By: Lee Shull
The past few weeks in America have been unsettling. Mass shootings, related protests, the silencing of voices, racist expulsions (during Holy Week), and reinstatements into the Tennessee State House. Followed by two more mass shootings in Louisville, a shooting within miles and at the same time as a bank mass shooting, a mass shooting at a sweet sixteen birthday party in Alabama, and the shooting of a Black sixteen-year-old boy who knocked on the door of the wrong address, as he sought to pick up his siblings.
Perhaps more unsettling is the connection between these events and the risks to our democracy. The connection, as I see it, is white supremacy and fear. Fear of “the other”, fear of losing our identities and/or our power.
The term “white supremacy” usually conjures images of white robes and white pointy hoods around a burning cross. Still, I’ve come to understand it as something much broader, systemic, and the status quo in our country that many of us (perhaps unwittingly) uphold every day.
Our country’s founding and rise to the world’s most powerful country started with stolen land, stolen bodies, and slave labor. The Civil War may have technically ended slavery, but it did not end oppression, racism, and white supremacy. Things which have been alive and more visible since the 2016 election and a presidential candidate who normalized vocalizing hatred and bigotry.
The ending of the Civil War also brought about the proliferation of gun ownership in America as Lincoln allowed the Confederacy to return home with their firearms as tools for farm work and hunting. Firearms have become part of many Americans’ identities, while the gun lobby and manufacturers use this fetishization and fear of “the other” to sell more firearms. To remain masculine, powerful, and safe from “the other” you need to own a firearm. I can only guess that the more firearms one owns, the more masculine, powerful, and safe people feel.
The recent events in Tennessee encapsulate the connection between guns, racism, and fascism. After being silenced and not allowed to bring up the issue of gun violence as their constituents demanded, three state representatives (two Black representatives and one White representative) joined protesters advocating for the state legislature to act. For this action a vote was conducted on their expulsion for disorderly conduct and breaking House rules. Never mind that there was no due process and one of the exhibits of their guilt was an edited video taken by a House member on the floor (which violates the House rules prohibiting filming on the floor). In his case for avoiding expulsion Justin Jones outlined far worse behavior and broken House rules by members that did not result in expulsion, including the House Speaker urinating on another member’s chair. White power and privilege are blind to, if not antagonistic towards, fairness. Therefore, the two Black lawmakers were expelled while the White representative remained by a single vote. The only way racism could’ve been more overt was if the n-word had been uttered during the public proceedings.
In just a matter of days we witnessed the undemocratic silencing of Tennessee representative’s voices, and the expulsion of only the young Black representatives, simply for protesting gun violence (which is the leading cause of death for children in our country). Gun idolization, fascism, and racism were on display in a US statehouse over a few days; This is a microcosm of what’s happening writ large across the country.
It can’t go unsaid that in addition to racism, we have undemocratic voter suppression, oppression, and demonization of women’s bodily autonomy, along with queer and transgender identities.
This oppression is evidenced by the overturning of Roe V. Wade, banning abortions and related, decade-approved FDA medicine. We also see the attempted banning of books nationwide (as well as here in Newtown) of the very few published books representing Queer and Transgender identities. Yet these books disproportionally reflect the vast majority of attempted book bans. This is all the last gasp of white patriarchy struggling to hold onto its power rather than acknowledging that our multi-racial, diverse identities and experiences are assets to our personal and professional lives.
Despite all the hate and darkness, there are signs of light. Seven thousand protesters demanding gun safety actions in Tennessee, along with three representatives joining them. After attempts to silence and successfully expel the two young Black representatives, the Nashville and Memphis boards unanimously voted them back in as their interim replacements. The young people there are feeling their voice and power. Ironically, little-known Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have been catapulted into national prominence in the attempts to silence and expel them from the democratic process they were elected to participate.
One can only hope that the recognition spreads across the US among young voters, (as well as older generations who have allowed this situation to continue), and to elected officials at all levels. If they want to stay in office, they should take note that their seats are vulnerable to the larger voting population over the gun lobbies and MAGA extremist ideologies. We, as a country, are “waking up” to a different understanding of white supremacy, patriarchy, power, and greed; we’re using our voices and collective power to support fairness, equitable rights, diverse backgrounds and experiences, and what they contribute to our democracy.