We need to talk. For the last several weeks, in the wake of the racial terrorism visited on yet another community, there have been discussions – some more reasoned than others – regarding things that have been coming up more and more frequently in our society: racial divisions, gun violence, and the various ways in which we react in the aftermath of the two. I can’t speak to the first two. I’m not qualified, as I know very little about the realities of either outside my own opinions, all of which are based on hearsay. But I can speak very personally to the third.
It’s interesting to me that, every time another of these awful events occurs, we immediately get so involved in understanding, and deconstructing, and arguing about the event itself, that very few people bring up what is, to me, the most horrifying aspect: it’s becoming more frequent. Perhaps it’s just that we’re more connected and aware, but it’s gotten to the point where my initial reaction is no longer the more appropriate disgust and sadness I eventually slide into, but something that verges on annoyance. Every time I read another headline about a mass shooting, or a hate crime, or any of the awful things that fill up my Facebook feed every morning, I am, in that moment, mostly just angry that I have to read about that kind of shit again.
The really torturous part is that everyone else only seems to want to dig deeper. The hive-mind of the internet wants to know how, and why, and where, and how many, and what did the family think, and where did this guy come from, and none of that does anything to address how we keep it from happening again. Sure, there’s lots of politics thrown around every time about gun control and violence in our culture (more recently racism in our culture, which is actually a good conversation to have), but nobody ever asks what it is about our country that makes us keep doing these horrible things to each other over and over again on a scale no other civilized group outside a war zone can even approach.
It’s not the guns, Canada has as many or more, per capita. It’s not the drugs or the racism, England might be worse on both fronts. It’s not violent movies or video games, because you go to China and that’s basically their national pastime.
But here’s something interesting. You tell an American there’s a speed limit, and what’s he going to do? Build a muscle car and drive it as fast as he can. You ask a redneck to take down a flag because it offends someone, and it’ll become a part of his personal heritage. We’re a culture that is defined by our often stand-offish individuality and independence. Show a Chinese guy a violent movie and then tell him not to kill anyone, I promise you, he won’t do it. I can’t say the same about the American.
You go anywhere in the world, and ask them to describe an American and the two words they use are “fat” and “loud.” The third one is usually “rude” or “violent.” These stereotypes grew out of the values we hold dearest to our national identity. I’m not saying we haven’t made progress, but perhaps we would make it faster if we started addressing the way we view ourselves as a people. Maybe if we started to redefine to ourselves what it really means to be a citizen of this country, over time, we might be perceived differently. And then some of this might actually start to change.