America isn’t safe because it doesn’t want to be.

Someone on Facebook today reminded me that today marks two years since George Floyd was murdered.

I probably didn’t remember because I am still trying to figure out how to process the killing of more elementary school children yesterday in a place where they were supposed to feel safe. And, if I’m telling the truth, I’m still trying to stop seeing the faces of — in particular — the little old ladies killed last week in Buffalo, and also trying to balance the fact that the victims of the Buffalo massacre have already fallen out of the news cycle, even if not out of my mind.

But that’s how it goes, right? The news cycles march on. People forget. Nothing changes. Even the “thoughts and prayers” cease. Last fall, a month after Mr. Floyd’s birthday, I wrote about how he’d had another birthday and nothing had changed.

As we prepare to make our return to the States (the original plan was one year), I’ve been a mixed bag of emotions: excited to see and be closer to my family and friends, anxious because all of the things we “just needed a break” from that were the reasons we left the United States are still things. COVID is still running rampant, though now there’s no funding for testing and everyone is choosing to ignore it, despite the pleading of medical professionals. Schools are still in a state of crisis — and then we add additional emotional crises like shootings that compound the academic one. And there have been 212 mass shootings in 144 days of 2022, according to Public Citizen.

Community is a huge thing. So is college readiness. These are the sole reasons we decided to come back after this year in paradise. But safety is just as real. And the U.S. isn’t safe — hasn’t ever been for Black folks. And what good is community and college readiness if babies studying in their middle school seats don’t even get to grow up to enjoy them? Or if their surviving classmates have to carry the burden and trauma of tragedy with them along the way?

I joke about the Lord starting the rapture at least weekly, but this morning it really feels like the country is descending into hell already, because Republican Jesus is too focused on condemning abortion to save the children who are already here.

And that’s not an endorsement of a political party, either. “Republican Jesus” is a jab at how the GOP manipulates the Bible to create some false morality it uses to oppress others. (I promise you, “thou shalt not abort a fetus” is not in the Bible. And even if we go with “thou shalt not kill,” you either believe Jesus came to free us from the bondage of the law, or you observe all of the laws.) But the Democrats aren’t absolved from blame in this either. They could choose to end the filibuster and enact policies that could literally save lives, but then what would they campaign on in an election year, if they couldn’t rely on “Republicans bad, vote for us”?

The truth is the entire system is broken. Do we need to vote? Absolutely, but we also need to hold elected officials accountable. Because when the whole country did nothing after Sandy Hook, many say they knew that was the end of the gun reform debate, but the truth is, the United States is the only wealthy nation with this issue, so there’s a solution out there to be found. And neither political party has found it.

But we would also be remiss to not recognize these issues as related to the debate about critical race theory and book bans and protection for LGBTQ+ kids. Because the whole underpinning theory of CRT is the idea that the whole system is broken, and that the broken system has continued to cause harm to people in the United States, Black people in particular.

Buffalo was a racially motivated attack, based on systemic lies that have pervaded the U.S. philosophy since the beginning. Uvalde was a gun issue and a mental health issue (the shooter allegedly purchased the gun just a few days before, on his 18th birthday), but maybe it was also an issue of affirming one’s identity; it has been said the shooter was teased about wearing eyeliner.

(I have to pause at this last part to acknowledge: If there’s one thing Black people will do, it’s roast you. I roast my children daily, and they get me back, too. I know it may sound counterintuitive to non-Black people, but it’s good for self-esteem. Debate your bald-headed granny. But it’s also rooted in love. And no one is not accepting you because they tell you your forehead is as big as Peyton Manning’s. That’s not a good reason to go shoot up a school. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is if the perp was teased about wearing eyeliner because “that’s gay,” why is gay — an identity characteristic — framed as such a bad thing in our society in the first place?)

My point is, all of these conversations are related. And the thing they have in common is that when we continue to center a white, cis-gendered male, heterosexual norm as right, and everything else as varying degrees of wrong by default, we will continue to have these issues pop up. And when you break it down by demographics, Black folks are the most likely to say gun violence is a very big problem — more than both white and Hispanic people. And even among Democrats, recent research from the Pew Research Center shows white and Hispanic Democrats have a less decisive stance on the issue than Black Democrats.

You see what I’m saying now about it not being a political party issue? And how race probably is a really big factor in why we haven’t figured out how to solve this problem — or anything else in America?

I’m in the middle of writing a second book, the thesis of which is essentially, “if y’all had listened to Black folks a century ago, there wouldn’t be an achievement gap.” It seems the same could be said more broadly: If folks would start listening to Black people on ANY of these issues, we could probably get somewhere.

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Autumn A. Arnett is an advocate for education equity, an HBCU alumna, Founder of A Black Child Can (aBlackChildCan.org). Connect with her via www.a2arnett.com.

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Autumn A. Arnett

Autumn A. Arnett

Autumn A. Arnett is an advocate for education equity, an HBCU alumna, Founder of A Black Child Can (aBlackChildCan.org). Connect with her via www.a2arnett.com.

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