It’s been more than a month since the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And the student survivors are still going strong in their advocacy for increased gun safety and a ban on assault weapons. On Saturday, the national March for Our Lives will take place in Washington, DC, as well as other sister marches around the country. In a short period of time, the Parkland students have been able to garner enough media attention to rally the country around their cause and mobilize for action. But they also seem to be well aware that their voices are being heard differently than other young people who have also organized to end gun violence and racial justice. And they are also using their platforms to speak up about it.
Yahoo News reports that during a live-stream Twitter interview, Parkland student David Hogg noted the distinction between how the tragedy in Parkland has been covered compared to violence in communities of color.
“There is a lot of racial disparity in the way that this is covered,” Mr. Hogg said of last month’s shooting. “If this happened in a place of lower socioeconomic status, or a….black community, no matter how well those people spoke, I don’t think the media would cover it the same.”
“And I think it’s important that we point that out as Americans and realise that. Because, we have to use our white privilege now to make sure that all of the voices that….all of the people that have died as a result of this and haven’t been covered the same can be heard,” he continued. “It’s sad, but true.”
Hogg is absolutely right. Communities of color, specifically black communities, are often ground zero for gun violence in our country and it seldom makes the news except for the attempts to paint those communities and their residents as pathologically violent. And Republicans love nothing more than to point out the high rates of gun violence in certain cities (Baltimore and Chicago, to name two) in order to further the narrative that inner cities are hellholes where there are no victims—only violent criminals. Moreover, they love to shout about “black-on-black crime” whenever they want to scare people and justify overpolicing and enforcement spending but fail to acknowledge that nearly all crime is intra-racial. Were there calls to stop the scourge of “white-on-white crime” when white male mass shooters killed a bunch of white people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, or shot congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others in Tuscon, Arizona? You missed those, right? Yup. That’s because there weren’t any.
Sixty-one percent of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas identify as white. It is in a fairly affluent county in Florida. And because everything is about race in this country, whether we like it or not, it makes a difference in terms of media coverage of this tragedy and the access to resources that these victims have. It is also about who is in newsrooms deciding what is news in the first place, as newsrooms are notoriously white and male. Still, it’s excellent that Hogg and his classmates realize that so many of their peers of color have experienced similar and repeated acts of gun violence in their respective communities. And they are talking with those students to understand their experiences and to amplify their voices. As the Yahoo News article notes:
The remarks come just days after other Parkland students visited their peers in the Chicago Public Schools system to brainstorm how to stage demonstrations for the March for Our Lives demonstration that will be held in the city this weekend. […]
Sam Zeif, one of the students who visited Chicago, called it “heartbreaking to know they’ve been feeling this pain and fear for nearly their whole lives”.
Though the public and media response would have us believe that the Parkland kids are the first to take on gun violence in such a major way, such portrayals ignore the fact that black people have been working for change and to raise attention about gun violence for quite some time. Nothing the students in Florida are doing is new—and indeed some of them have acknowledged that they have learned to organize because they saw young people in Ferguson, Baltimore and through the Black Lives Matter movement do it first.
This doesn’t mean that the Parkland youth aren’t doing an amazing thing. They absolutely are. And using their platforms to reach out across socio-economic status and race to directly challenge racial inequality in how gun violence gets attention and expanding the conversation is equally as important as taking on the issue of gun violence itself. But it hurts and is also enraging when black people are willfully ignored time and time again—not only for our activism but also because this issue is taking our lives at a disproportionate rate and somehow silence is acceptable when it comes to us.
As Charlene Carruthers, National Youth Director at the the Black Youth Project 100 notes, there is a feeling of betrayal about how celebrities and the public are lining up to march, donate and support these youth when it was considered so controversial, or even still—violent, when black folks have been doing essentially the very same thing. All of these young people, regardless of race, are demanding that their lives are valuable, deserve justice and are holding institutions accountable for keeping people safe.
Gosh. This is amazing. And a I’m not being sarcastic. I have to be honest and say that I’m a bit taken aback (and a bit hurt) that those of us who were in the streets in the past five years for Black lives didn’t receive this type of reception or public support. https://t.co/HLYXTcVdfL
— Charlene Carruthers (@CharleneCac) February 21, 2018
As Janaya Khan puts it in The Root:
These young people [in the Movement for Black Lives] were told repeatedly, from every side, that no one would assist them because of a “lack of leadership.” If a dearth of leadership were actually the problem, wouldn’t efforts to build up black leadership have appeared in the same ways that they are so readily available for Parkland youths now? Where were these efforts a few short years ago? […]
At the heart of the matter: There isn’t one black person I know who isn’t supportive of the Parkland youths, and who isn’t also hurting from the constant reminder that we are undeserving of the same love and support. […]
True progress begins when we show up for black youths who have the courage to fight for a world better than the one they inherited.
If we are really going to take on the issue of gun violence and say enough is enough, now is also the time to acknowledge how race and class play a role in who we see as victims and who we support. It’s the only way we’ll ever really be able to begin to come together on this issue and push for meaningful and equitable change.