Reflections on guns

While purposefully trying to avoid the news, it’s been hard to ignore the events of the past week in the States; the grocery store shooting in Kentucky; the mail bombs sent by a wacko self proclaimed white supremacist, the massacre in the Pittsburgh synagogue. While Charlotte mentioned that she’d heard about Pittsburgh, children here are not bombarded by negative and scary messages via social media and popular media and discussions in the classroom and online and all around them! With that level of exposure how could children not be experiencing increased levels of anxiety and stress? While South Africa absolutely has its own absolutely horrifying issues and legacies to overcome, the tenor of conversation here – at least among people we have met – isn’t underlaced with fear about mass shootings. In fact, while there is certainly high levels of crime, it is isolated and targets the individual – and our neighbors seem to feel it’s more of an inconvenience that needs to be accommodated. (Conversations about security systems and beams and locks are punctuated with sighs and words like “unfortunate” and “necessary.”)

While we don’t have nagging thoughts in the back of our mind that our school, or our community, might be the next soundbite, the latest statistics, in the never-ending battle with the NRA to get guns off the streets, the real relief is that the news coverage is not the surround sound for our children’s – and our – day. In fact, my American friend and I were just discussing this this afternoon. We were discussing our absence of fear when our children are in school –  when she received a text from a friend in the states. The friend reported that she had just received a frantic text from her high school-aged daughter stating that her high school was experiencing a bomb threat, that people were screaming and running all over, and that she was coming home. At the exact moment we were talking about terror in schools!

Chris and I have talked a lot about it and fully acknowledge that part of our relief might be that our personal media exposure is dramatically less here. We aren’t on our screens all the time, and we aren’t watching TV and hearing about Tweets and viral messages of hate. We absolutely acknowledge that we would not be saying this if we were poor, black or colored and  living in a township rife with gangs, anger, fear and violence, as many are.  The violence and fear in those communities are real, and contribute to the very real risks and adversities which impact how safe children feel.  However, the major difference even in those communities is a lack – as of now – of widespread access to guns, which can quickly shift the focus from individual to mass killing. There are xenophobic, racial, ethnic, religious, fear mongers spouting hate speech and inciting violence everywhere, but here crime, while horrific, is individual and episodic – car jackings, house robberies, kidnappings and, increasingly, muggings of hikers/bikers (a very scary and recent development that is inciting a huge positive collective reaction from the Cape Town community). If one looks at crime statistics for South Africa one would be horrified, but incidence is still at the individual level. We just don’t experience mass shootings.  The other difference – and I don’t think I’m articulating it well – is that the inequality is so obvious – the poverty, the weak economy, the huge racial and economic inequality and prejudice – that there is widespread consensus and both a moral and an economic imperative for things to change for South Africa to survive and thrive going forward. (Although unfortunately, friends have told us that for one group – a not insignificant percentage of older white Afrikaans men, the solution is to go back to the apartheid realm). But for everyone that we’ve met and befriended, and for the youth that Chris is teaching, the future of the country – there is broad-based agreement.  Despite the public’s demand and the cross-the-aisle rhetoric coming from Washington DC, that broad agreement seems elusive in the States, and the mass shootings have continued year in and year out, hurting both the people directly related AND our children.

Apologies for such a bummer of a post and I hope I haven’t offended anyone.  No country manages hatred well, and SA is certainly no exception.  We are thinking of and praying for all of the families impacted by last week’s events, and by every shooting that has occurred over the past several years. . We are also thinking of how all of this is impacting our children, the future of our country and this planet. We welcome your thoughts, and will get back to more fun stuff next post.

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