Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tunnel Vision

It has been embarrassing how long it has been since I last wrote a blog post.  Well over a month.  Almost two.  In between the time I last wrote in this space, I've attended two conferences, gotten a nasty head cold, and--the reason I'm really not writing here--started to write my Tiger Woods chapter in earnest.  These are not excuses or rationales (well not entirely)--they're just a reality of how I've gotten tunnel vision.  Right now, it's all Tiger all the time.

And tunnel vision is what I want to write about right now.

It's easy to get tunnel vision, especially when one (like me) is immersed in a particular project.  I used to be the queen of multitasking, but increasingly (perhaps due to age? I find that after 40 almost everything gets attributed to "Oh, you're just getting older"--good to know that I have my aging body and mind to blame for things that pop up in the future) I find that I get tunnel vision when I embark upon certain projects, especially writing projects.

But I think there are other ways in which we get tunnel vision.  When we become so focused on a certain task, project, person, position that we lose sight of everything but the thing right in front of us.

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is someone who I believe suffers from tunnel vision.

In a statement he made on behalf of the NRA yesterday, Mr. LaPierre blamed violent movies, songs, video games, and the lack of armed guards in schools for the tragic massacre in Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I don't think I need to repeat the circumstances and details that led to the deaths of 28 people (and yes, I include both Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza because their deaths are part of that tragedy).  Last week when news slowly unfolded about the shootings--when the final count was 20 children and 6 adults dead at the elementary school--I, like just about everyone else in the world who heard this news, felt numb and heartsick.

The NRA went silent for a week in the aftermath of the mass shooting: they took down their Facebook Page and went silent on Twitter.  And when they popped back up, they said they wanted to enter into "meaningful" conversation about how to avert this tragedy.

[Aside: It's interesting what going "silent" means in the day and age of rampant social media]

Apparently meaningful means putting an armed guard in every school in the nation and pointing a figure at multiple sources--except for gun owners, gun sellers, and gun manufacturers.  In other words, Wayne LaPierre and the NRA suffer from extreme tunnel vision.  They are so focused on protecting their "right to bear arms" ala Second Amendment that they cannot see anything beyond this single issue, remaining tone deaf (among other sensory deprivations) to what the nation is saying and feeling about gun violence.

Now, I know this doesn't seem like a topic for Mixed Race America.  But there are two things that I thought about when reading about the NRA's response and seeing the lines of people outside gun shops who want to buy up as many assault rifles as they can because they fear that the assault gun weapon ban may just pass in the new year.

1) LaPierre complained that the news media had demonized gun owners and rhetorically asked since when did "gun" become a bad word?  It strikes me that LaPierre's language echoes those of people who act defensively when they have been called out for racist acts.  When people get called out for racist acts or are trying to defend people/institutions/events that have been labeled as "racist," these folks often lament the demonization that they, the purported racists, are feeling.  They turn the tables, so to speak (or try to) by claiming to be the "victim" or the "demonized" object of some kind of irrational witch hunt or vendetta that is simply unfair.  In this way, LaPierre and the NRA are setting themselves up as a maligned entity at the mercy of the big bad news media who are unfairly portraying them.

2) Across the nation people have been stockpiling weapons, lining up to buy as many guns, particularly assault rifles, as they can.  And when the news shows footage of the people purchasing these weapons, they have predominantly been white men.  Sure, you see a few African American faces and a couple of women.  But by and large the people lined up and in the gun shops appear to be white.

[Aside 2: I saw "appear to be" because lets face it, I don't know really how they might identify or what their actual racial makeup is.  But I am fairly convinced that even if they are identifying as people of color they're living with white skin privilege in terms of how they look.]

And if we think about the mass shootings that have happened in the last six months: Aurora, CO, Oak Creek, WI, Portland, OR, and now Newtown, CT, what all the shooters had in common was that they were white men.  And I'm not saying that we should be racially profiling or targeting white men.  But if the shooters had all been African American or Latino or Asian Americans or Indigenous people, I KNOW we'd be hearing about the impact of their culture/ethnicity on their psyche and the ways in which their culture/ethnicity caused their violent outbursts.  In other words, race and ethnicity would be a factor that people would latch onto as a way to explain the violence.

Why aren't we doing this with the white men who have perpetrated these killings?  And do we think that one of those white men who lined up to buy guns around the nation may be a future mass murderer because there's something in white male culture that causes white men to embrace a culture of violence and because there's is something in white culture that allows white men to feel entitled and empowered and to feel it is their right to own guns and to do what they want with their guns?

Truthfully, this is a problem in our society--in U.S. society.  Our obsession with weapons and the second amendment.  Our "right" to bear arms.  And it crosses boundaries of race and class and gender and sexuality (I know of queer people of color who absolutely believe they need to be armed to protect themselves from the racist and homophobic throngs out there).  But I also think that it's striking to see these images of predominantly white men lining up to buy as many assault rifles as they can.

As for what I think, I'm going to leave you with this song that Cheryl Wheeler wrote after the school shootings at a middle school in Jonesboro, Arkansas in March 1998.