WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 2023
Are we one people or many? Are the gods trying to force us to decide?
We ask that question because a third shooting in the current series has now occurred.
First, a 16-year-old high school student was shot and severely injured when he knocked on the wrong door in Kansas City. Then, a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed in upstate New York when the car she was riding in turned around in someone's driveway.
Today, the gods have completed the rule of three. Headline included, the breaking news starts like this in the Washington Post:
Cheerleaders leaving practice were shot after getting in wrong car, teen says
Two Texas cheerleaders were shot, and one of them critically injured, early Tuesday after they mistakenly got into the wrong car in a grocery store parking lot, one of the girls said.
The Elgin, Tex., shooting is the third headline-making incident in less than a week in which someone was shot while approaching a person they apparently did not know.
Police responded to reports of gunshots outside an H-E-B supermarket after midnight, authorities said in a news release. They arrested and charged Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., 25, with deadly conduct, a third-degree felony, in what they called “an altercation … in the parking lot of HEB” in which “multiple shots were fired into a vehicle.”
One of the victims was identified by her coach as Payton Washington, an 18-year-old high school senior and cheerleader for the Round Rock Independent School District, near Austin. Washington “sustained serious injuries” when she was shot in the back and a leg, police said.
This time, it's two Texas cheerleaders, one of whom mistakenly started to get into the wrong car.
Have the gods decided to test us with this string of events? The questions we'd have in mind would of course be these:
Are we all in this together? Are these events mainly alike or are they mainly different?
Also, should different identity groups maintain group ownership over individual shooting events? Or are all these children everyone's children? Does it take a national village, aspirationally of course?
We wonder if the gods are currently asking us to sort out questions like these. We wondered anew when we read a new essay by Imani Perry, an essay which appeared yesterday at The Atlantic.
Just this once, we'll be honest! Perry seems to be the world's most refined and nicest person. In part for that reason, she strikes us as the kind of Princeton professor who has an infallible instinct for generating the kinds of concerns and viewpoints which get Republicans elected.
In her essay, she seems to vote for the silo theory—for the theory that black shooting deaths belong to blacks as a group and not to everyone else. Before too long, she's offering a rumination which is 100 percent sincere, though remarkably hard to parse.
Perry's essay concerns the shooting of Ralph Yarl. As she starts, she seemed to endorse a certain chronological framework, one to which we've recently alluded:
Thank God Ralph Yarl lives. He is an eldest child; he was picking up his siblings in Kansas City, Missouri. It was just an errand. And he got lost. And he went to the wrong house. A door. A shot—he collapsed—and then another. An 84-year-old man put a bullet in his young head. And Ralph Yarl stumbled for help to another home. He saved his own life. Clearly, this is an extraordinary child.
It is 2023. Over the past 10 years (and even longer if we count the time before the mainstream media covered our devastation), millions of people have filled the streets and raised open palms or right fists to protest the premature deaths of Black innocents. ... In 2019, I published a book called Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, speaking to the terror and grace of raising Black children in the United States, and people said to me, “The book is so prescient.” But there is no bad time for a book about Black fear and grace in the face of terror. The examples are seasonal, monthly, sometimes even weekly. By now, the world knows.
Perry seems to say that the mainstream press has been covering the premature deaths of Black innocents for something like ten years.
We would say eleven! As we've noted, it seems to us that this changer in journalistic behavior dates to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in early 2012.
It seems to us that mainstream press corps frameworks changed at that time. Perry seems to suggest a similar timeline.
Based on this essay and on other writings, Perry's heart has been in her throat ever since. There's no reason why her heart shouldn't have been in her throat, which doesn't necessarily mean that her instincts are completely helpful.
Perfectly plainly, Perry's grief and fear come from a good, decent place. But they soon lead to this paragraph, which is quite hard to parse:
I ask, how are the people in this nation so adjusted to Black folks suffering? And then I think: That, too, is naive. The Nashville school shooting just happened. Unquestionably, racism makes our experience as Black Americans more frightening, more dangerous. But they won’t even save their own children. All of our kids are coming of age in a society in crisis. And certain antisocial forces—the ones who make and sell and protect guns, the ones who reject knowledge, the ones who believe that their homes are castles but make terrible rules for other peoples’ bodies, the ones who believe that some of us are ordained to inferiority and vote that way—are trying their darndest to prevent all of our children from growing up and maturing into the kind of people who can make this democracy functional. And people keep putting them in power.
Perry starts by saying that "the people in this nation" are [substantially] "adjusted to Black folks suffering."
Does she mean all the people in this nation? How many people does she mean?
Also, what nation does Perry live in? Which people does she mean?
Already, we're fumbling about in the underbrush. Soon, though, we come to this:
Thinking about the Nashville shooting, Perry takes things one step further. On the basis of that shooting, she now seems to say that "they"—presumably, "the people in this nation"—"won't even save their own children."
That's explicitly what she says.
Read in accord with traditional norms, this doesn't make a lot of sense. It does strike us as an excellent way to get GOP hopefuls elected.
Perry doesn't make any attempt to differentiate among "the people of this nation." Meanwhile, it seems that she herself must live in some unnamed alternate realm.
"All of our kids are coming of age in a society in crisis," the professor says at that point. In our view, truer words were never spoken. When she makes that unfortunate statement, Perry is plainly correct.
But are all of our kids really all of our kids? Or do some of our kids really belong to some of us people, some of whom don't even seem to live in this country?
Aspirationally, we'll return to the aspirational norm in which all of our kids are viewed as all of our kids. In which we worry about all of our kids, even those who belong to the families of the unnamed people who make "terrible rules for other peoples’ bodies," to quote a bit of liberal / progressive jargon from the professor's analysis as she finally starts to signal Where The Wild Things Are.
Do we live in a set of demographic silos, or are we aspirationally all one people?
It takes a village to raise a child. But how many villages are we?