I’m tired of hearing about kids dying by gunfire. I’m tired of writing about kids who die by gunfire. I’m tired of wondering whether people are tired of me writing about kids dying by gunfire. And I’m tired of arguing whether anyone should be writing about kids dying by gunfire.
At least we all agree on one thing: it’s a tragedy when a kid dies suddenly and unexpectedly simply because someone else decided, for whatever reason and sometimes without even knowing their victim, that they should die.
Or do we?
In the wake of Sandy Hook, one of my friends essentially implied that my shock and horror were racist because of the fact that these were white kids in a well-to-do town where “that sort of thing doesn’t happen.” I bristled, and wrote back a fiery response stating that I had no idea of any of the demographics of the tragedy when I first heard about it, that it was the age of the kids and the sheer number of victims that provoked the depth of my reaction.
And then I cooled down and thought a little more about it. And the truth is, Sandy Hook had to be reported in the media for me to learn about it. And the media, like it or not and however unconsciously, do report crimes against white people differently from crimes against people of colour. So my reaction, however colour-blind, and independently of the anti-racist attitudes I actively try to communicate and nurture, was nonetheless embedded in the cultural racism of our society and the privilege of my own whiteness. Like it or not, I couldn’t deny it.
Recently, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down in a Chicago park. Again, there was an angle to her story that would pull at the heartstrings of the country – an honor student at her high school, loved and respected by friends and teachers, a majorette who had performed at President Obama’s inauguration, randomly shot by gang members in a city where gun violence is out of control.
Oh, and, for those who might wonder about such a thing, she was Black.
Her race shouldn’t matter, of course. Which is kind of the point. But – how many people, in learning of the tragedy, whether or not they made any assumptions about Hadiya’s race, assumed the gang members were Black?
And suppose that gang member was Black and shot a Black member of another gang? Would that death have received the same attention?
My grandmother used to say that each person, whatever else was true of their lives, was born to parents who loved them and had dreams for them. Perhaps a slight overgeneralization, but basically true. And at any rate, each life has value, each life has its place. The loss of a life is a loss to all, a collective loss, not just to those who knew the person.
And so, I write. I follow the Twitter account @gundeaths, whose aim is to share and in so doing mark every single gun death in the U.S. I bear in mind the words of my friend as well as the words of my advisees when they spoke out against empty gestures when kids die by violent means and the too-often-imposed veil of silence over other tragic deaths such as suicides. I contact my members of Congress, wade into discussions of how to reduce violence, prevent suicides, and ensure as many kids as possible grow up to have their own kids. I work to rid our society of embedded racism – as well as gender prejudice, socioeconomic prejudice, and, well, prejudice in general.
Oh, yes, I’m tired.