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Author Carol Anderson on How Anti-Blackness Drives U.S. Gun Culture & Right-Wing Assault on Democracy

Written by on 14/04/2023


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the debate over gun control, Republican attacks on democracy across the country and much more, we’re joined by Carol Anderson, professor at Emory University, author of The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. The paperback edition has just been published. She’s also the author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy and the book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. Her new documentary, named after a Langston Hughes poem, is titled I, Too.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor Anderson. It’s great to have you with us. So, you have both Justins, the youngest Black lawmakers in the Tennessee House of Representatives, being reinstated to the Tennessee Legislature, after leading, with Gloria Johnson, a protest against guns on the floor of the House after the Nashville school massacre. Talk about the significance of what’s taken place over the last week with the overwhelmingly white Legislature expelling these two legislators.

CAROL ANDERSON: You are seeing a convergence of so many of the multiple streams in American society right there. So, on one hand, what you’re seeing is the power of gerrymandering to create a legislature that is not representative of the people, that is not one person/one vote, but instead is that extreme partisan gerrymandering, so that you have the needs of the people not being able to be addressed by that legislature. What you’re also seeing is the power of the youth, who are pushing forward for a different vision of America. It is a vision that is multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural, multireligious.

And that vision scares those who are in those gerrymandered districts, scares the bejeebers — and that’s the scholarly term — out of them, because it is a way of being, a way of thinking, a way of recognizing people’s humanity, a way of knowing that there are resources, incredible resources, in this nation that should be available to all. But instead, you’ve got this hoarding happening, a hoarding of power, a hoarding of a way of wanting to be able to control.

And in that control, this is why we’re also seeing this valorization of the Second Amendment. And as I laid out in the book, the Second Amendment emerged really fully out of a concern about Black people, out of a fear of Black people. And so, this is what the role of the militia was. And so, yes, we hear the thing about domestic tyranny. They really weren’t good at that. We heard this thing about being able to — the militia being able to fend off a foreign invasion. They really weren’t good at that. But what they were good at was putting down slave revolts. And so, when you’re having the debates about the Second Amendment, you’re having the battles over the ratification of the Constitution, the Second Amendment was the bribe to the South to not scuttle the Constitution of the United States, in order to have control of that militia to keep the enslaved in check.

And so, this stream that comes through is — what we’re consistently seeing is — and I think about Charlie Kirk, who said last week that, you know, unfortunately, there are going to be gun deaths, but that’s the price you have to pay in order to have the Second Amendment. And so, what it’s saying is, because of the inherent, fundamental fear of Black people in this nation, we are willing to be unsafe in our schools, in our churches, in our grocery stores, in our amusement parks, on our streets, in our parking lots. We are willing to be unsafe in order to be able to have the access to weaponry, where we can’t even think through it in terms of what is logical.

What is logical is that weapons of war do not belong in the hands of civilians. What is logical is that you have background checks. What is logical is that you have red flag laws. But all of those, because of the gerrymandering that has happened politically and the barriers that have been put up for access to the ballot box, you’ve got a political system that is not responsive to the needs of the people. And that is what you saw in Tennessee.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Anderson, I wanted to go to who Justin Jones is, one of the two Black legislators who were expelled, was reinstated on Monday, but there still has to be a special election, with untold amount of money having to be spent because of the overwhelmingly white Legislature expelling them. But Justin Jones, before he was elected in November, was a well-known activist. And one of the things that he did in the last years — one of his targets was the bust of the Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He wanted it removed from the state Capitol. Now, this is very interesting, going to who Nathan Bedford was, the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, sold slaves in Memphis, was in command at the Fort Pillow massacre. Cameron Sexton, the speaker of the House in Tennessee, voted against the removal. And, of course, each time Justin Jones speaks, he is now calling for him to resign. Talk about the significance of this push — ultimately, of course, they did succeed — and guns.

