Published on August 22nd, 2019 | by Nina Pulley
[Opinion] Gun Violence, the Need for Intimacy, and Lessons in Black Community
You’re sitting on your phone in a dark restaurant selling desserts in the front, waiting for your placeholder to buzz with electrifying urgency, while others you’ve never seen before mill about, looking for the bathroom or a towel because they’ve spilled their water. Your head hurts a bit; you’re waiting for your friends to arrive. It’s a mutual friend’s birthday and they’re running late because they forgot to get a present, so they’re picking up a gift card at a local convenience store. You tap your foot because lots of people make you nervous. You keep looking over your back but no one’s coming, at least not for another five minutes, but you know that. You’re just trying to look occupied without staring at your phone for ten straight minutes. Has quiet time always been this disconcerting? Since when have you been so put off by eye contact?
You check your phone. You get a message on your newsfeed: several new victims have been revealed from the recent shooting, and you’re in a daze again ‒ quickly looking for something to think about before you cry again. Or don’t. Perhaps you have become so desensitized that when you read these headlines, your stomach turns, and then you do your best to carry on.
We find ourselves in an age where this is a sadly common experience, especially for millennials and Generation Z, yet even nowadays it is common for people across generations to feel isolated or overwhelmed by information streams from all directions. Unfortunately, the isolation that results seems to have bred a culture where people spend more time on their phones than they do interacting with others, scarcely making connections other than electronic ones, more aware of their Wi-Fi signal than social cues. Though it may at first seem that older people experience this due to the difference in material culture in, say, the forties and fifties This often means when tragedies happen, they become statistics, figures, or ideas, but many have been directly impacted by the horror of gun violence ‒ lockdown drills at school, losing a friend or family member, or knowing people who have.
This increase in shootings motivated by dogmatic beliefs about people of a different ethnic group or religious practice indicates a sociocultural, or even national, sickness. They’ve scarcely been motivated by nothing having to do with a lived experience. These shooters with no interaction with the targeted people develop their beliefs on the Internet, informed by deeply biased news outlets and a culture of fear and division propagated by Trump.
The need for intimacy instantly jumps out in this picture. Most times, the families of the shooters either were unaware of their inwardly tortured nature, or they struggled to develop bonds of intimacy with them. Sometimes, it was mental illness, such as Asperger’s or another form of autism, or a mood disorder. These all indicate a lack of strong connections to others. Connecting to others helps to moderate our emotions and help us figure out what to do when we’re faced with problems involving other people . When these outlets and mechanisms are absent in one’s life, it’s easy to develop skewed or distorted views about others, and, especially with the Internet, develop sweeping, often deeply and dangerously incorrect ideas about entire groups of people. This commonality, especially with the vast majority of the shooters identifying as White males, begins to tell the harrowing story of how slavery began . The White supremacist rhetoric and ideologies of this country, in use since its inception with its slave-owning Presidents, slave-built institutions and slavery-enabling Constitution, is revolting against the increasingly, and perhaps always diverse makeup fo the country. Like many authors have said, this place was born of immigrants, at least, the pilgrims were immigrants. What a funny story would it be if so many of the anti-immigration philosophies touted by so many “conservative” groups were used when analyzing the story of the Pilgrims, and if the Native Americans were put in the conservatives place. They would certainly have more right to say, “Get out of this country!” The immigrants that people want to leave are often the people that built this country with their bare hands. Imagine if they came in saying, “We discovered America!” Then began to kill groups of White men en masse with advanced weapon technology, enslave them and then call them second-class citizens! What would the conservatives have to say then?
Motivated by nothing more than a deep and existential fear that comes with the knowledge of how they came to live and how many of their ancestors for generations agreed to step on and dehumanize to get what they wanted. The reality is that many, if not most, people had to agree to putting people of African descent foremost, and then other people like the Irish, the Polish, Italians, and Japanese Americans, Mexicans, and really anyone of Latino/a descent, and almost every minority group in the country, down in order to attain some level of social or economic status. This is why African-American community and faith is such an interesting antidote to what is going on at the moment. If we look at examples of the ways Black people choose to unite in times of trouble: the Civil Rights Movement, Black churches and the AME, spirituals, barbecues and cookouts, family reunions and knitting circles ‒‒ traditions not exclusive to Black people but unique in their meaning and spirit ‒‒ we see that the reaction to oppression has been unifying. Gun violence in Black communities is a problem, but it is also overreported, and due to systemic deprivation of resources by the local and federal governments, this, too, tells a story.
Much of what we are seeing right now is a story of man and technology, and the parallel story of the development of Whiteness. Man, often of European origin, has often defined himself by “new toys” he is able to create, and nowhere do we see that more potently than we do today. The predominance of video games on the market, the rise of virtual reality technology, and the incredibly, inaccessibly fast turnover of new phone models are evidence of the intense engagement in semi- and anti-social entertainment that has come to characterize our age. Previous ages like the Industrial Revolution and the Iron Age are steps on this ladder of man’s advancement through technological innovation. With this logic, man may have peaked.
This, of course, is only one of the epistemologies. The other is one is spiritual. It talks of us as having already been fully formed in Spirit, taking a journey throughout this life, at different points in time different distances from Him who created us. At this moment, we are more immersed in personal technologies than we’ve ever been before, yet further from the truth of who we are than we may have ever been.
This is a call to return. To what you know is true. Intimacy, or truly knowing someone or something, can only be understood and achieved through an understanding of truth. And we can observe Black community modeling true intimacy on a regular basis. Despite many setbacks and disadvantages faced and the dysfunction it led to, Black communities display remarkable spiritual resilience and freedom. Though it be contested constantly, it need not be. It is self-evident. The wholeness found in Black family, and African philosophies of communal development can free us ‒ teach us. This is the bone and marrow of Black life. There are lessons in Blackness, in African rhythms, in call and response. They have much to teach the United States at this time. Technology isn’t everything. People are.