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.


Unknown said...

Something you should know :

"In October 1998, Clinton announced the $60 million grant program, which was housed in the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). “This initiative provides communities with a new tool to tackle crime and violence in our schools,” he said. According to the Justice Department, the program was intended to help police officers “engage in community policing in and around primary and secondary schools,” and the government spent over $753 million to hire more than 6,500 school police officers"

The NRA program sounds remarkably similar doesn't it ?

Also of note, since you are making this a racial issue by just tv news bytes about gun buyers.. what race are those "youth" flash mobs who are most commonly recorded raiding stores as seen on the tv news ? Do you apply your same racial standards there ?

If you are being fair on your blog, I'd like to see your responses to my comment. Thanks.

Jennifer said...

Heckler Koch,
Thanks for coming to my blog. I don't think the Clinton program is similar to Wayne LaPierre's policy, for several reasons.

1) LaPierre was addressing the nation after a tragic mass shooting--he was expected to make comments as the head of an organization that has been stymining law enforcement officials and government officials from curbing the assault weapon sales. There have been guards and police officers in schools (see Columbine) -- that's the whole point--they're there already, but that didn't stop the Columbine shooters from their rampage.

2) Perhaps you and I watch different t.v. news. Do you have a youtube clip you want to share? I'm guessing, from the tone of your second point, that these youths are not white (probably black or Latino I'm guessing, maybe Asian?).

I think, in reading between the lines, you may be trying to accuse me of unfair bias--of saying that white people are more likely to buy guns and shoot people than non-white people.

I certainly think that black on black crime is a tremendous problem (and one that people have been talking about for quite some time). In fact, intra-racial violence is quite prevalent in all communities--more white people kill white people, black people kill black people, Asians kill Asians. I'm not sure what to make about this other than perhaps we're still engrained in terms of our ethnic enclaves and/or because those of us most desperate or poor live in ethnic enclaves.

I will say that perhaps with the exception of the Virginia Tech shooter, of the last six years, most all of the shootings that have garnered so much national (and international) attention have been young white men, often with a history of mental illness. And if all these men had been Asian, you sure as hell can bet that there would have been talk about the pathology of Asian culture.

So why aren't we talking about a pathology of white male youth?

Unknown said...

The Virginia Tech shootings of 2007 were done with a pair of handguns. No "assault weapons" were involved. The Oklahoma City massacre of 1995 did not even involve any firearm. Just farm fertilizer.

I think you forgot John Muhammed and Lee Malvo, the DC snipers. They were not White. And also the Fort Hood shooter who was of Middle Eastern ethnicity. All recent high profile non-White mass killers.

For what it is worth, when the DC snipers were being hunted, one of the main reasons, it took so long to catch them was that law enforcement refused to follow up on leads that described the killers as Black, since the "profile" of serial shooter apparently meant they had to be white. The talk show host Phil Donahue infamously mocked the stories of the shooters possibly being black by saying "I hate to tell you but this is a White guy". Isn't this blatant racism ?

Here is a sample youtube flash mob scene:

There are plenty on youtube.

The idea that "assault weapons" are somehow causing mass mayhem when the real statistics don't support it is the reason there is so much misinformation. There are numerous DOJ studies that came out during the 1994-2004 AWB that have covered this.

The serial killer Ted Bundy never used a firearm in any of his 100+ murders. He blamed pornography for his violent and sadistic behavior. Wasn't that reason enough to ban all pornography in this country ? Yet it is protected "free speech".

!0-12,000 people die every year in alcohol related drunk driving carnage. Yet nobody calls for a ban on alcohol.

Everybody realizes it is the individual behind the wheel who is the reason for the deaths and injuries. Should we then call for a national ban on alcohol of any kind ? After all why does anybody need to drink, right ? And anybody who drinks recreationally is a drunk ?

Jennifer said...

Heckler Koch,

Your name is very apropos. I believe we are going to have to agree to disagree. You will not be able to convince me that
1) The history of white supremacy has meant that people of color (particularly black people) and guns has resulted in a stereotype of black criminalization. That the condition of white privilege has allowed the media to ignore the ways in which certain "questions" or "profiling" of shooters is done in an inconsistent manner (after Viriginia Tech all sorts of speculation was happening about his Korean heritage--this hasn't happened about Adma Lanza's white heritage).

2) I believe our society, our nation, our world would be a better place if there were less guns. Perhaps this is idealistic and certainly it's unrealistic, but it's still a belief I hold. I agree with Cheryl Wheeler--I don't know what the real set of solutions are when it comes to violence in America, but one place I'd start is to take away the guns. All types of guns. From all types of people of every race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation.

3) I know I'm not going to convince you of my position--I am guessing that you find my position reprehensible or irresponsible or naive. So i think this is going to be the last exchange we have because I'm really not interested in a back-and-forth exchange along these lines. Again, we are going to have to agree to disagree. You can go on your way and I will continue on my path.

4) Happy new year! Because even though we may not agree, I believe that like every other person on this planet, I wish you well and hope you have a wonderful 2013.