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No Guns Necessary

The American sense of reality is dictated by what Americans are trying to avoid. If you’re trying to avoid reality, how can you face it?” - James Baldwin, ABC 20/20 Profile, (unaired), 1979

This time last year, despite the alarming number of Americans dying from COVID 19, Donald Trump declared the pandemic nothing more than a hoax. The “Dear Leader” mocked Dr. Anthony Fauci’s pleas to Americans to safe. You have freedoms, Trump told his supports. Who is Fauci to take away your freedoms!

This year, thanks to the success of COVID vaccines such Pfizer and Moderna, Americans are ready to celebrate freedom and the Fourth of July.

I’ve decided to stay put.

It’s always something. Here, in the state of Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson’s country, I cast my mail-in ballot, back in November, for Bernie. After the January 6, 2021 insurrection, some 48 states have been busy creating and legislating restrictive voting rights bills. The last count was at 389—that is, 389 bills to suppress the right to vote!

Here, again, I have to ask, at this juncture in American history, what is it this time that white America fears?

Here, again, I have to ask, at this juncture in American history, what is it this time that white America fears? What is it that this nations wants more than anything—because, it’s clear, democracy isn’t it. And if it’s freedom—then freedom to do what? Is there something that some Americans feel holds them back?

It’s not only about voting rights!

When it functions at its best, America is a confrontation if not a critical engagement with American history. When America witnesses Black Americans defying the imposing of restrictive laws and the practice of terrorism by other Americans on their lives, it is witnessing democracy struggling to take hold and become a mainstay in this nation. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the freedom some Americans desire!

Some Americans want the freedom to overcame what is perceived to be a nightmare: the history of white violence!

Last week, I read an email from a friend and college professor in Florida. The faculty are no longer free to mention the word, race, in reference to American history and the legacy of racial injustice. Governor Ron DeSantis is free to clamp down on any narrative surrounding American history that doesn’t support the MAGA claim white supremacy a myth and everyone is equal, unless you are Black and insist on discussing slavery’s legacy. 

How does a high school teacher or college professor introduce American literature without having students read the narratives of enslaved Blacks? How will students understand Hawthorne’s retreat to his home in the North after he visits southern plantations? Or Melville and the white whale? Is Baldwin’s analysis of America’s nightmare to be banned? 

Generating fear in the average white American is more important. Certainly more lucrative—keeping whole populations of people of color away from the table where generations of white children and young people are expected to maintain not democracy but the supremacy of whiteness. How many times did I hear from white male chairs and deans in Wisconsin and in Philadelphia about the necessity to cuddle innocent minds and never allow them to feel uncomfortable.

Challenging and stressful for me, as a Black educator, was trying not to censure myself by remaining silent. Thus, collaborating with the marginalizing of my ancestors and all Black lives currently living on this planet.

Across the 48 states, the battle cry is chilling: the lives of white children are threatened by, of all things, a graduate law school study of Critical Race Theory!

We’re not racists! We just want what is best for our children! Our hard-fought freedoms are under attack by Black people. Again!

What’s not uttered: the approaching nightmare of 2050!

I’ve spend sleepless nights concerned about the generations of Black American children subjected to expressions of white supremacy. How many Black Americans have been forced feed the benefits of Western civilization, with little insertion about the former colonized, the conquered, the enslaved. Without a mention about how the former colonized and conquered and enslaved came to be citizens of Western nations?

How uncomfortable were my ancestors at the bottom of those ships? Laboring as someone’s property, their “pet,” as Anderson points out, little Black children serving as “pets.” Where these children not uncomfortable, too?

I try not to fall asleep with the image of Senator Tom Cotton and his campaign to secure those freedoms against the unsafe and unpatriotic history that Black people insist on promoting as American history. language in our classrooms. For Cotton, Americans must save America by supporting his Saving American History Act. How can America go wrong with school curriculum that ignore how the struggles of people of color against tyranny of the fearful represent the best of America?

In twenty states, the hateful talk of race is in the process of being prohibited. In Idaho, Rhode Island and Texas, according to CBSNews, “any discussion of privilege and white supremacy” is banned. EdWeek reports that in Arkansas, Iowa, and Mississippi, Republican legislators are also working to ban the teaching of the 1619 Project—wrongly linked, as I said earlier, to the teaching of a graduate level Critical Race Theory in law schools.

Journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes that these bills are intended to “establish a protection halo around white students, so that they do not hear that their success might have something to do with their race, or that the structures of racial power and privilege in the past also apply to the present.”

Safety. Democracy for the white males. Ultimately, the wealthy. Just like in the old days…

If he hadn’t mentioned that license gun…That’s the question. Would the encounter between Minnesota Police Office Jeronimo Yanez have resulted in the death of Philando Castile? In The Second: Race and Guns in A Fatally Unequal America, African American Studies professor Carol Anderson argues that Castile, a Black American, made the fatal mistake of announcing to the officer that he had a gun. Seconds later, Castile is dead.

It’s not the gun alone, Anderson argues. Castile is a Black American with a gun!

Yanez isn’t looking for Castile; he’s looking for a robbery suspect. But Castile is Black, so he is stopped.

A woman and child are in the back seat. The woman begins video taping with her cell phone. There’s the dead man. There’s their little girl. The woman, Diamond Reynolds is hand-cupped and the child pleads with her mother to stay calm. What do white children know of this horror? Of this small child warning her mother to stay calm: “‘I don’t want you to get shooted.’” Her father is dead and her mother is hand-cupped in the back seat.

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“The second a Black person exercises that right, the second they pick up a gun to protect themselves (or not), their life—as surely as Philando Castile’s, as surely as Alton Sterling’s, as surely as twelve-year old Tamir Rice’s—could be snatched away in that same fatal second.”

“Why did you shoot him, Sir?” is Reynold’s question to Officer Yanez. Carol Anderson’s The Second joins Diamond Reynolds in asking the question, “Why?”

Why is he dead?

I forgot that Castile was armed. I’m still seeing the image of an unarmed George Floyd, neck under former Minn. Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee. I suppose Floyd was armed and, therefore, dangerous to Chauvin. To Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann, little Tamir Rice was armed—with a toy gun. Because what this man and child have in common is that they were Black—with gun. Black first. With guns. Even a toy gun. Tamir might be alive today if he had been a white children playing with a toy gun.

Armed or unarmed, the “key variable,” writes Anderson, isn’t guns. It’s Black Americans! As a Black in a country anti-Black at its core Castile’s death, writes Anderson points to how little has changed in the way “the Second Amendment [works] against” the rights of Black Americans because the intentions of the writers of the Second Amendment meant to protect white Americans. And protect the white population from what if not plantation escapees, perceived criminals and terrorists. That is, Black people.

Eight years after the end of the American Revolution, the focus of the former British colonies fell on the number of Black militias present among citizens insisting on maintaining the free land for white people. As the head of the Second Amendment committee, James Madison settles on a version of the amendment reflecting those fears of the nation as a whole, concerned about armed Blacks and potential uprisings of the free and the enslaved. And then there was the South.

To contend with the demands of the South’s insistence on maintaining local white militias, charged with keeping enslaved Blacks on the plantation, Madison walked a tightrope. But, in the end, he was accommodating, writes Anderson. “Stepped in anti-Blackness, swaddled in the desire to keep African-descended people rightless and powerless,” the Second Amendment, Anderson argues, throws a bone to the South in order the keep the region “mollified and willing to stay aligned as the grand experiment of the United States of America.”

Castile’s right to carry a licensed gun was in conflict with the Second Amendment’s intend to grant to white Americans the rights to protect themselves. “That pervasive anti-Blackness, even after the Civil Rights Movement, turned the Second Amendment’s laws for protection—the castle doctrine, stand your ground, and open carry—against African Americans.”

“Patrick Henry’s clarion call, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’” writes Anderson, was, for James Monroe and patriots, “dangerous when espoused by Blacks.”

And there’s another bit of history to contextualize what Black Americans are witnessing in the 21st Century.

On December 15, 1791, the same year the Second Amendment is ratified, Black people south of the US border decide to stand to the European forces and fight for freedom. The enslaved in Haiti (San Domingo), C. L. R. James explains in The Black Jacobins, Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, reasoned that if the French could overthrow the masters “and were now enjoying the fruits of the earth,” why can’t they? Why should Black people be exploited for the sake of another people’s gain? Freedom meant something to Black people too!

