A reader emailed me about this recording of a father talking to his young daughter about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I wanted to share it with you.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where parents would be considered negligent if they did not talk to their kids about what to do in the case of gun violence at school.
I am now officially "old." Listening to this audio recording reminds me of the coming of age talks from my parents and other role-models.
I was taught early on how to interact with the police as a young black child --who would live to be an adult if I was/am/were lucky. Be polite, do not make any sudden moves, get the badge number, assume the cop wants to either arrest or kill you if given the chance, and do not say anything until we get there with a lawyer.
My father and godfather, who were World War 2 and Korea Army combat vets, respectively, made sure I had an appreciation for violence, how and win to fight, and also how to cut and run when appropriate. I remember my father who was a drill instructor (and served in North Africa) telling me that if someone is shooting at you to always remember that you will be scared. This is natural. But, you must always try to keep your senses and situational awareness. Run in a zigzag pattern because most people cannot hit a moving target. If you can hear the shooting you are likely safe and can get cover and/or escape if necessary. Quiet bullets will kill you.
The sum total of this advice saved my life on two occasions. I thank my dad and godfather for their wisdom.
Do not fight over silly things. Do not let yourself be bullied as this encourages abuse. Do not abandon your friends, or be a coward if they are good people, as the guilt will follow you forever. Fight dirty and win. Live to fight another day whenever possible. Fighting when not necessary is not a mark of manhood.
Considering the big picture, in listening to this father talk to his little girl about gun violence in school, I am torn about the dualities of American Exceptionalism.
On one hand, America is "exceptional" in terms of rates of gun violence, childhood mortality, poor health care, incarceration, income inequality, and class mobility. Among Western industrialized countries, the United States ranks among the worst in these categories.
When I watch the news media, parents, and others discuss the hellish events at Newtown, Connecticut where Adam Lanza killed 26 people, there is another type of American Exceptionalism at work too.
Of course, the pain is fresh, local, and immediate. But, where is sense of generalized tragedy, empathy, and sympathy, for all parents and families who have lost children to gun violence in this country? The gun culture and frontier myth, what is one of the first things that you learn in graduate school about American political development after reading about "why there is no socialism in the United States" and "consensus liberalism," would appear to obviate any honest talk about why we are willing to feed our children to the gun gods in order to protect the Gun Right's fictions about "militias" and the Constitution.
Kids and young people die all of the time from gun violence on the South and West side of Chicago, on the Res, in rural poor white communities, and in trickles and a constant drip drip of death across all parts of the United States. Yet, there is no national conversation about gun violence or a national day of mourning.
This is not a surprise: the spectacular nature of mass shootings are a neat fit for the news media because they are a ready made story of human tragedy, heroism, and drama. That there is one "villain"--here Adam Lanza--makes the copy and the moral narrative that much easier to write.
The realities of race, class, Whiteopian dreaming, and Suburbia are bonuses as well. Middle and upper class white kids are supposed to be immune from such violence and harm; no child deserves to suffer from violence, but it is expected and reserved for little black and brown kids who learn early on about existential angst and "niggerization."
Poor kids also suffer across the colorline. But again, poverty over-determines a type of path dependency, which in turn leads to diminished life outcomes, where the expectation is that those kids will have more hard knocks in life anyway. Consequently, death and violence are not surprises when they are visited upon them.
American Exceptionalism creates a myopia and neat bubble around the deaths of our citizens. It is unstated, but American Exceptionalism encourage a belief that the lives of our people are worth more than those of others. This also applies to children.
Every day little kids die all over the world and there is little outrage. American drones incinerate little kids and babies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Yet, there is no public outcry. American soldiers go on killing sprees and wager to win "dead pools." The story disappears from the news in a day or two.
Parents love their kids. This is true in rural Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Effectively, there are Sand Hook Elementary School-like killings everyday in the world where children are killed in mass for being at the wrong place and wrong time. American Exceptionalism, and the allure of the local and the personal, have blinded many of us to a sense of shared concern, humanity, and worry across lines of race, nation, and class.
Am I surprised? No. Americans are apparently incapable of organizing themselves to stop the Gun Right and how its fetishizing of firearms has resulted in a perverse public policy that serves narrow and parochial interests which betray the Common Good.
If we cannot pass effective laws, and engage in commonsense policy making around gun violence at home, how can there be any expectation of justice abroad when others people's kids are being incinerated and killed as a direct result of American foreign policy...and in our names? This is not an excuse. It is simply a cold hard truth. These truths have consequences. When they come most Americans will boo hoo, cry, and wonder "why do they hate us so?" Ignorance is bliss until the chickens come home to roost.