Challenging the Mess(enger): Destructive Memes and What Anti-Gun Violence Sympathizers MUST LEARN From The ALS Movement By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
As I was winding down last Saturday night, I took a final passing glance at my Facebook Newsfeed and found that an extended family member had shared following post:
***For the record, 48, 612 people have reposted this meme/post so far and that number grew over the weekend. To review: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10204308841778584&set=a.2687144215231.2145536.1155182072&type=1&theater***
Let me be clear. This is not the first time that I have seen such a meme/online poster campaigns on Facebook. These memes crops up quite often as the gun violence in Chicago is fairly constant in Chicagoans' lives and as a Chicago native I see them often on my social media newsfeeds.
HOWEVER, THIS TIME, on the heels of the Ferguson uprising (my term of choice) and days before the Michael Brown funeral, THIS PARTICULAR CAMPAIGN GOT ON MY (DAMN) NERVES QUITE DEEPLY and I responded with the following:
“Ok, so YOU are in Chicago.
YOU are a member of the Black community.
WHAT are YOU going to do?
FEEL FREE TO EXPRESS YOUR OUTRAGE.
Who are YOU waiting for (to lead the march/protest/boycott/social movement you are interested in having?”
My family member and I had a good exchange, but I had to take some time, thinking deeply about why this post struck such a nerve in me.
After sorting through my thinking and emotions, I believe this meme is unnerving because these “Blame Blacks” campaigns---which were at the heart of the Michael Brown shooting debates---are a symptoms of a larger problem within communities under siege.
We too often exhibit what my dear colleague Rose Milligan, PhD, calls “lateral antagonisms” or “lateral aggressions”. Dr. Milligan explained in her presentation at the Contemplative Studies in Higher Education Summer Session at Smith College in August 2014 that "...such behavior occurs when oppressed people lash out at one another instead of more powerful forces of their broader oppression." You may refer to it as “crabs in a barrel pulling each other down” or other terms describing the same behavior.
AGAIN, HEAR ME WELL:
IT IS HEART-WRENCHING, INFURIATING AND DESTRUCTIVE FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS TO DEPLOY GUN VIOLENCE TO KILL ONE ANOTHER, INJURE ONE ANOTHER AND DESTABILIZE OUR COMMUNITIES. PERIOD. THIS MUST BE FOUGHT WITH EVERY FIBER OF OUR COLLECTIVE BEING.
HOWEVER, to continue to propagate the idea that Black folk “…THAT BLACK-ON-BLACK MURDER DOES NOT MEET THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR OUTRAGE IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY” IS ALSO PROFOUNDLY DESTRUCTIVE for the following reasons:
1.) This statement is just not true and does not represent the thinking or activity of the ENTIRE Black community.
As someone who has spent the last five years promoting my play "TANGLED" that examine gun violence in the Age of Obama in venues across the country; as someone who has served as the Outreach Coordinator (Central Illinois) for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV); as someone who has convened the GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014 to solicit plays that examine gun violence in American life and received 259 plays from 32 states and 5 foreign countries between July1-Nov. 1, 2013); and as someone who is currently teaching Hate Crimes courses at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I DEEPLY RESENT THE ASSERTION THAT BLACK FOLKS DON’T CARE, AREN’T OUTRAGED AND WON’T MARCH.
Furthermore, over the past five years AND BEYOND, there has been any number of projects supported by African Americans devoted to this issue. I have been in theaters where we’ve examined these issues. I have participated in panel discussions in churches, at schools, on college and university campuses where the issue is being examined carefully. I have been on conference calls with folks from across Illinois who have been trying to organize around gun violence reduction in their communities. I have traveled to our state capitol (Springfield, Illinois) with and hundreds of citizens to lobby our elected officials on this issue. I have heard from hundreds of playwrights from around the country and internationally concerned about this matter. I have worked with youth working on gun violence reduction projects for middle and high school research projects. And I teach tens of students EVERY SEMESTER struggling to reduce violence in their spheres of influence.
