Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Question to Which We Already Know the Answer: Does Race Shape Americans' Passion for Guns?


I hope that you had a restful Columbus Day which is set aside to honor the deeds of a man (and those of his brother) who were murderous and genocidal towards First Nation's peoples and directly led to the murder of millions of black people through the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

CNN recently posted the editorial/exploratory news item "Does race shape Americans' passion for guns?" It is a good and very accessible piece about race and American gun culture. In some important ways Does race shape Americans' passion for guns? is atypical: it features some serious scholars with expertise about race and racial ideologies in America. The response to Does race shape Americans' passion for guns? was common and tedious: the white supremacists and ammosexuals polluted the comments section, forcing CNN to close it down.

[The irony of an essay about guns and race attracting both ammosexuals and white supremacists, as they bloviate and produce copious spittle while denying that racism and attitudes about gun ownership are related, is priceless.]

The corporate media is not interested in a rigorous process wherein the truth is revealed and power is challenged. Rather, in the United States the 4th Estate is an essential organ of the powerful, the rich, and the State. And because profit is secondary to truth-telling, the corporate media creates false narratives and frames that distort and misrepresent the facts and empirical data across a range of issues and matters of public policy.

In this model, complex issues are over-simplified, false equivalencies are legitimated, and rejected outliers of opinion are represented as reasonable and expert alternative points of view.

These narrative frames are applied across a range of public policy issues such as taxes, global warming, health care, and of course the most noxious and oft told lie that "both sides are responsible" when government dysfunction in the Age of Obama is discussed by the corporate media.

Despite its relative merits, CNN's Does race shape Americans' passion for guns? also reflects the above phenomenon by generating a question as opposed to confirming a statement of historical and contemporary fact.

The relationship between guns and race is not a matter of "does"; rather, it is a matter of "yes" and "how".

The color line is central to America's history with, and obsession for, guns.


America was founded as a white supremacist herrenvolk democracy and settler society. White supremacy is in the DNA and sinews of the Founding and the Constitution. America, spawned with the twin birth defects of genocide against First Nations peoples and the enslavement of millions of black people, despite its progress on matters related to the color line, is still a society where white privilege and white racial group identity profoundly over-determine life chances.

The United States is a paradox on matters of race: it is a multicultural democracy with a "diverse" popular culture that remains oriented around both maintaining and furthering white supremacy.

In all, if America is a country where race colors almost every aspect of social and political life, how can it not touch the soul of a nation in which guns are part of its beating heart?

The answer is clear. It cannot.

In a limited about of space, and writing for a public audience, that may or may not have any expertise on a given topic, is not easy. Moreover, John Blake, the author of Does race shape Americans' passion for guns?, may not have any specific content knowledge about guns, race, and public policy. Thus, Blake is beholden to a database of "experts", as well as those others to which the members of that social network suggest he speak. This results in a mix of very smart folks (Gallagher) being cited in the same essay with frauds (Lott).

The reader is given some gems of knowledge mixed in with glowing poison pebbles that beckon to the disinformed and those others whose standing prior is to reject the empirical realities of how guns and race are intimates in America.

Does race shape Americans' passion for guns? could have been much improved, as the framing of the question is designed to distract and distort by creating false equivalencies and controversies about the standing facts where there are little to none.

Consider the following.

1. Where is Richard Slotkin? He is one of the country's foremost experts on guns and American gun culture. I was lucky enough to speak with him on the podcast series for We Are Respectable Negroes. His work offers a solid answer that "yes" race and racial attitudes are central to America's history with guns.

2. John Blake quotes John Lott Jr.. His book More Guns Less Crime, while lauded and praised by open carry fetishists and the Gun Right, has been thoroughly eviscerated for its use of fraudulent and inaccurate statistics. Does race shape Americans' passion for guns? uses discredited information in order to give "equal time" to unfounded and disproved claims.

