. That all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We've pulled our children tight," Obama said. "And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it."

Honestly, us Black and Brown folk are very much alone in our grief.  I can't recall any politician having those same words for our babies and loved ones.  Ever.  But do correct me if I'm wrong.  I so want to be wrong.  

Now there is all this talk (or bullshit) about gun control.  Really?  This shit matters because, why? Because the victims of the second largest school shooting in our history (a history of violence since "Plymouth rock landed on us") are mostly white?  If they were non-white kids we know damn well this so-called discussion wouldn't be taking place.  But that call to disarm is louder and stronger when it’s mass killings of  “innocent” white children and adults as if Blacks and other non-whites are inherently guilty and deserving of loss of life.  In a heated conversation with an ex-boyfriend over the killing of an unarmed Black youth by an Oakland police officer, he asks, “what did he do?”  We have internalized the mainstream racist belief that non-white folk, in this case, Black, generally cause their deaths by bad behavior (read, criminal).   

Some voices get silenced.  Some lives don’t matter.  Some laws won’t budge (not when you have a powerful and wealthy NRA lobby). The murder/genocide of young Black men and girls don’t generate nearly a percentage of the kind of buzz generated by the killings of more that 20 white folk.  When a Black  man becomes the national focus of criminal activity, the entire Black community is implicated.  You know that, right?  What happens time and again in instances like Sandy Hook, is that these are isolated events, the shooter acted alone, and this doesn’t reflect the behavior of the white community as a whole….and poor, thing, something went wrong, but he/she was otherwise a good person, a genius, even…if I sound crass it’s because this shit gets tiring after a while.  And, yes, I’m venting.  It helps me clear my mind and hopefully put things into perspective.  I’m talking/calling shit out, okay? 

As I write this, another Black or Brown body is being mourned, not by society, but by close friends and relatives.  There ain't no national affinity for our babies happening here or other parts of this world. This kind of tragedy is played out in Africa, in Haiti, in the African Diaspora.  As Davey D, puts it :

When we see these kids, we don't see them as our own.. They are from elsewhere.. They don't look cute and innocent. They look hardened..and even though many of us intellectually understand we should feel 'something' we don't.. We dont feel moved even as we come to know many of these kids are killed so we can have iphones and computers.

What's happened to our humanity that we are no longer touched by the plight of children not our own?  Lets be completely honest, when we see these [Black] kids, we don't have an emotional attachment to them, even though over 2 million have died since 1998..

Well said, Davey D.  And are we equally mourning the recent horrible deaths of  ten young girls, ages 10-13,  killed by a bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan as they were innocently gathering firewood to warm their homes or cook their meals? Or the children of Palestine, victims of genocide in a unfair fight for land by interlopers and intruders?  What about Aiyana Jones, the seven year old Black girl killed by Detroit police.  Where was the collective mourning and outrage for her death?  Nor do I expect that there will be tears shed in the deaths of our children to follow.  No, they don't fit the profile of children we should be mourning for.  Not now.  Not ever.  And this pisses me the fuck off.

Yeah, in the midst of all this unequal mourning I'm also wondering if whites recognize or acknowledge our humanity, our right to live, work, play, be on this planet when we mourn with them.  Are we any less savage?  Do they cease to pathologize us when we join them in their grief?  Are we, then, American citizens entitled to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Is our freedom restored when we shed tears for their children even though they've shed none for ours? Would signing an electronic sympathy card, signed by more than 2 million people, keep us safe from institutionalized violence?  Where is our sympathy card? When we mournfully assimilate into the American dream, a dream that for most of us continues to be a nightmare and deferred to the nth degree, what happens?  Nothing.  Nothing changes.  Today, tomorrow (as was yesterday), we will still be discriminated against.  We will be denied access into certain communities, schools, to affordable healthcare, jobs...we will be deemed guilty until proven innocent...we will overwhelmingly occupy jail cells and get longer sentences even when the crimes committed are non-violent...even when majority of violent crimes are committed by whites (and this includes crimes against humanity in the farce of democracy--war crimes, etc.). Say what?

To be silent, to engage in a collective white (or Black, when we are quiet about crimes committed by our own over the most stupid shit) muteness is compliance.  Uh-huh, these thoughts as wicked and random as you might believe them to be are nevertheless occupying space in my head.  And I figure that the best way to unoccupy them is to speak them out loud.  I'm not trying to get you to like me or to even agree with my subjective analysis of this "event." No, I really don't have the tears to lend to the river of bawling that our nation is currently engaged in; my compassion is not confined to one corner of the world, I equally mourn for the lives lost in my community and the global community of people of color who continue to be victims, often nameless, just because their skin color, religious beliefs, cultural differences don't match the homogeneity of whiteness.

No one deserves to be gunned down in the senseless manner that befell the 20 children and seven adults on December 14.  No one.  Regardless of race, gender, or class status.  Whether in prosperous Newtown, CT or down and out urban areas in Oakland, Chicago, New York, Mississsippi...Yet no one gives a good goddamn for those hundreds of women, men, children of color senselessly murdered on our streets every fucking day it seems (even by lone or multiple gunmen in blue uniforms, who may or may not be mentally incapacitated), or could care less if we just did them all a favor and go the fuck away, stop crying racism, sexism, class inequalities/inequities.  Just shut the fuck up cause ain't nobody listening.

No, honey, all mourning ain't equal.  And now that we have survived the end of the world, many of us still here...how we gonna make shit right?  How will we begin anew?  The same old shit ain't working for us...now what?

And while this piece may not be all shiny and polished, it's not intended to be...random thoughts are just that. Random.  I needed to get this off my chest.  I hope that other folks find spaces to talk about the ways in which this tragedy was sad, but that most death is, not just the deaths of white people.  Think about that while you're mourning.

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