In the aftermath of a series of mass shootings, culminating with Adam Lanza's massacre of 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut before Christmas, America's epidemic of gun violence has (re)emerged as a pressing issue of public concern, one that directly impacts the Common Good, and which subsequently cannot be ignored.
In the first of a two-part interview about mass shootings in America, I was lucky to speak with Professor Ann Little (author of Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England regarding the connections between white masculinity, the Gun Right, and the historical antecedents which drive a fetish-like obsession with guns on the part of many people in the United States.
Our conversation was rich and revealing. We worked through some very delicate issues--such as the relationship between Whiteness, aggrieved white masculinity, and how the media framed the Newtown Massacre--that are little discussed by the corporate media. Based on the number of folks who downloaded the show, Professor Ann Little definitely struck a chord.
The second part of this interview features Professor Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English and American Studies at Wesleyan University. He is one of the foremost experts on the connection(s) between America's gun culture, our national mythologies of the West and the frontier, and how such foundational social fictions impart meaning, legitimacy, and identity to the "gun rights" movement in the present.
Slotkin's book Gunfighter Nation is a go to text for those interested in the historical foundations of America's centuries-long gun culture. His thesis about the connection(s) between what he terms "regeneration through violence," masculinity, and firearms use have been widely discussed--most recently, by the NY Times and its exploration of the movie Django Unchained.
In this conversation, Professor Slotkin generously offered up his time to We Are Respectable Negroes. We discussed a range of issues ranging from the relationship between guns and American political development; to the Newtown shooting and the connections between the Right, the gun lobby, and neoliberalism/hyper conservatism; and how racial formation and citizenship intersected in the World War One era.
I learned a great deal talking to Richard Slotkin. It was an amazing conversation that came into being thanks to some helpful intermediaries who are friends of WARN, and of course because of the generosity of our guest.
I have some good folks lined up for the podcast series here on We Are Respectable Negroes. Do share this (and our other shows too) with your friends and colleagues.
I hope you enjoy this interview with Richard Slotkin.
2:13 What was your initial response to the Newtown Shooting based on your understanding of America's gun culture?
3:42 How is America an extraordinarily violent culture?
6:12 How did America, as a liberal democracy, come to fetishize guns?
10:00 Historically, how is America's pattern of gun ownership different from Europe? How is wanting a gun a perfectly "rational" goal in the United States given its violent culture?
11:45 How some people feel vulnerable and then decide to need guns. The "equalizer fallacy" and how there is an error in reasoning by those who believe that guns "secure their freedoms and liberty."
13:56 The Hobbesian state of nature and the magical thinking of the Gun Right
15:28 The elites of the Right and the connections between hyper-conservatism/neoliberalism and the "gun right's" movement
19:20 Whiteness, white masculinity, Adam Lanza, and mass shootings in America
22:39 Dealing with the sources of social violence that lead people to think they need guns, and also feel justified in making guns easier to carry in every public space
25:35 How would the NRA respond to black and brown folks joining the NRA in mass and arming themselves against police and/or State violence?
28:55 Race, citizenship, Jim Crow, the Black Freedom Struggle, and gun ownership
34:00 Confronting gun violence by limiting the lethality of guns, improving background checks, making sure that the mentally unstable and poorly trained do not have access to firearms, and confronting the country's deep veins of interpersonal violence
38:08 How did the United States muster the willpower to limit public access to automatic weapons in the 1930s?
44:15 How do we locate Barack Obama, as a black president, in a moment when access to guns may be restricted? How does this complicate (or fit into) narratives about race and citizenship in the United States?
47:12 What was the genesis for your writing the book Lost Battalions about race, ethnicity, and citizenship in the World War One era?
51:22 Where is American Studies going in the future?