We Can't Let Calls for Gun Control Overshadow our Focus on White Supremacy

by Anna Gibson

Fierce debate has taken place in the weeks following the shooting of nine victims of AME Charleston Church in South Carolina. Dylann Roof’s embrace of white supremacy, alleged mental illness, and even disputes about whether or not he should be forgiven have all been the subject of discussion. Recently, Fox News interviewed Bishop E. W. Jackson in an attempt to frame the shooting “not as a race issue but a faith issue.” Bishop Jackson appeared to be in agreement despite all evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, photos of Roof have turned up of him wearing Apartheid-era badges on his jacket, and posing with a Confederate flag.

In addition to prevalent news analysis of this act of terrorism, preventative measures were also suggested in the case of future attacks. President Obama referenced the need for gun control in light of the Charleston Shooting. A few hours after the shooting, Obama said:

“We do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no problem getting their hands on a gun.”

While gun control is undoubtedly an issue, it would be more prudent to look at the causes that underlie Roof’s attack in the first place. Roof is a white supremacist, and white supremacy is the primary motivation for his actions.

If white supremacy wasn’t the issue, Roof most likely would have gotten a gun to defend himself instead of using it to slaughter nine black citizens. The intention behind the weapon is key. Since Roof’s intention was to propagate white supremacy, his eventual target was intriguing. He choose to commit an act of terror in a space long known to be not just a place of faith, but also a socio-political nexus of power in the black community since slavery. The black church was not just a place of worship, but a space where information was distributed and passed along.

Roof said himself that he was trying to ‘create a race war’ and his roommates recount him discussing that his original target was "the university up the street." From this we can conclude that the Charleston shooting was neither an issue of faith or easy access to guns.

As this is the case, why are we so willfully ignorant about facing a problem that systematically leaves an entire group of people at a disadvantage? It should be noted that by ‘we’ I’m referring to both white and black people. Black people are also sometimes blind to the fetters that bind us. Why are we so hesitant to discuss the issue of racism and white supremacy in this country?

The truth is, confronting the issue of race would require white people to face what their ancestors set in place hundreds of years ago. It would also decenter their experiences and force them to look at the world as it truly is. It would force them to look at suffering through the lens of the oppressed. This would be incredibly hard to do when your worldview isn’t designed to help you see beyond yourself.

They would have to face white privilege and their entire worldview would be shaken. Knowing that you benefit from a system set in place for this country on the basis of your identity alone would cause you to rethink everything.

That being said, denying that racism exists allows us to be caught up in the same cycles. As Roof’s actions demonstrate, neglecting the system that propagates racism, both individual and institutional, can costs lives. We don’t deserve to die because white people refuse to see how racism works. Roof’s actions simply demonstrate what’s been going on for centuries, from the time Columbus landed on American soil to modern times.

Disenfranchisement of black people is what this nation was built upon. This reality takes precedence over white feelings. Suggesting gun control as the solution to terrorist attacks rooted in a white supremacy is the equivalent to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. We need to acknowledge the wound of systemic racism and dismantle it so that black and white people can heal this nation together.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University and a freelance journalist who focuses on the stories of the marginalized. If you want to get in touch with her, you can reach her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa and on Facebook under the name Anna Gibson.

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