By Denele Campbell
We did this to ourselves. This is our legacy.
Is it really any surprise that so much in our nation has devolved into violence?
We set foot on American shores and through violence eradicated the bulk of the indigenous population. We justified our killing with belief in our superiority, our “divine right” to the land and its resources. Unlike the Natives, we carried the Bible and guns, concluding God wanted us to have it.
Since the beginning, our westward migration progressed under the rationale that we “discovered” gold and silver, “harvested” virgin timber and furs, and settled the “wild” lands. We wrested wealth from the soil by enslaving not only the surviving Natives but also imported Africans and Asians. These “lesser” creatures deserved to be subdued just as a work animal yearns for the yoke. They should thank us.
All to the glory of God, who showed us the path to our greatness.
In truth, our nation became rich not because we’re so clever or God’s chosen people, but because we stumbled onto a pristine continent. The world’s civilizations had not risen here, had not built their empires, waged their wars, suffered plague and famine here. The Americas weren’t like the rest of the world’s continents, already ravaged by millennia of man’s turmoil.
We Europeans who invaded this land became rich through accidental opportunity, theft, and violence.
And when the land had been conquered, when the virgin forests had been cut and the hillsides left to erode, when the gold and silver had been mined and the waste pits left to leach impurities into the streams, when the frontier came to a screeching halt at the Pacific shore, we turned on ourselves. With our eye on the prize, we killed anyone who got in our way. Natives, former slaves, immigrants; those too poor or too weak to stand up for themselves—they were cast to the edges to starve. Or lynched. Taught their place away from our table.
Then the mid-twentieth century arrived with its transformative movements on behalf of the poor, the Black and Native, the handicapped, the gays, and the women, all the people whose subjugation had enabled the white patriarchy to herald its God-given triumph.
The power structure reeled in shock.
Assassinations followed; and the war on drugs, a less obvious form of assassination. It wasn’t drugs that subsequently filled our prisons. It wasn’t drugs that became disenfranchised and even more marginalized. Drugs were the tool, the label selectively wielded against those who threatened the system.
For many in the underclass, the black market in drugs became the only means to reach for the American dream.
The bait, the wealth of those markets and the inherent lack of regulation led to the current open warfare in our inner cities. In our war against our own people, we have set our law enforcement against our neighborhoods. We have armed them with military weapons and tactics. We have hidden behind our curtains as they firebombed apartment buildings and battered in doors.
We chose to ignore what we’d learned from alcohol prohibition, that such policies not only failed in their stated intent but also gave rise to even worse consequences. We knew that tax dollars invested in education, in mental health care, and in social support would eventually pay dividends in a healthier more vibrant society. Not prisons. Not guns. We turned away from what we knew because we were taught fear by those with their own agendas—wealth and power at any cost. Fear higher taxes. Fear the government. Fear programs that help the poor.
Everything we should have gladly given became “taken.”
None of the mass shootings of the last 30 years have been stopped by an armed citizen.
What if we hoard all the guns that can be made? What if our barns, our spare bedrooms, bristle with automatic weapons and crates of ammunition? Does that make us safe? Safe from whom? From the random madman who lurks unknown in suburbia until the day he pulls the trigger? How will you know today is the day, the school is the place, that you should appear with your loaded gun in hand?
Safe from gangs roaming the dark streets of a declining city? Why bother? They’re killing each other by the hundreds.
From the government? Obviously we haven’t thought this through. The spare room arsenal, the heavily armed survival shelter, will last about one nanosecond once the U. S. military decides we’re the target. If the Apache helicopters with Hellfire missiles don’t pound us, the fighter jets, Abrams tanks, and missiles launched from drones surely will.
Let go of the gun. Come, let us sit together.
We have become islands of fear. We suffer existential crisis. Torn from our historical and biological roots, we are caught up in a world of machines and corporations. We don’t know our neighbors. Our communities have shrunk to a small circle of friends. We are beleaguered, lonely, and overwhelmed.
We need naps after lunch, long walks in nature, communion around campfires.
We haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the culture. We’re not ready to travel 60 miles an hour. We are physically ill—overweight, strung out on prescription drugs, anxious, and undernourished. What we take into our mouths becomes our energy, our blood, our skin. Yet much of our food is short on nutrition and long on adulterants. How can we think clearly or feel anything but cornered with flavored dross in our veins? We use caffeine to put one foot in front of the other.
In this melting pot of a nation, we cling to rituals that have lost their meaning. There’s no passage in our rites of teenage drunkenness, no “arrival” in our coming of age. What is our totem, our spirit guide? Our ceremonies are shells of their former meaning dolled up in slick packages.
Even now, after all this, we have the opportunity to evolve. Live up to our dream. Turn away from our violent past and join together in creating solutions to all that ails us.
We don’t have to create armed camps in our midst. We don’t have to teach our young that violence is the solution. We’ve been too lazy to learn and think, too distracted to look beyond our television. Too eager to label and blame the other for problems we’ve brought onto ourselves.
We’re too damn busy trying to stay afloat; trying to have it all.
Can we save the dream of our nation? Is it too late to make love not war? Too late to treat our neighbors as ourselves?
Let’s invest our energy and resources in solutions–interventions for those teetering on the edge of mental illness, for disrupted families and children. Pour our money into schools and teachers, not prisons and guards. Free health clinics in every community with counseling for anyone who walks in the door–that day, that moment. Not after someone brings in proof of income and household bills, not after a two week wait.
We embrace delusions of a past that never was. We got lucky. We got spoiled. We want too much and if we can’t have it, it’s somebody else’s fault: the immigrant’s fault that we can’t buy a new car; the poor man’s fault that our groceries cost so much; the gay man’s fault that our marriages fail.
The police are not yet a force unto themselves, but they’re moving closer, fed by fear. Their job is to enforce the laws. Laws are not made by the police. They are made by our elected representatives. Our. Elected. Representatives.
The free ride is over. The trees are cut, the gold nuggets found. The frontier lies within.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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