CAROL ANDERSON: And so, part of what you’re also seeing here is the kind of, again, valorization of those who were steeped in anti-Blackness, those who — and to put that in a public space, saying this is — these are our value systems right here, that speaks volume. It speaks volumes about how intricately woven the anti-Blackness is in the operating code and how you have this — this has been a consistent push to open up this nation. So, you know, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” The push that you’re seeing, what we heard from Justin Jones, what we heard from Justin Pearson, was to make those truths self-evident. And that is to break apart this notion that you’ve got — that you embrace the Confederacy, you embrace the treason of attacking the United States of America, you embrace slaveholding.

And so, I think about Tate Reeves, the governor of Mississippi, bringing this out as Confederate History Month in Mississippi, the same Mississippi that is removing the control of the police and of the judicial system from Jackson. Again, it’s part and parcel of the same pattern, part and parcel of the same drive to put Black folks back in their place. I mean, that’s what Nathan Bedford Forrest was about. Black folks thought they could be free. Black folks can’t be free. Black folks thought that they were equal. Black folks can’t be equal.

And so, when you think about that as the signal, as the public-facing signal, what it says to the rest of the community is a kind of violence, a violence on your own humanity. And this other vision that the Justins are talking about is a vision that recognizes and embraces our humanity and that finds a way for us to be able to live into that full humanity, not to have this exclusion, this control, because part of what you’re seeing in these legislatures is a drive for control to put all the things back in their place. So, Black folks need to go back in their place. Women need to go back in their place. Immigrants need to go back in their place. The LGBTQ community needs to go back in their place. That drive to put things back in their place, the push, the counterweight, has been no. No. And you heard it when they said, “No. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.”

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Anderson, I want to ask about your new documentary, I, Too. I want to play first a clip of the trailer.

CAROL ANDERSON: Were you taught the Hamburg massacre in school?

UNIDENTIFIED: No. You looked across the river, all you could see is a jungle.

UNIDENTIFIED: As African Americans, you’ve got to go find it yourself. You’ve got to go research it, because you’re going to miss it because they’re not telling you.

UNIDENTIFIED: That’s the original cross, with the bullet holes.

CAROL ANDERSON: So, you have this church that is providing sanctuary and protection to those who are being chased out of their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED: Right.

CAROL ANDERSON: Now, that is biblical.

UNIDENTIFIED: When it happened, he hid underneath a streetcar. And so, he could look underneath the car and see people hitting the street.

UNIDENTIFIED: Here, they’re sitting in this circle, and they would grab someone, and they’d take them over a hill, and you would hear a gunshot.

UNIDENTIFIED: We have no idea how many Black people were murdered. Some of these records were intentionally not kept, and some things have, oddly enough, gone missing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is a clip of the trailer for the new film about you, I, Too. You’re talking there about the Hamburg massacre. I’m wondering if you can elaborate on that and also the attack on African American history — on American history — across this country, where you have Missouri, the House, voting to defund the libraries, because if they can’t have their books banned, they don’t want the libraries open, as in Llano, Texas, they’re saying if a judge forces them to put them back, just close the libraries. You recently wrote a piece in The Washington Post titled “Florida’s past paints Ron DeSantis’ war on ‘wokeism’ in a dark light.” Put it all together for us, Professor Anderson.

CAROL ANDERSON: So, as part of this pattern that we’re talking about, there’s also the attack on history, the attack on knowledge, because a people who knows their history, oh, then they’re thinking in very new, vibrant ways. When you know where you come from, when you know the violence that has been rained down on communities, it begins to shatter those very traditional political narratives.

So, one of the things we did in that film was to link the January 6th insurrection with the coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, where you had a multiracial government in the late 1890s that was overthrown by white supremacists, where you had Black folks slaughtered, where you had the newspaper for the — the Black newspaper burned down and trashed, where in Hamburg you had the Black militia marching on January 4th down Market Street, and you had two white men come up behind them, just angry that Black men were in uniform, and demanded that they disband, and then demanded they had over their guns to them. This is a state militia. And when the Black soldiers said no, they were massacred. Massacred.

