Tag Archives: El Paso

When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them

In the wake of the horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton (ahem–not Toledo), President Trump robotically read the sort of statement Presidents are supposed to issue in such situations.

When questioned, Trump denied that his rhetoric had anything to do with the increase white nationalist violence, despite the fact that his language was echoed in the “manifesto” posted by the El Paso killer. According to media reports, Trump’s reelection campaign has run 2,199 Facebook ads referring to immigration along the US-Mexico border as an “invasion,” the same word used in the manifesto.

The massacres have re-ignited efforts to pass sensible gun regulations, regulations that are critically needed. They have also highlighted the connection between gun violence and the white supremacy this administration encourages.

The Guardian recently reviewed a book describing that link.

Why does the United States refuse to pass new gun control laws? It’s the question that people around the world keep asking.

According to Dr Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist at Vanderbilt University, white supremacy is the key to understanding America’s gun debate. In his new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, Metzl argues that the intensity and polarization of the US gun debate makes much more sense when understood in the context of whiteness and white privilege.

According to Metzl, white Americans are attempting to defend their status in the racial hierarchy by opposing gun control, healthcare expansion or public school funding. Of course, to sane people, that makes no sense; those are positions that end up injuring white guys as much or more than they hurt people of color.

The majority of America’s gun death victims are white men, and most of them die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In all, gun suicide claims the lives of 25,000 Americans each year.

In an interview, Metzl explained the link.

So many aspects of American gun culture are really entwined with whiteness and white privilege.

Carrying a gun in public has been coded as a white privilege. Advertisers have literally used words like “restoring your manly privilege” as a way of selling assault weapons to white men. In colonial America, landowners could carry guns, and they bestowed that right on to poor whites in order to quell uprisings from “Negroes” and Indians. John Brown’s raid was about weapons. Scholars have written about how the Ku Klux Klan was aimed at disarming African Americans. When African Americans started to carry guns in public – think about Malcolm X during the civil rights era – all of a sudden, the second amendment didn’t apply in many white Americans’ minds. When Huey Newton and the Black Panthers tried to arm themselves, everyone suddenly said, “We need gun control.”

When states like Missouri changed their laws to allow open carry of firearms, there were parades of white Americans who would carry big long guns through congested areas of downtown St Louis, who would go into places like Walmart and burrito restaurants carrying their guns, and they were coded as patriots. At the same time, there were all the stories about African American gun owners who would go to Walmart and get tackled and shot.

Who gets to carry a gun in public? Who is coded as a patriot? Who is coded as a threat, or a terrorist or a gangster? What it means to carry a gun or own a gun or buy a gun – those questions are not neutral. We have 200 years of history, or more, defining that in very racial terms.

Metzl noted that the period after a mass shooting is often very telling; if a white man was the shooter, the narrative focuses on the “disordered” individual. When the shooter is black or brown, the disorder is cultural and the narrative is about terrorism or gangs.

Or invasions and “caravans.”

Trump and his voters have told us who they are in no uncertain terms. The 2020 election will tell us how numerous those voters are–and how many of the rest of us are sufficiently concerned to vote.

REALLY Telling It Like It Is

In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I’ve seen a number of heartfelt and pointed columns, posts and speeches. I’ve also seen responses by “the usual suspects,” insisting that the problem isn’t the obscene number and easy availability of guns–no, it’s mental health, or immigration (!), or (stupidest of all)  video games.

The “gun nuts”–a term I reserve for people who abandon any and all sanity in defense of unlimited gun ownership–have posted angry responses to Facebook messages advocating gun control measures.

My recent favorite was the idiot who claimed that guns aren’t the problem–evil people are the problem, and laws won’t stop people from being evil. I really do know better than to respond to such people, but I couldn’t help myself: I pointed out that, by his “logic,” America must have more evil people than all those countries where mass shootings don’t take place.

But in one sense, he has a point about “evil people.”

The shooting in El Paso was just the latest in a series of white nationalist terrorist attacks, encouraged by a despicable, racist President (who, among other things, has run 2,200 FB ads since last May using the word “invasion” to describe immigration). Trump’s bigotry is enabled by Republicans who are either equally racist or moral cowards unwilling to speak up.

I should note that there are exceptions. Two recent, powerful indictments of the white nationalist in the Oval Office are from two prominent conservatives who were (and perhaps still are) Republicans.

Conservative Jennifer Rubin has written that there is no excuse for supporting this President. She points to Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, his channeling of “replacement” conspiracy theories, his dehumanization of immigrants and his demonization of the media–and notes how often his words have been quoted by perpetrators of horrific racist acts.

 Michael Gerson’s column in the Washington Post is a must-read.

Gerson begins by saying he’d intended to ignore Trump’s latest outrages; he planned instead to write about “the self-destructive squabbling” of Democratic presidential candidates.

But I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency. Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., in 1918 that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner. Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children. According to one source, Mary was “stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”

God help us. It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of U.S. history. It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and killing her child.

Trump supporters characterize his racist tweets and white-nationalist-encouraging rallies as “telling it like it is.” But it is Gerson who tells it like it really is.

Racism is the fire that left our country horribly disfigured. It is the beast we try to keep locked in the basement. When the president of the United States plays with that fire or takes that beast out for a walk, it is not just another political event, not just a normal day in campaign 2020. It is a cause for shame. It is the violation of martyrs’ graves. It is obscene graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial.

It is impossible for people of good will to deny the truth of his essay, or his closing words.

Trump’s continued offenses mean that a large portion of his political base is energized by racist tropes and the language of white grievance. And it means — whatever their intent — that those who play down, or excuse, or try to walk past these offenses are enablers.

Some political choices are not just stupid or crude. They represent the return of our country’s cruelest, most dangerous passion. Such racism indicts Trump. Treating racism as a typical or minor matter indicts us.

Click through and read the entire column. Then do whatever it takes to help get out the vote in 2020.