So the Haitian Revolution begins, and in 1804, the once enslaved people declare a victory, winning the struggle to be a free and self-determined while Black. In America, whites are holding their breaths. Once they exhaled, white America recognized that the “security” of their “free State” was anything but secure. White Americans reasoned, rightly, that if the Haitian rebels heard of the French Revolution, and took up arms, the enslaved in the US would also know what’s happened in Haiti. Would the enslaved along with the free Blacks take up arms and revolt?

In 1792, during the revolution in Haiti, a federal law, the Uniform Militia Act, writes Anderson, required white men to “buy” guns and organize a militia. Doing so would be “an act of citizenship and an act of self-defense,” Americans were told. And white America did what it was told.

While the fires destroyed plantation after plantation in Haiti, freeing Blacks in the process to join in the revolt, whites in the US came to believe they “‘lived in an enemy camp.’” The “threat” of an uprising by Blacks in the US “was always there.”

In the Second, Anderson discusses many attempts on the part of free and enslaved Black rebels in the US to gain their freedom, but one in particular was telling of how deceptive and determined were white Americans to maintain white supremacy. In Louisiana, on January 8, 1811, Charles Deslondes led enslaved Blacks on a “thirty-six mile liberation trek to New Orleans.” The militia attacked plantation after plantation, but soon word reached Governor Claiborne who called for organized militias to come to the aid of the free! In danger, no less, from pro-freedom Blacks! 

While the region and the nation as a whole were legislating in between conducting violent home raids to disarm Black people—Claiborne calls on the Black militia. Consisting of free armed Black men, the militia agrees to help squash the enslaved uprising.

What ensues is a “rout.” The rebels under Deslondes fought and fought. But of the enslaved militia, they were captured, including Deslondes. Many were killed, “executed on the spot.” The Louisiana’s state legislation went to work on a constitution that would grand rights to white males to own and to carry arms. The forming of militias “disciplined” to protect the state, would be the right of white men. Only! As Anderson writes, “despite a Black militia being instrumental in crushing a rebellion of enslaved Black people, no amount of zeal, patriotism, effectiveness, or courage could fully overcome white fears of Black men with guns.”

The “Black laws,” written during the 1830s, further deprived Blacks of their right to bear arms. In Virginia by 1832, free Blacks were not permitted to “carry firelocks of any kind, under penalty of thirty-nine lashes.” In Florida, Blacks could be “‘summarily punished,’” receiving “up to ‘thirty-nine strokes on the bare back’ all ‘without benefit of a judicial tribunal.’” It followed that in Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas—no Black person was permitted the right to bear arms.

Add to states implementing laws prohibiting Blacks from owning guns, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 codified a state of tyranny for Blacks forced to endure on-the-spot inspections and home invasions. The Act put “a bounty on virtually every Black head” and certainly contradicted the American idea of freedom. The enslaved were condemned remain exploited laborers while the “free” Blacks were never to see themselves as American citizens, with rights that can’t be revoked at the whim of white America.

Blacks, writes Anderson, “were ushered into the killing fields.” And here we are decades later with “that pervasive anti-Blackness,” Anderson continues, “even after the Civil Rights Movement,” turns “the Second Amendment’s laws for protection—the castle doctrine, stand your ground, and open carry—against African Americans.”

“Why did you shoot him, sir?”

Because the Second Amendment doesn’t protect Black Americans!

On the other hand, America can’t out enough guns—in the right hands!

It’s as if the January 8th crowd of predominantly white men were responding to the Haitian uprising. Summoned by the call to arms of their “Dear Leader,” they arrive at the Capitol ready to defend themselves and their families from a Black uprising.

Pointing to the Black Lives Matter activists, the Qanon Congresswoman asks America to recall the earth rumbling with the sound of drums. And it’s as if she is an echo chamber for that history of white fear: Haiti is here! Look among Black lives for “domestic terrorists!”

blacks

So what is it, six months later, that the Congresswoman and her cohorts fear? It’s the fear of the very real blackness of white violence rising to overwhelm the myth of American innocence.

America!

No, no guns in Black hands are necessary. But, then, this history of violence has never killed the resilience of Black Americans, either.

Lenore Daniels