Sunday, December 16, 2012

White People, You're Not Listening

I have a paper that I should be writing, and it has nothing to do with gun violence. But the recent school shooting in Connecticut, plus other recent episodes of gun violence (Trayvon Martin, Sherry Frey) and a host of other violent episodes have me thinking a lot.

First, I will say unequivocally that we need stricter gun control laws in this country. We are one of the most violent countries domestically and in our foreign policy. Our foreign policy is a discussion for another day, but America is violent.

Second, I will say unequivocally that we should be ashamed of ourselves the way we stigmatize, limit resources to and treat mental health in this country. Having spent my summers out of law school working at Idaho Legal Services, then with a disability law firm in Boise, and this last semester mediating mostly low income family dissolution disputes, we are doing it wrong when it comes to acknowledging and treating mental illness.

But lots of other people are addressing those issues in the wake of the Connecticut shooting. I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about the way we talk about these violent episodes compared to the gun violence that happens everyday in our country in inner-city neighborhoods, in altercations with law enforcement and in domestic situations.

The last three things I listed almost *never* make national news. When I tried to find Sherry Frey's shooting, a google search didn't even bring it up. I had to go search the twitter stream of one of the women I follow to link to the blog post.

Trayvon Martin's shooting brought understandable outrage from the African American community, but mostly just defensive posturing from the white community about how it couldn't be racist because Zimmerman wasn't white; about how we needed to examine Florida's stand your ground laws; but nothing about how fucking tragic it is that a 17 year old unarmed kid was shot to death in his neighborhood by some neighborhood watch dude carrying a gun.

How many of you remember Aiyana Jones? She was a seven year old shot by police. Her family still hasn't received any closure from that incident. There was no outrage from mainstream media. Only victim blaming of the girl's family.

If these shootings were happening the other way around, if they were being perpetrated by African Americans or someone of Muslim descent, we would be jumping at the chance to analyze their anger or their religious background to explain the shootings.

White people are in denial. We are in denial because we refuse to acknowledge the interracial violence happening in our country everyday, and we are in denial because we refuse to look at the impact of our capitalist, patriarchal, largely Christian culture on our young men. White men, when they go in and kill people, get the privilege of being mentally ill, or law enforcement, or a jaded lover. But that's not fair, white people. We have to stop. We either have to examine *all* gun violence in terms of mental illness, or we have to start exploring racial and religious motivations in the violence we perpetrate.

We do not live in a post-racism society any more than we live in a post-feminism society. White boys are surrounded every day with TV shows, video games and movies telling them they are heroes, telling them they are bosses, telling them they are heads of their households. Girls and people of color are surrounded by TV shows, video games and movies telling them they are helpless, or evil, or subservient and sometimes all of the above. Can we really be surprised that white men are this violent when everything in society tells them they should still get the final say? If we combine these societal factors with mental illness, can we really be surprised when angry, frustrated white men seek out revenge on the vulnerable? Can we really be surprised at the levels of violence perpetrated by our law enforcement officials?

White men in particular need to shut up and listen to the women in their lives telling them about the difficulties they face in an implicitly sexist society. Then white people (my self included, god knows) need to shut up and listen to the people of color, the disabled, and the other vulnerable people in our lives and with whom we share this country while they are telling us about their lives in our implicitly racist/ableist/sexist society.

These groups are talking. But we're not listening. And it's time we started.

Update: Just since writing this, I read another article about the reinforcing of stigmas against the mentally ill that these episodes usually bring about. I'm afraid I've done the same thing here. This article, by Thursday, does an excellent job of explaining why it's unhelpful to talk about these mass shooting episodes in terms of mental illness. So while I will still say America should be ashamed of the way we treat mental illness, I am sorry that I drew some of these same damaging conclusions. Also, I wonder if this strengthens my argument that white people need to do some *serious* introspection and some *serious* shutting up and listening.

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