We’re Telling the Wrong Story: Gun Violence & American Culture

2 Dec

This is not a post about games or gaming. It is not a post about how videogames cause or do not cause gun violence. This is a post about race and gender and entitlement and how those things, rife within American culture as within the games industry, are causing us to quite literally kill ourselves, with a white, male finger on the trigger.

We are a culture that has long prided itself on exceptionalism, on being The Best, the first Great Democracy, the nation that fired the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. And that is precisely the problem.

We are a nation born out of violence–like so many nations–but we are one that never quite got past that first moment of spark and gunpowder. We built our nation around the premise that we fired that Shot which made the British Empire quake in its shiny black boots. We are proud of that heritage, have built it into our national mythos, rely upon it–and the Second Constitutional Amendment which was born thereof–as a fundamental tenet of Who We Are and What We Stand For.

A core belief that we (as a nation) are willing to die for. Or, at least, that we are willing to allow others to die for, presuming, of course, that “We” are the white men of the national mythos… because the American National Myth is the myth of the Founding Fathers (not mothers), all of whom were white and many of whom owned African and African-descended slaves. Our mythos, the very core of our identity as Americans, is not the Melting-Pot touted throughout the twentieth century, but an eighteenth-century veneer of white-man’s-burden and imperial superiority that is quite literally killing us.

In this post-9/11, post-Paris, post-Beruit world, there are many eyes turned in our direction, and fewer and fewer of them are friendly. As European nations open their borders, doors, and hearts to refugees from Syria and other war-torn and impoverished parts of the world, American mayors and governors unconstitutionally debate whether or not they will “allow” refugees into their territory. Individual citizens attend town hall meetings and shout religious and ethnic slurs at American citizens who happen to practice Islam or have skin a different color than their neighbors. Other citizens pick up guns and “protest” at rallies and clinics, and the news media doesn’t remark upon the deep irony that their “protest” is conducted with bullets instead of placards.

Black men, women, and children are shot by white police and the media and citizenry offer up pallid excuses for why those shootings are justified. And yes, I know, #notall–but the hashtag should be #notany, or at least, #notanymore. Women should not need to fear for their lives in order to be screened for ovarian cancer, have a mammogram, or–yes–get an abortion (which is still a legal medical procedure). People with autism and other mental disabilities should not need to fear for their lives while getting treatment. Children and teachers should not have to drill “active shooter” situations instead of learning math or reading or history. African Americans, Muslims, and Jews should not need to fear that their place of worship will become another statistic for gun violence or arson. Women should not need to fear saying “no” will result in assault, rape, or murder, whether they’re refusing to have sex or go on a date or even just “smile.”

I do not have statistics at my fingertips, but I do know for a fact that the vast majority of recent shootings in the United States have been committed by white men. A white man attacked an African American church. A white man attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic. Three white men opened fire in a mental health facility in San Bernardino. A white man went on a shooting spree against women in Berkeley. White men fired into a crowd at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Minnesota. White men have been nearly all of the school shooters in the past decade. White men planned to start a race war in Virginia (and, thankfully, failed).

Yes, there have been other shootings that were not committed by white men. The Paris attacks, the Navy Yard shooter, and others. But to dismiss the statistical probability as meaningless simply because there are exceptions is to willfully bury our heads in the sand.

We have a problem in America. That problem is not Islam. It is not foreign terrorism. It is not “black on black crime.” It is not abortion or a war on Christmas or Syrian refugees or feminism or videogames or atheism or political correctness or millennials.

Our problem is that the story we tell ourselves is a story of exclusionary violence. It is a story about the Shot Heard ‘Round the World that we can’t allow history to bury because we still haven’t come to terms with the fact that our originary myth is a house of cards that has long since been knocked down. We cling to it, to the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers and their Great Wisdom, because we haven’t yet figured out how to replace it.

Which stories will we tell instead? Will we tell the story of how our ancestors were brought to this nation against their will in the stinking holds of other men’s ships? Will we tell the story of how our ancestors were the victims of both intentional (violent) and unintentional (disease-borne) genocide and conquest? Will we tell the story of how our ancestors came here starving and were shoved into tenements? Of how our grandparents were forced into labor camps for being from an island nation in East Asia? Of how our grandparents were refused asylum for fear that they were spies or communists or Nazis or Bolsheviks?

We do not have good stories to tell in this country, so we cling to the old one, the one about the white men with guns, because the white men with guns are the victors.

We need another story. Please. Before that one kills us.