The white stamp of approval

No matter how you look at it, it’s a race issue. 

In the wake of the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, U.S. high-school students have mobilized in support of stronger gun-control legislation. Despite protesting for an honorable cause, these students have been met with threats of suspension and other disciplinary actions that will show up on their high school records. So, Duke and other universities issued statements of support for these students claiming they would not penalize applicants involved in these peaceful protests. These #NeverAgain protests have also sparked positive political debates and nationwide media attention. Celebrities Oprah and George Clooney have donated a total of $1 million to the “March For Our Lives.” And on Saturday, over a million people poured into the streets of Washington and other U.S. cities to protest against gun violence. 

Yes, these recent responses are more than necessary as these students fight for a crucial cause. But this issue of gun violence in schools is not a new thing. Predominantly Black and Brown communities and schools have suffered from and protested against gun violence for years. Yet it is only now when gun violence targets a white and affluent area that people start to listen, states pass gun control bills, and Americans start saying, ‘Oh, this really is a problem.’ And that’s bullsh--. 

Don’t get me wrong. I fully stand with these Parkland protesters and all U.S. students involved in these peaceful protests. 

We need to support these students who are forcing acknowledgment of America’s gun problem. But we can’t ignore the deeply-ingrained power of race, class, and socioeconomic status in predicting the visibility of these movements. We can’t disregard the fact that people only begin to care when white bodies are targeted. 

When gun violence targets predominantly minority schools and communities, which happens daily, media attention is usually minimal or nonexistent. The shocking disparity in media coverage of these shootings in communities of color is apparent. One study examined 42 school shootings from 1995-2014. Of these 42, 24 school shootings—a majority of which occured in urban areas—never received national news coverage. 22 of the 24 that did not receive national coverage were either known to involve African-American or Hispanic/Latino youths, or occured in schools whose students were overwhelmingly members of those communities.

I’m sure that the majority of people couldn't name one school shooting that occured in a predominantly minority community. 

If I were to mention the school shootings in Liberty Technology Magnet High School (2013) or Delaware Valley Charter High School (2014), would you know that these harrowing school shootings happened and that they affected predominantly black students? Probably not. 

Would you know how heavily policed predominantly minority schools that officers regularly arrest and transport students to juvenile detentions for minor classroom misbehaviors? Yeah, probably not.

But this is not your fault; it’s all of ours.

We live in a community that graciously gives national platforms to white voices impacted by parallel plights that often target minorities. We live in a country that egregiously values white bodies over all. 

If I were to ask you to list school shootings, you’d probably name Columbine, Sandy Hook, and now, Stoneman Douglas. How is it that the only school shootings that we can easily call to mind are those that happened in predominantly white and wealthy neighborhoods? How is it that when the U.S. media actually does cover shootings in predominantly minority schools, it is said to be related to “gang-violence,” while white neighborhoods’ shootings are related to bullying and mental illness?

As a country, we have shown through our media attention, actions, and prejudice exactly who we value. While communities and schools of color have been penetrated by gun violence for years and are still fighting for crumbs, white and “telegenic” Parkland students have been invited to a town hall with U.S. senators and an N.R.A. spokesperson, have raised more than $5 million in donations, and have been hailed as heroes on the cover of Time Magazine

I will reiterate, I support the Parkland student-leaders. But I want Americans to say the same for all youth activists, not just the ones that happen to be fair-skinned. 

We should not neglect, as many in this country have, the inescapably sharp contrast in reactions to black students who either were ignored or faced backlash as they protested against the gun violence that killed their classmates and friends. When students of Ferguson and Baltimore staged school walkouts to protest gun violence, universities never said to them that they would not be punished and that their admissions will not be hurt. When the black youth of the Black Lives Matter movement fought against the police killings that disproportionately target black people, they were called terrorists and troublemakers. Again, that’s bullsh--.

And if you think I’m that “angry minority” always mad about something, I’m not the only one sick of how this country hasn’t highlighted minority students’ voices. In fact, Parkland students themselves invoked their privilege over the weekend to publicly articulate the ubiquitous contrast in treatment for white and minority students. 

Jacklyn Corin, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, said, “We recognize that Parkland received more attention because of its affluence [and whiteness]. But we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun." If these students can acknowledge the chains of injustice forced upon black, brown, and beige people, why can’t the rest of us? 

Why is it that no one listens to B.L.M.’s students of color who are yelling at the top of their lungs until their voices grow raw and hoarse, but when white kids do the same thing, people suddenly care? 

We as a nation should not act only upon issues that have received the white stamp of approval—issues that affect predominantly white people. The solution lies within refusing to stop the fight due to anguish and frustration. We, as minorities, must continue to crusade against these whips of indifference inflicted upon our black, brown, and beige bodies. And those who revel in white privilege must utilize it to speak for and protect those who have had their voices stolen. Your white privilege shouldn’t be seen as a curse word or a taboo subject. It’s a tool that can be and should be mobilized for good. 

Maybe then will the media, America, and the entire world listen and act upon problems that do not only affect white faces. Maybe then.

Maryam Asenuga is a Trinity sophomore.


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