Additionally, organizations like St. Sabina Catholic Church of Chicago, Diane Laticker Kids Of The Block, ETA Creative Arts Foundation of Chicago, The Victory Garden St. Steven’s Lutheran Church of Chicago, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Lutheran School of Theology based in Chicago, The African American Lutheran Association, the University of Illinois-based CURE VIOLENCE Initiative, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV), Moms Demand Action---Illinois, Trinity United Church of Christ (Chicago), Chicago’s Black Women’s Expo, Church Women United (CWU) State Convention , The UIUC Educational Justice Project, UIUC Diversity Education Program, UIUC African American Studies & Research, WBCP Radio-Champaign, IL, WGLT--- NPR affiliate in Bloomington IL, WEFT Public Radio-Champaign, IL, the League of Women Voters-Peoria, The Black Theater Association of the Association of Theater in Higher Education, The Castillo Theatre, NYC, The D.C. Black Theatre Festival are just a few of the organizations populated by African Americans that I have been fortunate that have been organizing, hosting programs or created space to support anti-gun violence initiatives
2.) This statement seems to expect Black folks to tolerate a situation that members of other communities would never accept or would not accept without complaint or protest.
As I have already stated, the level of Black–On-Black gun violence nationally IS DEPLORABLE AND NEEDED TO BE CONTIUALLY ADDRESSED AND THE COMMUNITY ABSOLUTELY DOES NEED TO BE PROTESTING GUN-TRAFFICKING AND ILLEGAL GUN USE IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY EACH AND EVERY DAY.
We absolutely cannot express all of this shock and outrage about militarized police when too many African American private citizens are dangerously militarized and wrecking havoc on their own communities.
HOWEVER, my larger point is this:
White Americans kill each other every day in America at the rates of approximately 46% of all homicides according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation 2011 Expanded Homicide Data Table 2. For more information see: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-2)
YET, I WOULD ARGUE THAT WHITE AMERICANS STILL EXPECT TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT, FAIRNESS AND DIGNITY WHEN THEY ENCOUNTER LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THEY DO NOT LIVE WITH THE EXPECTATION THAT THEY WILL BE GUNNED DOWN BY LAW ENFORCEMENT WITHOUT PROTEST.
Therefore---just as White American kill each other with guns and expect CIVIL engagement with law enforcement---AFRICAN AMERICANS (WHOSE MURDERS SADLY MAKE UP APPROXIMATELY 50% OF MURDERS NATIONALLY ACCORDING TO THE SAME DATA SET CITED ABOVE) SHOULD ALSO EXPECT TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT, FAIRNESS AND DIGNITY WHEN THEY ENCOUNTER LAW ENFORCEMENT AND SHOULD NOT LIVE WITH THE EXPECTATION THAT THEY WILL BE GUNNED DOWN BY LAW ENFORCEMENT WITHOUT PROTEST.
Thus, for those who are frustrated, embarrassed or critical of the various forms of protest related to the Ferguson uprising, consider this: instead of being critical of what “the Black community” is or isn’t doing regarding marches and outrage, I STRONGLY URGE YOU TO BECOME INVOLVED IN BOTH MOVEMENTS: the movement to reduce gun violence IN Black communities AND the movement to reduce gun violence as a result of police-citizen encounters. And I thank you in advance if your efforts are already underway. THE HARVEST IS SHO-NUFF OVERLY RIPE IN BOTH AREAS BUT THE LABORERS ARE FEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!
The final reason that reposting this meme is disturbing to me is because in the post EVERY Black person is accused of apathy and neglect for the gun violence in our own community. However, I WOULD CHALLENGE EACH AND EVERY PERSON: BEFORE YOU REPOST SUCH VIRAL MEMES, TAKE A LONG HARD LOOK WITHIN AND ASSESS WHAT YOU ARE DOING (AND ARE NOT DOING) BEFORE YOU PUBLICALLY JUDGE THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY FOR WHAT IT SHOULD BE DOING.
