Race matters. It always has and it always should. People have a great affection and interest in celebrating their race and/or ethnicity. Pretending that differences don’t exist is absurd and offensive. But attributing value according to race/ethnicity is abhorrent. We have a long history of doing this in this country and anyone thinking that it is only historic is kidding themselves (or lives under a rock); the shade of one’s skin and often the branch of one’s religion still dictates where you can go and how far. One need only look at celebrities for proof. While the music industry has always been more liberal in whom they will exalt, movies and television have not. Anglo features (particularly in women) are a prerequisite for stardom. Fundamentalist Christians are acceptable, but observant Jews or Muslims are best served to keep it on the down low. Scientologists of course are always welcome.
Hollywood is hardly a relevant sample set, but it is an indication of a nation’s preferences. We could easily get down into the weeds and point out to the lack of Asians in leading roles (or roles that don’t involve a lab or mathematical prowess.) But suffice it to say that we are a people a bit flummoxed. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to dictate mindset. We can certainly address behaviors and have done so forever. We can write Declarations, laws, and policies to control behaviors. But we can’t change how people think or feel. We also can’t ever know how people think and feel. We can know what they say (which may correlate to their feelings) and we can know what they do. The very thought of attempting to change how people think or feel is overwhelming and disheartening; it is the equivalent of digging in loose sand. We could be at it forever and never know if we’ve gotten anywhere. But we can look around and spot where we can make a quantifiable difference in behavior.
We know that African Americans are victims of violence at a much higher rate than any other group. According to the FBI, the homicide rate for “blacks” is three times what it is for “whites”. Of these homicides, 82% were shot and killed with guns. These are astronomical numbers and yet where is the outrage? When 20 children are gunned down in their rural school we are outraged (and send money.) Of the over 7,000 African Americans shot to death (in 2007) over 600 were under the age of 18. Yet we are relatively silent. Where are our community and national leaders on this subject? How is gun control not being framed as a race issue?
No matter how strongly one feels about gun rights, there is no disputing the numbers. Guns kill and disproportionately do so with African Americans. We have a society in which anyone can get their hands on a gun (and anyone really can) and we’ve enacted laws which allow for using them on people. Knowing people as we do, this is ludicrous. We will never entirely change how people think or feel but we can make it very hard for them to act on those feelings. It is intolerable that the NRA has more influence than the NAACP in this country. It is unacceptable for us to not demand real and meaningful change. All the grandstanding and tepid gun laws and initiatives are a slap in the face to those of us who fervently want to believe that all men are created equal.