But when we don’t know these histories, then we’re able to talk about, we’re able to see “American” as white and male, as “patriotism” as white and male, as the folks who are fighting for this country as white and male. But what we’re really seeing is that you have had Black folks believing in America even when America didn’t believe in them. You had Black folks fighting for America when America wouldn’t fight for them. And you had Black folks just pushing this nation to be stronger, to be better, to live up to its ideals. And that is what you saw in Tennessee in the Legislature when the Justins stood up and spoke the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: And Ron DeSantis, if you can talk about the significance? He’s not only, of course, governor of Florida, but is probably running for president.

CAROL ANDERSON: And he’s running on that platform of, basically, anti-Blackness, anti-LGBTQ and anti-woman. So, you’ve got him pushing for the six-week abortion ban. I believe he signed off on that. You had the scuttling of the African American studies AP course because it lacked educational value. And you had the attack on Disney, because Disney said, you know, LGBTQ folk are folk, and that is a radical idea. And so, you see him attacking, attacking, attacking, because the marginalized, apparently, in his worldview, don’t have the power to fight back. And that platform is so racist, homophobic and disgusting.

And it is part of that narrative of trying to bring back control. I think about the old Archie Bunker song, “The days when men were men, and girls were girls, and you knew who you were then. Wouldn’t we like to go back to those great old days again?” It’s harkening back to a past that wasn’t so great, because it was violently exclusionary, because it undermined democracy. And so, what we’re seeing is a full-blown assault on democracy. We’re also seeing that full-blown assault on democracy by going after the rule of law, threatening judges, threatening prosecutors who are trying to bring justice to those who have allegedly broken the law.

So, all of these are factoring in — the assault on education, the assault on knowledge, the assault on access to reproductive care, the assault on the right to vote by raising these barriers, and then opening up full-blown access to guns, to the violence that those guns bring, and to craft it in that language of crime, crime, crime, which has that subtone of Blackness, Blackness, Blackness. It’s a formula. It’s a recipe. And it’s an authoritarian recipe. It is an anti-democratic recipe.

And it is a recipe that you have young folk pushing back, fighting back. And one of the things that is consistent in American history is that that right-wing authoritarianism is always met with a larger, better vision of what America could be. And that is what we’re seeing right now, a battle for that vision. There’s the Ron DeSantis vision, and then there’s the Justin Pearson and Justin Jones vision.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, going back to Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, I couldn’t help, continually this past week, but think of the title of your book, One Person, No Vote, the issue of gerrymandering all over this country, these hyper-supermajorities in states, where actually the state itself is evenly divided, but because of gerrymandering and what you have in Tennessee, these men, it was not only they who were expelled, it was all the people who voted for them. This wasn’t like getting fired from your employment in a store. They were elected.

CAROL ANDERSON: Right. And oddly enough, or ironically enough, Tennessee was the site of that massive Supreme Court decision that laid out “one person, one vote,” because of the ways that white rural conservative counties had disproportionate power in the state Legislature vis-à-vis Nashville and Memphis. And because of a series of Supreme Court decisions, subsequent Supreme Court decisions, particularly Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, these states have been able to hyper-partisan gerrymander again, and this is the result.

So, when you have something like 70% or so of Americans wanting to have sensible gun safety legislation, but you have a legislature that is built on extreme partisan gerrymandering, where they appear to be immune from the will of the people, you’re not getting that kind of legislative response. And that is why the bullhorn came up, because you had young folk saying to their representatives, “We need gun safety legislation. We do not need to be in a space, in our workplace, where we are being gunned down.” And the response from that Legislature was they were concerned about their decorum being disrupted because people were responding to the needs of those people, to the needs of those young folk who were out in the halls.

So, extreme partisan gerrymandering is — it is so anti-democratic, so anti-one person/one vote. And the result is, is that you’ve got a society that believes in reproductive rights, a society that believes in the right to vote, a society that believes in gun safety legislation, and you have legislators who aren’t responsive to the wants and the needs and the desires of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Carol Anderson, I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll continue this discussion. Carol Anderson is a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, author of The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America — the paperback edition has just been published — also author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy and the book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.

Coming up, President Biden signed legislation ending the coronavirus national emergency, but millions with long COVID say the pandemic is not over. We’ll speak with a journalist living with long COVID. Stay with us.



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