3. The relationship between race and America's "passion" for guns is not a mystery. There is social science research on white Americans' attitudes about race, crime, and gun policy. Some of this work is very recent and clearly demonstrates that white racial attitudes (i.e. animus and resentment towards blacks; symbolic racism) are related to views about guns and concealed carry laws.

On occasion, a whee bit of truth sneaks out through the narrow confines of the approved discourse as authored and furthered by the American corporate news media. Does race shape Americans' passion for guns? is one of those rare moments.

Unfortunately, while opening with a strong lede about white racial entitlement and how white folks are free to walk around in public with guns (black and brown folks doing the same thing would be shot dead by the police and white vigilantes), John Blake closes with whimpering pandering to white racial paranoiacs and how obvious racial bias against black and brown Americans is just a difference of opinion between otherwise "well-meaning" individuals.

There Blake wrote:
Those protests continue, and each week seems to bring a new viral video that raises questions about guns and race. 
There's footage of an unarmed young black man shot to death by a white police officer in an Ohio Walmart while swinging a toy rifle at his side and talking on a cell phone. And there's the dash cam recording of a black man being shot by a white South Carolina trooper as he reached for his license during a traffic stop. 
Did any of those shootings have anything to do with race? 
It depends on who you ask. 
When so many Americans disagree about the links between gun and race, well-meaning people look at the same videos and draw far different conclusions. 
That can only mean more controversial shootings, impassioned defenses of the Second Amendment and angry charges of racism. 
There may be a lot more people asking "what if" in America's future.
Blake is walking a tightrope in Does race shape Americans' passion for guns?--choosing to make a safe play at the end of the piece.

Alas, kumbaya hand holding is always a temptation (and perhaps a necessity) for those who work the "racism beat" in the corporate news media machine.

Folks must eat and stay employed. Parrhesia is dangerous and comes with consequences that few are willing to accept or court.

13 comments:

Learning Is Eternal said...

The gun was the technology that conquered the world (of savages).

I've often said that if I were a pre-colonial soul of Africa, Australia, an Aztec, Incan or Mayan witnessing the power of a gun at the hands of white person who could obliterate my immediate surroundings at a distance I would have viewed them as not of this world.

This is their bread and butter. This isn't so much a passion as it is inextricably part of their DNA.

chauncey devega said...

You know how I feel about "their" and race essentialism. There is plenty of examples where one society has conquered another using the "superior" technology available across all societies.


Barbarism is a human condition not one exclusively of "white" people. Nevermind how "white" people have killed each other by the tens of millions too.



You are correct though, Europeans use of killing technologies was often discussed--at least in first contacts--as almost magical. Then folks adapted, traded, and got the tech themselves.

Courtney H. said...

Excellent essay, Chauncey! I know that I have posted the following video before but it really relates to this topic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr00KMl-Jus&list=PL2822CA5B808A7A1F

Guns and violence have indeed played a huge role in American history, and continue to do so today. And gender and age -- as well as race -- play a huge role in how the victims of violence are perceived.

chauncey devega said...

Masculinity, race, class, etc. All related here. As I wrote above, the corporate media is invested in perpetuating questions as opposed to answers and the facts.

Bob Macias said...

Once again, a great observation of a national problem. I've blogged about the weird gunlove that soaks our country, trying to understand what make sit so pervasive. This article helps.

Right next door to my place of work (Orange County, CA) is a store that sells so-called 'longarms', all of them AK-47 style matte black weapons that typify the ammosexuals' favorite piece. Since I have to walk in front of the place several times a day, I stay out in the street as I don't want to interact with the people who frequent the place, sometimes forming a line ten-deep prior to the 10AM store opening.

Other than the rare peace officer or military customer, the store's clientele' is almost exclusively white males, the parking lot always filled with large trucks or very expensive luxury cars. At least half of the vehicles have an assortment of hard-core-right-wing anti-Obama stickers proudly displayed... the store even had an anti-Obama poster on the front door, claiming the guy 'is coming for your guns, so stock up now!!!'

