Guns vs. Socio-Economic Disparity with Respect to Violence

After the latest tragedy to befall our United States of America, there’ve been a lot of comments about guns from both sides of that debate. The gun discussion is an important one for our country to have, but guns are often not what’s at the heart of these terrible events.

I think that the violence that disproportionately affects the black community (both from within and without) is generated predominantly by the absolutely gaping socio-economic advantage gulf that’s the end result of a system of oppression that more or less began with roughly 250 years of chattel slavery and continued through the Jim Crow era.

You can think about wealth as a proxy measure for socio-economic status. As case studies, let’s follow a British immigrant and an African slave (both arriving in Virginia in 1620). We’ll imagine an unbroken line of descendants from each.

The British immigrant and his descendants have had the ability to accumulate wealth completely unfettered from, let’s say, 1630; this takes into account a 10-year period of indentured servitude (which is a good deal longer than the typical one of 4 to 7 years). In contrast, the African slave and his descendants acquire no wealth at all from the period from 1620 to 1865, when the end of the American Civil War marked the legal end of chattel slavery in the US.

Even after the end of slavery in the US, the descendants of the African slave could not accumulate wealth at the rate that the British immigrant’s descendants did. This was formally codified in things like Jim Crow laws. There are also extralegal examples of this disparity in things like burning crosses and lynchings.

Let’s … frankly pretend … for a moment that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 completely leveled the playing field. From that point on, the descendants of the African slave can accumulate wealth at the same rate as the descendants of the British immigrant. Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not things like Affirmative Action policies, as implemented, were the correct way to address the gap between people that were descendants of slaves and people that were not. Regardless, several decades of those policies are completely insufficient to erase (or even reduce, to any significant degree) OVER THREE CENTURIES of varying degrees of legalized socio-economic disadvantage. We’re talking about something like 10 generations of people that did not know equality under the law.

Now back to the recurring violence. From within the black community, you have some people that look at the rest of society and see what’s effectively an insurmountable gap in socio-economic status. It’s completely reasonable that this would raise your ire whether you’re consciously or subconsciously aware of this disparity. Lack of hope and desperation are powerful and dangerous motivators, even if the drive is just to provide a life for yourself and/or your family. On top of that, you have the knowledge that the law was actively working against people like you for more than 200 years, after which it effectively looked the other way when something bad happened for roughly another 100. This situation is a powder keg.

You can say that the world’s not fair (and it’s not). People are born with different aptitudes — some people are more artistic, some more scientific, some more athletic — that may afford differing levels of compensation. But with regard to this socio-economic disadvantage, we’re not talking about natural aptitudes. We’re talking about systems of disadvantage that human beings put in place that we have the power to change. Yes, the world’s not fair, but we could do a heck of a lot more to MAKE IT MORE FAIR.

Despite all of this history, you have black people making gains: going to good schools, having successful careers, owning property, etc. From without the black community, you have some people that see this disruption of a multiple-century status quo as threatening their own socio-economic prosperity as if economic gain is a zero-sum game. People like Dylann Roof, who see the slow, gradual assimilation of some black people into the middle and upper classes under the legacy of centuries of oppression as evidence of them “taking over the country” as opposed to striving toward some semblance of socio-economic parity. People like Dylann Roof, who are ignorant of economic statistics showing that people of color have less wealth and suffer more (from, for example, things like un- or under-treated illnesses).

It’s simply a fact that countries with reduced socio-economic disparity experience less violence — regardless of the racial/ethnic composition of their societies. But the road to reduced socio-economic disparity on the basis of race/ethnicity has been, thus far in this country, paved with violence. I’d say the country was paying its penance or experiencing karmic reversal for centuries of oppression — both legal and extralegal — but it’s clearly not if the people suffering are by and large the same that have been suffering for the past 300+ years.

It should be a moral and ethical imperative to stop the bleeding (both literal and figurative) of the black community in this country. Reduced socio-economic disparity — especially because of something so inconsequential as race or ethnicity — is something to strive for. It’d be great if it could occur without any further loss of life, but there is seemingly no clear path forward being presented by this country’s leadership (either political or economic).