Fri 27 May, 2022 08:23 pm
On July 27, 1919, an African American teenager drowned in Lake Michigan after violating the unofficial segregation of Chicago’s beaches and being stoned by a group of white youths. His death, and the police’s refusal to arrest the white man whom eyewitnesses identified as causing it, sparked a week of rioting between gangs of Black and white Chicagoans, concentrated on the South Side neighborhood surrounding the stockyards. When the riots ended on August 3, 15 white and 23 Black people had been killed and more than 500 people injured; an additional 1,000 Black families had lost their homes when they were torched by rioters.
The link at the top of this page takes us to a history ofthe Red Summer
This is told of in the two articles I posted links to. The migration of black people to the north, the returning soldiers, the fights for work -
To understand why American culture is completely incapable of addressing anything in regards to gun violence and has this strange veneration of the second amendment, you have to go back to when the current unspoken understanding of gun culture was cemented - Red Summer in 1919.
In the summer and fall of 1919, over 36 racist pogroms in multiple American cities where armed white mobs attacked Black communities. Scores of people were killed, and entire neighborhoods were destroyed. It was also notable for the widespread defense of Black communities by armed Black men and women. White mobs attacking Black communities was a common occurrence during the Nadir, but as a cultural moment, the image of Black people shooting back was shocking to mainstream white America because the dominant white supremacy of the day held that Black people were docile. The specter of Black retaliatory violence terrified white racist America and elevated the gun to being a necessity for putting down, from that point on, a forever impending Black rebellion that haunted their nightmares. However, for Black America, the gun became seen as indispensable for defending Black communities from white terror.
This is a history we don't really teach in the United States, so we have largely forgotten how common pogroms and racist street violence were here. Therefore, we don't recognize key moments in our culture that explain why we are the way we are. And this just isn't limited to Black people or even nonwhite people. Events like the lynchings of Pasquale and Giuseppe Defatta along with three other Italian immigrants in Tallulah, Louisiana in 1899, the lynching of Leo Frank in 1915, the dispossession of the First Nations which ended with the Posey War in 1923, the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, and the Japanese American Internments from 1942 to 1945 all fed into creating the culture of violent paranoia that we see today. Red Summer is a major event in American history that many Americans have no clue about, much like they knew nothing about the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921 until recent years. If you, the reader, have never heard of Red Summer or any of the aforementioned events, it is because, like so many other crucial events in American history that really shed light on why we are the country that we are, it was erased from common knowledge because it was inconvenient to the national myth of America as the shining city on the hill.
Just look back at the “red summer” in 1919 and the stories that are rarely told of Black towns who defended themselves from race riots because they had the means to. These stories exist. Just because ain’t nobody making movies don’t mean it didn’t happen.
So, many Americans have no clue why the culture is so paranoid about the other or even recognize that this is why so many of them cling to their guns. It’s not fear of criminals or tyrannical government; those are metaphors for the fear of their fellow citizens passed down from generation to generation.
Does this history mean that all gun violence and school shootings are expressions of racism? No. This is bigger than race. This is an American cultural and civilizational crisis. Something was cemented during Red Summer that is directly relevant to why political support for gun control always evaporates like water on sun-baked pavement; a culture of violence rooted in paranoia about those we deem to be others and it doesn’t matter who the other is. This expectation of violence has permeated everything across every cultural line that exists. School shootings and gun violence are cross-class, bipartisan, and interracial. The roots are in the dark days of racism during the Nadir, but the paranoid vine is wrapped around the entire culture.
So, what is the unspoken truth that clings to all debates about gun rights like dew on humid nights?
The unspoken truth is that a truly diverse cross-section of America does not want any restrictions on guns because they don't want to be caught empty-handed when the group they hate or the group they think hates them decides to attack. It's intergenerational paranoia.
This is why any attempts to address gun violence fail. An unspoken culture of paranoia at the other, regardless of how the other is defined, sets the political agenda for gun debates. As a culture, America still is haunted by the ghosts of Red Summer.
I do believe in a God and I pray that the slain are at peace in whatever lies beyond this life, but I also know that prayers do nothing for dead children. As politicians offer thoughts and prayers, I ask “what are you praying for?” I hope it is for the courage to confront this, at this point, intergenerational scourge and for wisdom to devise solutions that will work. I hope that politicians are not praying for absolution because to this point, they do not deserve it.
Absolution comes after amends have been made, not before. But the fault is not theirs alone. America must confront its culture of paranoia-inspired violence that eats its children in the name of preserving some balance of power in preparation for some social breakdown that, oddly enough, the culture of paranoia seeks to ensure rather than prevent.
We do not have to be this country. We should not want to be this country. We must stop being this country.
AUTHOR: Nicholas Ensley Mitchell