It is 2013 and people all over the world are making New Year resolutions. We are all too familiar with the classic resolutions people typically make – I am going to lose weight, get fit, quit smoking and/or drinking, learn something new, get organized, get my life together (whatever that means) and, one of the most pressing issues given our economic climate, become debt free. I must admit I have made some of these same resolutions in the past and might even do them again this year.
Starting anew and setting our sights on a better tomorrow is as natural as breathing. So, what is your New Year’s resolution? What do you plan to start or stop as you embrace another year? As for me, I’ve given it great thought as I do every year. For me, the end of one year and the start of a new one is an opportunity to assess what’s working in my life and what’s not and what will I not only do differently but continue to do in the New Year.
I must be honest—I don’t know. I am in a “weird” place in my head this year. Life and “the meaning of life” have been weighing heavily on my heart these past few weeks because I find myself constantly thinking about the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. As a father of a nearly two-year-old, I can’t help but cry out with that community. One evening, while watching the endless news coverage, I saw a promo for the show What Would You Do?
What a simple yet powerful and loaded question! What would I do if the tragedy in Newtown came knocking on my door? If my community experienced the incomprehensible violence that ripped through Sandy Hook Elementary? After pondering these questions for hours, I still don’t know and pray to God I never will have to deal with such a tragedy.
As I transition into viewing this tragedy from the lens of social justice and not solely as a father and community member, I quickly began to analyze the media coverage. Why, now, are people talking so strongly about gun control and mental illness when the streets of Chicago are more dangerous than a war zone? More people died in the streets of Chicago, 228, in 2012 than died in Afghanistan, 144, in 2012 at the time this was written.
What is it about the events in Newtown that have sparked such urgency, compelling our nation to act quickly and swiftly on gun control and mental health, when people in our great nation are dying every day from semi-automatic weapons? Is it because the victims of Sandy Hook were mostly Caucasian children from upper middle class families, compared to the poor inner-city Black and Latino youth murdered daily on the streets of our nation’s biggest cities? Or, is it because only 1.75% of the population in Newtown is African American compared to 32.9% in Chicago?
Do we care about the senseless violence happening every day in Chicago? Or, do we not care until the ugliness reaches our doorstops or makes us realize that we too could have been Newtown; that our comfy suburban lives are not bulletproof.
Given the countless people who die every day from semi-automatic weapons, I am amazed that today, yes today, our great nation wants to talk about gun control, because it hit close to the “American Dream.” Guns are now killing children in affluent communities so it must be a problem. Let’s now all talk about gun control and the dangers of guns on the streets of America. With that, I have to shake my head and recite a common Sports Center phrase, “C’Mon Man,” Is that right?
Why do we have to wait until white children are killed? What does this “silently” communicate to my little daughter – your life only matters if you are white and affluent? Maybe what we are saying is guns are fine in “your” community, just don’t bring them to “our” community. Or, it’s not an issue when one person dies of gun violence, it only becomes an issue when it’s a mass shooting. “C’Mon Man,” that’s just not right.
This reminds me of growing up in the 80s when Nancy Regan pushed the “Just Say No” campaign against drugs. Drugs were not a problem in America when it only affected African Americans in our nation’s inner cities: Chicago, LA, and New York. Once the drug trade made it to suburbia and into the hands of young white children, the entire nation joined the “Just Say No” bandwagon. Once again, why do we have to wait until things become a problem in the white communities for our country to take a stand?
If we really are a GREAT nation, we need to discuss and find solutions for every problem when it first rears its ugly head and not wait until its rears it in suburbia. Unfortunately, we repeatedly see the media covering the missing little white child or the upper middle class family hit with tragedy. In response, there is a country-wide outpour of support; but let that same tragedy happen to a little child of color or a lower income family, and we hear nothing or little about it. Do you know about Caylee Anthony? Do you know about Adji Desir? That community and family has to deal with the issue alone – no media coverage and definitely no outpouring of support from across the nation.
Is it too much to ask for equity for all tragedies? As Social Justice Educators, we need to raise our collective voices and support equity for all tragedies. We must continue to ask the question, “Why does our media not cover all communities equally and as a result, why does our nation fail to support all communities equally?
We need to start were we stand. Today and moving forward, when we see problems, we can’t wait until tragedy comes knocking on our door; rather, we must take up the fight for all communities. Like reflecting at the start of a new year, we must reflect on these historical tragedies and learn from them. Maybe if we reflected and acted on the disparity evident during the 80’s war on drugs, we wouldn’t be here, at this same place, today.
If our nation would have proactively spoken out and demanded changes to gun laws when gangs were sprouting up in Compton and taking the lives of countless young African Americans, we could have possibly prevented or lessened the deadly attack in Newtown.
Will you start where you stand?
Dr. Terrence Frazier is currently the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at Alabama A&M University. He earned his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University. You can contact Dr. Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org.