Getting to the Roots of Mass Violence

The staff and leaders of Hometown Action want to express deep care for and solidarity with people directly and indirectly impacted by the violence of this past weekend. We are particularly holding space for Latinx neighbors, immigrants, children and grandchildren of immigrants, victims of gun violence, and everyone who continues to be afraid. We want and need to believe in creating an Alabama, South, and country where all of you, all of us, can be safe and build good lives. We know we have a very long way to go.

White supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny--these are primary root causes of a weekend that left at least 31 dead and many more injured. While we believe there is a place for debate on gun policy, we also recognize the impact of policy has its limits, especially when it comes to violence. In many cases policy has been used to create more violence through increased policing and other punitive measures disproportionately affecting people of color.

So often we see legislation as the end goal--the one true means to achieve our vision of a better world. Policy can be a supportive and life-saving solution for meeting human needs and desires. Many of us find comfort in problem-solving, which can lead us to seek and center policy solutions around gun control and public safety. The painful truth is that all of these measures--while they are still worthy of our time and energy--cannot alone end violence. If we’re not careful, these measures can be used to reinforce racist criminal justice practices. 

We cannot legislate away a history of colonialism, racism, and gender oppression deeply interwoven into the fabric of our nation and its institutions. We cannot legislate away the impact of anti-immigrant sentiment. We cannot legislate away racial division that has so long been stoked by people in power. 

We have to strike at the root. And white supremacy is at the root.

Oppression starts with culture and is reinforced by policies and institutions. It is harmful messages about race and gender instilled in our social norms, media, the toxic leadership of Trump and others, and community interactions that create a web of underlying conditions for violence like we saw last weekend. These conditions are not new but deeply rooted in our history of colonialism.

We believe white supremacy is one of the biggest threats to building a better world--a world where everyone can thrive as their full selves in the community of their choice and in equal cooperation and collective accountability with others. We recognize the South must lead on this issue because of our legacy of race-based violence and because our region is home to the vast majority of our country’s most marginalized people. Southern states are already home to nearly half of this country’s Black population and among those with the fastest growing Latinx population. One third of our nation’s LGBTQ people live in the South. 

Another often overlooked element of white supremacy is its direct ties to misogyny, a belief system all too common among perpetrators of mass violence--men who often have a history of domestic violence or activity in sexist “men’s rights” groups that believe they are entitled to sexually harass, abuse, and even rape to get their way. There is an epidemic of violence against women and LGBTQ people--especially trans people of color--that is rarely spoken about in gun violence discourse, and it permeates even the most progressive spaces.  

And unfortunately, mental illness is often cited by leaders only as means for redirecting conversations on white supremacy and misogyny. Not only does this focus absolve largely white male perpetrators of their harm, but it is also offensive to people struggling to get the support they need for mental health challenges--especially when this rhetoric is used by those same politicians who consistently resist or outright demonize structural change that would open up quality mental health and preventative care for all people. 

To disempower white supremacy, we have to build a culture of unlearning the ways we internalize and perpetuate oppression. White people specifically must make a practice of assessing where and how we do harm. We must do the work of repair, however challenging. We must seek to heal the ways we have internalized toxic whiteness. We must disrupt the multiple and often covert ways that toxic whiteness shows up in our work, our community spaces, and our personal and public relationships. 

Hometown Action staff and leaders are taking part in this work through healing justice gatherings in our hometowns. We invite you to join us by contacting KC Vick at [email protected].

-- Hometown Action