August 05, 2006
Guns and other racial food fights
University of Pennsylvania Professor Elijah Anderson makes an argument for gun control which is rapidly gaining ground, and that is that opposition to gun control by people living in suburban or rural areas has definite racial implications:
Most democracies heavily regulate or ban handguns, but there are some that have a lot of guns and not as much death and injury from them as we do. The problem, particularly for a society with a history of racialized slavery, segregation and discrimination, is that we are making handguns easily accessible to young people living in still separated and deprived, often desperate conditions in urban areas, young people with little chance or hope for a constructive future. To stop that handguns have to be regulated more strictly. This level of gun deaths and injuries would not be tolerated if it weren't mostly in those areas. To do nothing because people or politicians in suburban and rural areas want unrestricted access to all guns is deeply troubling.I'll tell you what I think is deeply disturbing, and that's the injection of race into matters having nothing to do with race. Unless the argument is that poor black people should be disarmed (an old idea which Clayton Cramer has documented) I cannot see what gun control has to do with race. (I'm assuming also that we live in a democracy where urban, suburban, and rural votes all count equally.)
Unfortunately, Professor Anderson's ideas reminded me of a liberal Berkeley neighbor, who used to privately make a blatantly racist gun control argument I've discussed previously:
. . .my neighbor finally confessed that her problem really wasn't with educated middle class people owning guns; it was with "the poor." Urban minorities. People "on welfare." But she quickly admonished me that she was not talking about race, and that laws had to be fair. And the only way to be fair was to take away all guns, from everyone. The "educated classes," in her view, should "set an example."Of course, such an argument cannot easily be made by anyone with white skin, as it would be seen for what it is: a condescending view of the poor, and barely denied racism.
In fairness to Dr. Anderson, he might have just as much a problem with middle class whites (or even his Ivy League peers) having guns as he would with poor urban blacks; I don't know. I do think that both my neighbor and Dr. Anderson tend to downplay the fact that "poor and black" are not synonyms for crime. Far from it; the vast majority of the urban poor are law abiding people who have just as much right to be armed as any suburban elitist. Don't statistics show that these law abiding urban people are more plagued with crime than their counterparts in the suburban and rural nieghborhoods?
Couldn't it be argued that gun control might have a disparate impact on the ability of poor urban people to defend themselves?
Dr. Anderson's remark reminds me that race can be a very effective tool for silencing debate. Race is pretty much a taboo subject, which polite people avoid. A few intrepid bloggers (Jeff Goldstein immediately comes to mind) dare to claim the right to discuss it, but for people living in the "real word" (an increasingly elusive concept), the cowardly way is the smart way.
Bad as it is to not be able to discuss race, when it is injected into other debates in an accusatory manner, I think someone needs to speak up. If opposition to gun control can be spun as "racist," then pretty much anything can be spun as racist. (Probably including the presence of McDonalds restaurants.)
While that last parenthetical aside was meant by way of satire, and as argumentum ad absurdum, I see once again that what's satire for me is someone else's mission in life:
The diets of people of color are typically higher in sugar, salt, fat, and refined carbohydrates. Lacking access to healthier foods, and also lacking knowledge about what diets are in fact healthier, the poor are easy prey, not only to the tobacco and alcohol sellers whose billboards pervade their neighborhoods, but to the junk food industry and the fast food chains who see these communities as markets they can readily exploit.Here here! (Never mind that the closest restaurants to my house in two directions are McDonalds!) Opposition to government food control is another form of racism.
Wait a minute! Might opposition to socialism be another form of racism? (Don't ask! The Seattle Public School system already defined it that way.)
My apologies for being so far behind the learning curve. (In my defense, might I be allowed to plead old age?)
There is a bright side, however. If everything becomes a race issue, and the accusation of racism is hurled as an argument against anyone who disagrees with positions having nothing to do with race, real racial arguments will become devoid of meaning.
Eventually, people will become so exhausted that race will no longer matter.
(But isn't that also the dark side? I mean, by definition, race not mattering is racism.)
posted by Eric on 08.05.06 at 11:36 AM
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