By Shannon M. Houston, pastemagazine.com
Many of us have had that moment when we’ve come across something that is both illuminating and shocking—an essay, a news story, a work of art—and we wonder to ourselves, “Why isn’t everyone talking about this?”
Of all the things we are wondering about the deadliest mass shooting in American history, we are surely not wondering about that: almost everyone is, rightfully, talking about it. Still, there is plenty to be said about how we are talking about the massacre; what we leave out when we do not acknowledge the specificities (i.e. sexual orientation) of those lives taken and the specificities of the killer who took them. And yes, we should be speaking more about the role of toxic masculinity in this (and, really, all of America’s mass killings), although there is some discourse taking place.
Liike all discourse, power determines how we talk about violence in America, and which acts of violence we consider tragic. Last month, a tragedy of epic proportions rocked the city of Chicago. In a single holiday weekend, 64 people were shot. But “only” six people died, which is perhaps one reason why you didn’t hear much about it, unless someone pointed you to the powerful New York Times story. That too—the silence surrounding the events—is another tragedy, another form of violence that has become the American norm.
From Friday evening to the end of Monday, 64 people will have been shot in this city of 2.7 million, six of them fatally. In a population made up of nearly equal numbers of whites, blacks and Hispanics, 52 of the shooting victims are black, 11 Hispanic and one white. Eight are women, the rest men. Some 12 people are shot in cars, 11 along city sidewalks, and at least four on home porches.
It is a level of violence that has become the terrifying norm, particularly in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. With far fewer residents, Chicago has more homicides than Los Angeles or New York.
Gun violence in America has become such a powerful force that we (as the media, as a society, as individuals) now all but completely ignore stories where multiple people are shot, but no one is killed. A campus shooting where “only” two people end up dead is sad, but certainly not a national tragedy that has the masses up in arms, demanding a change (or otherwise, defending that blessed second amendment). And impoverished black people shooting other impoverished black people is even less likely to make the news cycle. Ask yourself, how many bodies need to be lined up now in America (and, perhaps, what those bodies need to look like), before your eyebrow will raise, or your jaw will drop in shock? I think you’ll find that the number is only getting higher. And it will keep doing so.
It’s sick to think about the fact that, now that an Orlando has taken place, our emotional bars have been raised. It sickens me to know, deep down, that the next shooting will have to top 49 lives for all of us to rage again. It’s been said before and by many others, but we are now all participants in a mass shooting cycle in America (shooting, outrage, discourse, no policy change, repeat). And all cycles—deadly and otherwise—begin to feel, at a certain point, comfortable for those participating in it.
One way to defeat such a cycle, might be to exist in a constant state of awareness about how violent America really is. And when I say “America,” I’m not talking about the America you live in, or the America on shows like New Girl or Scandal, or the America you imagine for the future, but the all-across-America, America. Those pocketed, marginalized, forgotten places so many of us would rather not have to face. It’s frightening to attempt such awareness—to acknowledge that those places are America too, and their problems are, as a result, American tragedies too—because it almost guarantees that you’ll be in a constant state of anger or disgust. But what’s more important is that you’ll find it far more difficult to shed that something must be done energy (that so many of us have right now), when the news cycle moves on.
See, those of us who read every word and watched every heart-wrenching video from A Weekend in Chicago are just as outraged about the events in Orlando. But, in a strange way, we were also already in a certain state of mourning over a group of lives wrecked by gun violence. It doesn’t make the news of Orlando a numbing experience—paying attention to both at the same time does not distract from one or the other; rather, it gives both narratives more weight. We who are bearing witness to both Orlando and Chicago are aware of the fact that lives everywhere are at stake. Chicago and Orlando are just two more examples of the fact that we need to start seeing the connections between all forms of American violence:
1.) Where guns—whether they be handguns or assault rifles—are accessed with ease.
2.) Where men are raised by a culture where exacting deadly violence against others is a means of asserting oneself and obtaining some kind of agency.
3.) Where politicians and leaders will offer prayers and positive thoughts before addressing either of these issues with policy changes.