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In The Era of Parkland, Do Not Forget Black Activism

Young people have always been at the forefront of different movements in history. From the Civil Rights era to women and LGBTQ+ persons fighting for their equality, youth always have been beacons of hope and justice. The youth of Stoneman Douglas have not been any different.

The kids of Stoneman Douglas High have, in the wake of a mass shooting, found themselves in a place in history familiar to young generations throughout time - victims of circumstance who no longer wish to be victims, but changemakers. The attention these kids command should not be surprising-- the future has always been in the hands of the young. But while we are in awe of young women like Emma Gonzalez, and admiring David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, it is essential to highlight the fact that these kids stand on the shoulders of giants. Giants, who are not loved the same way the Parkland kids are. It is important to underline the anti-violence and anti-gun activists that came before the era of Parkland, and at the same time ask ourselves why they haven't been given the same due.

When shootings occur in Black and Brown communities, they are boiled down to gang violence. Because of this, an already broken system that produces gun violence disproportionately affects Black and Brown families. Thanks to the Pew Research Centre, we know that roughly 41% of White American households own guns, relative to approximately 19% of Black American homes. These statistics prove that there is a difference in each community's relationship with guns, and ignoring race when addressing this relationship does more harm than good.

When we have discussions surrounding guns, the face of "gun violence" is Black. It wears a hoodie, sags its pants, and has no respect for authority. When gun violence looks White, for example, in the case of school shootings, it is not "gun violence." It is "troubled" and "misguided," and would have been stopped if a "good guy with a gun" was there- and you guessed it, that "good guy with a gun" is never going to be Black. The PRC also looked into the fact that White Americans (62 percent) are more likely than Black Americans (54 percent) to say that gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger personal safety- meaning more White men and women support laws like Stand Your Ground, the very law that got Trayvon Martin murdered. When we have discussions surrounding arming and disarming Americans, race must be a factor. Take into account that gun laws in California weren't implemented until the Black Panther Party started carrying guns in public spaces, or more recently, the fact that Philando Castille was a gun owner who made the officer who stopped him aware that he had a permit to conceal and carry, something he did not have to do.

Groups like the NRA (who have become the center of today's conversation surrounding guns) have ignored the plight of people like Philando, yet are quick to say that "lawful gun owners should not be punished" in the wake of mass shootings carried out by people with legal weapons. Household's like Nikolas Cruz's with legal guns are spared from critique, while this same silence is not given when the NRA is asked about Black gun owners. Black activists have known this for quite some time, and so have Black families. 39% of Black parents are nearly twice as likely as 22% of White parents who say they worry about their child getting shot (Pew Research Centre). Protections and excuses made for White gun owners are not extended to Blacks with the same right to carry, and the sympathy reserved for White victims of gun violence is not extended to Black ones.

Two young people, Kealea Foy and Samera Paz, shared their experience at the March, and their time there as two WOC adding their voices to the conversation. When I messaged Kealea asking about the orange sign she brought with her, (pictured below), she told me it was her friend's, Samera Paz's idea.

 Courtesy of  Kealea Foy

Courtesy of Kealea Foy

I asked her more about her experience at the March, she explained, "Samera had made a point that she wanted to the sign to be held up for as much of the event as possible, so between our group of friends we would switch off holding it when our arms got tired. It was my turn to hold it, and this white woman taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Uh your sign is blocking my view. It's great and all but I can't see’. Now we're in a section of the march where, one, multiple people in front of us also have their signs up and, two, there's still a fair amount of space for movement. I took her comment as the sign rubbing her, and possibly others behind us, the wrong way and she no longer wanted to look at it. Rather than start an argument I just said, ‘OK’ and turned back around. Eventually, she walked away, and I assume she moved elsewhere.”

When I asked Kealea Foy why she thought the poster caused controversy, she replied that feels its because “... The march and this movement are supposed to be inclusive and accepting as a means of progress and the sign was a reminder that they are not. The black lives matter movement begged for stricter gun control, but the black organizers and mostly black protesters were called thugs, and the marches were called disruptions. It's a f****** tragedy that the Parkland students have been put in a position where gun violence directly affected their lives but we cannot deny that both movements have called for similar gun legislation and yet the white organizers and mostly white protesters get very different media attention. Samera's sign was to remind everyone that while we're here for a good cause, we should've been here for the good cause that was the Black Lives Matter movement too. And if you weren't, that's okay, but now is the time to continue to amplify black voices as we continue to make headway in the fight for gun control and the bigger fight for racial equality.”

 Courtesy of  Samera Paz

Courtesy of Samera Paz

Samera & Kealea tapped into something real; racism has fueled the idea that when gang violence happens to black people, it's their fault. When a shooting occurs in black communities, its boiled down to things like gang violence- Black made problems. Because of this, an already broken system that produces gun violence disproportionately affects black families. Because Black men and women know that they are left to their own devices to have their voices heard, they have created the means to do so.

In honor of Hadiya Pendleton, Project Orange was started by her friends from Chicago, and it has been challenging the NRA and championing gun registration laws in the US, but have been shrugged off by lawmakers and the media. DeRay Mckesson launched Campaign Zero, an organization that proposes policy changes to curb gun and police violence. Sophia Byrd, Eva Lewis, Natalie Braye, and Maxine Wint led the sit-in rally at Millennium Park in 2014, one of the most massive peaceful protests ever in New York City.

Everyone from the Obamas to Oprah has commended the Parkland kids for their efforts. Let's be clear, the teenagers from Stoneman Douglas High have shown they understand how white privilege works, and that they have been directed empathy that the young people from #BLM have not received. It is mainstream liberalism and centrism that has decided to have the "All Lives Matter" approach to gun control, ignoring Black and brown activism, and acting as if demands like better regulation of the NRA or asking for asking for background-checks is brand new. They aren't. That is why the attention and gravity surrounding the #MarchforOurLives can be frustrating for Black and Brown folks. The victim of gun violence this time around is a middle-class suburban White child, so they deserve our full attention.     

Don't get it twisted, the Parkland teens deserve the full support they are receiving, but for some, the comfort stops there. The conversation surrounding guns is going to leave black and brown bodies out in the cold if it does not become intersectional. Gun control means different things, including police reform, acknowledging that when students held walkouts and marches, Black students were confronted with police in riot gear. People are always going to be uncomfortable with this conversation because it's the hardest one to have, but it is the most necessary. Comprehensive discussions surrounding gun control needs to be from the vantage points of minorities and others who are the most affected. Otherwise, no one will be truly safe or represented.