I've even seen guys chatting in the lot with their trucks opened up, filled with weapons and ammo boxes and all kinds of survivalist gear., comparing their new toys. I hate having to be anywhere near these people, because they all seem slightly unhinged, or at least they have the appearance of being so.

Does race shape America's passion for guns? My answer is: of course it does. Who are the people who walk around in grocery stores and malls with their phallic symbols strapped on? Who hangs out at political rallies packing heat? Who are the ones mostly responsible for the mass shootings we've seen over and over again? Who is screaming the loudest about out Socialist Marxist Communist not-a-citizen President wanting to take their guns away?

Thanks, CDV... yet another thought-provoking essay.

balitwilight said...

American culture suffers a triple-dose of 1) New-World Settler Culture, 2) Slaveholder Culture and 3) Colonial Empire Culture. The points of convergence of all of these cultures are racism and guns. The gun to these cultures is a fetish: the tool that can legitimately be wielded by "white" hands only. It is domination and authority, the "one ring to rule them all". In the wrong hands it is instant death (just ask John Crawford III).

America's cultural triple-overdose is potentially fatal. If you visit online gun forums you will soon find that they are populated by "white" men stewing in resentment, paranoia, entitlement and utter contempt for what they always term "the minorities". They seriously discuss things like SHTF, EOTWAWKI, "go-bags". The first two - "(when the) Shit Hits The Fan", "End Of The World As We Know It" - are Helter-Skelter/Turner-Diaries fantasies of a blood-drenched Last-White-Stand so ingrained in their subculture that they have acronyms. They swap serious advise about what critical supplies to stash in a "go-bag", what ammunition will put a "man" down. Of course, what needs forever "putting down" in their imagination is the inhumanly strong nightmare of the Moro Tribesman (massacred in the colonial Philippines, inspired the new .45 ACP cartridge), the Rampaging Slave, the Giant Negro home invader (or Trayon Martin, Michael Brown, etc). The gun is the "white" man's equalizer against the animalistic male prowess of the Other.
Gun culture in America is the apex culture of "white" performance. I discovered online that such people love the "Walking Dead" show: all those guns; "white" people always the ones calling the shots; and all those scary threatening dark horde zombies, dying just like they must, come SHTF EOTWAWKI. The reason I say that all this is potentially fatal to the United States is because these people form a deadly-serious, paranoid, self-reinforcing and committed subculture - and this country is neck-deep-and-rising in guns and racism.

chauncey devega said...

Brilliantly put. As you know I was writing about the The Walking Dead. The angry responses on the Daily Kos were so instructive. I pointed out exactly your point that is a white masculine fantasy. Don't go there folks. I am going to write something more formal on the series so I have been more quiet about the last and newest season.


They are the most dominant group in the country--if not the world. What the heck is that variety of white male so afraid of?

balitwilight said...

Look forward to your next post on The Walking Dead. After I saw this season's pilot I immediately wanted to post on your forum about some dynamics I noticed that struck me as very relevant to your subject matter (I enjoyed some action in the pilot, but these were not good dynamics). But I'll look forward to your own thoughts first.

Lkeke said...

I would love to read both these posts on the Walking Dead. I f you guys have links, please let me know. I ve been a fan of Zombie books and a fan of the show since its resurbgence in Popular culture ,so I'm interested in anything that would help to explain the new popularity.
On my blog, I write recap/reviews of The Walking Dead and a few other shows (I find Githam to be too close to home and too real-life horrifying to do a recap of that one), but from book to book and movie to TV show, I have noticed some dsiturbing similiarities and tropes and it will be interesting to know if others have spotted them as well.

Courtney H. said...

I agree.

DoGoOn said...

What's this guy's problem? https://www.youtube.com/user/MrColionNoir

Kyle Bull said...

Columbus day was originally championed as an Italian American pride initiative.

Kyle Bull said...

large trucks or very expensive luxury cars
That describes 90% of the cars I see anywhere