This is America: A Racist Fetish with Guns
Saurish Srivastava / January 08, 2022
5 minutes / –––
Trigger warning: This story includes references to potentially explicit/graphic racism and racist slurs.
The not-so-recent trial of Kyle Rittenhouse and the recent trial of the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery highlight America's profound obsession, almost a necessary fetish, with guns.
On August 25, 2020, the then 17-year-old boy Rittenhouse (now 18) shot three men, killing two in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the protests trailing the shooting of Jacob Blake. In November, he was acquitted of all five accused charges: first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, and two first-degree recklessly endangering safety charges. He walked out of the protests, gun in hand, walking alongside an officer.
On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was on his daily run near his hometown when three white men – Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. — became vigilantes and tracked Arbery. They were watching him for suspicious activity that could be linked to the "numerous" robberies (although only one had been reported) in their neighborhood. But, this was not just any surveillance; this was a tactical mission, and they were armed. They cornered him and shot him dead, all while Travis McMichael allegedly shouted: "f*****g [n-word]."
Two very different fates. One began his night as a vigilante seen in a "militia," came out a killer. Another began his morning as a runner and didn't make it out. One roams the streets a free man. The other cannot roam the streets – he was robbed of his freedom, life, and Humanity. This is America.
America is the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave." Since the revolutionary war, America has been a profoundly hypocritical country – one built on stolen land from the Indigenous populations and built on the backs of slaves – that has heavily valued the fundamental right to bear arms: the 2nd Amendment. It was this praxis that helped Americans rebel against the tyrannical British, a praxis that converted the oppressed into the oppressors. No longer were white Americans forced to pay "brutal" taxes on tea. The white Americans were now importing Africans through the Middle Passage and forcing them to expand "new" and "free" country into the lands of Indigenous tribes. The living conditions for slaves were "savage" and "unsparing," yet there was no escape. Law and order was instilled vis-à-vis the 2nd Amendment, for every slavemaster had weapons at their plantation. This is the contradiction that underlies America's soul (and soil). This is America.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The irony, then, is how the 2nd Amendment became a tool for whiteness to expand its agenda yet concurrently suppress Blackness. Like the one that Kyle Rittenhouse seemed to be a part of, a well-regulated militia was legally permitted by the government; yet, it was not allowed for Black slaves trying to communalize and revolt against the unfree institution. The entire 2nd Amendment collapses when it approaches Blackness. Ahmad Arbery demonstrates that infringement on Blackness is an immediate and current praxis, not one of the past. Just through two cases in the past three months, the ethicality of the entire 2nd Amendment can be questioned. This is America.
Historian Carol Anderson presents a deep analysis of the 2nd Amendment in her book The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, published in June of 2021. In chapter three, she explores America's right to "kill N*****." Much like the right to bear arms, this right has been instrumental to the construction and up-keeping of America. This is especially notable after the passing of the 13th and 14th amendments. The addition of these rights to the Constitution did not just "switch off" the racist mindset of America as a country — America is not a lightbulb. These racial aggressions and microaggressions persisted, leading to the creation of segregated complexes, ghettos, Jim Crows, and although these institutions no longer exist in the 21st century, these ideals are far from gone. Thus, the same logic used in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to ruthlessly murder Black individuals continues today.
Further, the Kyle Rittenhouse case demonstrates that it isn't just problematic ("problematic" is definitely an understatement) to be Black in America. Defending Blackness is also troublesome to the underlying dynamics of America. This vigilante group that Rittenhouse was "apparently" a part of was terrorizing and harassing the protesters in Kenosha. The shot protestors, two of whom passed, were fighting for Black Power and Black Rights all across the United States of America. They were harming that right to a less-violent militia that's "promised" by the 2nd Amendment. They were disrupting a right to institutionalize an actual free State. As such, their group was analogous to the KKK, who often terrorized Black citizens when they tried to vote and were constantly engaging in civil disobedience – they treated Blackness as a nuisance. This is Amerikkka.
America is in a discontinuous harmony – an oxymoronic state of chaos. A State that both torments and weaponizes Blackness. A State that utilizes the 2nd Amendment to mask its roots of anti-Blackness. A State that has manufactured the conditions that allow Kyle Rittenhouse to travel and talk at newsrooms, and a State that forges the anti-Blackness that killed Ahmaud Arbery.
This is Amerikkka.
Anderson, Carol. Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Bloomsbury, 2022.
Cantú, Aaron Miguel. “Kyle Rittenhouse, Black Lives Matter, and the Idea of Self-Defense.” The New Republic, 20 Nov. 2021, www.newrepublic.com/article/164498/kyle-rittenhouse-self-defense-black-lives-matter.
Fausset, Richard. “What We Know about the Shooting Death of Ahmaud Arbery.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/article/ahmaud-arbery-shooting-georgia.html.
McDuffie, Candace. “What the Rittenhouse Verdict Really Shows Us.” Glamour, Glamour, 22 Nov. 2021, www.glamour.com/story/what-the-kyle-rittenhouse-verdict-really-shows-us.
NBC Chicago, Associated Press. “Kyle Rittenhouse Reveals How Gun Was Paid for in First Interview since Arrest.” NBC Chicago, NBC Chicago, 19 Nov. 2020, www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/kyle-rittenhouse-reveals-how-gun-was-paid-for-in-first-interview-since-arrest/2366751/.
NBC Chicago, Associated Press. “Shootings, Arrest, Trial and More: The Kyle Rittenhouse Story Explained.” NBC Chicago, NBC Chicago, 15 Nov. 2021, www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/shootings-arrest-trial-and-more-the-kyle-rittenhouse-story-explained/2684756/.
Pliakas, Toella. “How Vigilantism Furthers Racist Policing.” Teen Vogue, 24 Nov. 2021, www.teenvogue.com/story/kyle-rittenhouse-ahmaud-arbery-vigilantes.