3.) Finally, I challenge the creator of these memes/posts to take a lesson from the ALS viral campaigns.
In closing, I’ll share with you a conversation I had with a family member asking me what I was going to do to finally commit FULLY/FULL TIME to anti- gun violence activism and advocacy.
I laughed and shared with her that I absolutely would love to do just that. However, I said:
“UNTIL PROGRESSIVES, LIBERALS OR FOLK ON ALL SIDES OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM FIGURE OUT THAT OUR LIBERATION MUST BE MONETIZED, WE WILL CONTINUE TO LANGUISH ON THIS ISSUE AND ULTIMATELY CONTINUE TO PERISH TO GUN VIOLENCE DAILY.”
"…WHAT WE FAIL TO ADMIT TO OURSELVES IS THAT WE ARE NOT WILLING TO SET ASIDE FUNDING, RESOURCES, FELLOWSHIPS, SCHOLARSHIPS, ENDOWMENTS, OFFICE SPACE, BANK ACCOUNTS, TRAVEL FUNDING, RESEARCH ASSISTANTS, PUBLIC RELATIONS FUNDING & MEDIA CAMPAIGNS, GAS ALLOWANCES, APARTMENTS IN DC, ETC., TO SUSTAIN OUR EFFORTS.
So, we limp along with weak campaigns, anaemic funding, tiny armies of advocates stretched too thin and operating with too little of every resource, and deploying outdated data/or no data or scholarship at all to support our claims.
HELL, WE DON’T EVEN HAVE AN ANNUAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE DEVOTED TO THE ISSUE OF GUN VIOLENCE IN AMERICAN LIFE.
SHAME ON USSSSSSSSSSS AND GOD FORGIVE US!!!
Over the last several weeks, I have watched this ALS campaign sweep across the country---seemingly running parallel to the Ferguson uprisings----and have seen Americans of all backgrounds and persuasions rally to raise money for ALS understanding that 70% of ALS’s OPERATING BUDGET GOES TO RESEARCH…and I could do nothing but smile weakly to keep from crying.
I have had family members suffer with ALS and I do understand the importance of the cause. However, if we are willing to give dump ice water on ourselves to help those suffering from ALS, WHEN WILL WE FIGURE OUT HOW TO QUENCH THE FLAMES OF GUN VIOLENCE BY FUNDING RESEARCHERS, ACTIVISTS, PROJECTS, INITIATIVES THAT WILL HELP US CRAFT BETTER CAMPAIGNS, BETTER ARGUMENTS, MORE COMPELLING SCHOLARSHIP, FUND PAID POSITIONS AND SUSTAINED ACTIVISM, OFFER MORE CONFERENCE, ACADEMIC COURSES, CENTERS OF NON-VIOLENCE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION???
I pray that we can move away from Black-On-Black blame toward developing AN INFRASTRUCTURE/INSTITUTIONS FOR CHANGE ...AND RAISE UP A GENERATION OF THOUGHT LEADERS WHO CAN CULTIVATED HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES TO THE ARMED CONFLICT THAT IS THE SOURCE OF SO MUCH OF OUR DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL STRIFE.
Thanks for reading this…Yours IN THE STRUGGLE,
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
UIUC Department of African American Studies & Research
1201 W. Nevada Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Nicole D. Anderson Cobb, Ph.D.
Samaritan Road Production Company
1717 W. Kirby Avenue
Champaign, Illinois 61821
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD, is currently a visiting lecturer for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of African American Studies.
She is also the author of TANGLED, an award-winning play that examines gun violence in Chicago: http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/nicole-anderson-cobb-phd/tangled-a-dramedy-about-gun-violence-in-the-age-of-obama/paperback/product-20930899.html
Finally, she is also the convening playwright of The GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014, a competition focused on plays that examine gun violence in American life. For more information: http://www.samaritanroadproductions.com/contact-nicole-anderson-cobb-phd-at-samaritan-road-productions.htm