Guns too often become tools of intra-communal violence at the hands of cis het Black men
We have a duty to all Black lives, and Americanism is a religion of murder where one of its artifacts is a firearm pointed towards us all.
Trigger warning: domestic violence, gun violence, mention of suicide
by Donnie Moreland
On April 3rd, 1964 and at the Cory Methodist Church, Malcolm X would give one of his most quotable speeches. The speech was titled, The Ballot or the The Bullet. He began with these words, “The question tonight, as I understand it, is ‘The Negro Revolt, and Where Do We Go From Here?’ or ‘What Next?’ In my little humble way of understanding it, it points toward either the ballot or the bullet.”
In the Black political imagination, and especially of cis het brothers, the gun, as we’ve discussed, is a unique political tool. It activates modes of mobilization, in ways very few symbols of revolution can, as brothers from X to Killer Mike have proven, time immemorial. But a bullet is a personal matter, for many of us, less a tool for sociological pedantics.
I’m not going to waste time discussing something as reductive, and offensive, as “Black on Black crime” but many of us know a bullet to come from a gun we’ve manned and is evidential to the point that aforementioned modes of self-defense ought to be inwardly directed, as much as they are front-facing postures of revolutionary performances. And when political definitions are forged by even softly patriarchal dogma (as popular Black political traditions often have been), other exercises of misogyny are vulnerable to mercy, i.e. erasure. The erasure of harm and the erasure of persons harmed, whose testimonies rescript how we should read traditionalist modes of resistance.
When recording artist, Megan Thee Stallion, was shot by fellow recording artist Tory Lanez on the night of July 12th, 2020, the dimensions of what a gun means, through our contrasting arenas of being and Blackness, shown bright. Meg was mocked by those who saw her pained response and proximity to hip-hop as a contradiction given some unspoken bonding of performed masculine authenticity and gun violence. This revealed the desensitization of Black men, especially cis het brothers, to injuries via firearm. And this makes sense.
From N.W.A to URL (Ultimate Rap League) Battle Rap, the gun operates—as we’ve seen elsewhere—as a symbol, or arm, of Black masculine domination of the other, particularly other Black men. So it’s less a matter of harm (given a condition of disunion with performing violence on cis het male bodies as actually performing harm) than it is a continuum of macho competitive strategies, just with more blood (if not a projection of interior distress, which equally subverts the association of gun use and the potentiality of abuse as something softly therapeutic).
Thus, being championed in hip-hop is often akin to crafting the most viscerally auditory snuff film, as much as it is to do with instrumental sequencing and Black art poetics. But Meg’s proximity to such ego sport, and as a participant, doesn’t complicate the matter. Instead, it hides what really occurred behind some notion of backwards pseudo-feminist politicking that, “If you’re going to play with the boys, prepared to be treated like one.” On display, behind the theatrics of covert gaslighting, was the gun in the tradition of misogynoir and domestic violence.
When it was discovered that Meg might have been romantically involved with Tory—who apparently “apologized” by saying that he was simply “too drunk” when the shooting occured—the image of him shooting her is in lineage of Brownfield killing Mem (sometimes printed as “Meme”) in Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copelan.
Brownfield kills his wife with a shotgun in response to his imagined emasculation by her asserting her right to not be abused by him. Walker states that the debut novel “is based on a real case” from her hometown where, (in relation to systemic oppression) “in their frustration and rage they of course kill each other.” Walker further reveals that Mem is taken from the French, la mémé—meaning the same—and her death is symbolic of interpersonal modes of paternal violence against women, and children, across diasporic cultures.
On August 20, Megan Thee Stallion presented an exhaustive account of the night of her assault via Instagram Live. She offered testimony which revealed two disturbing things: 1) the bullet wound, as the physical remains of her abuse, and 2) the fact that she shielded her abuser from the same tactics of violence used against her body, by standing in between Tory Lanez and the police unit responding to the scene.
The wound requires an observation all its own, to properly honor the history of such symbology—Black women having to unveil their flesh to engage belief in their reports of violence, which even while on literal display, such regard is never guaranteed. But it is the fact of her giving over her body, already having been abused, in order to protect her abuser which submits another argument about the dispensability of bodies in testimony of cis het male oriented abuse, which is only assisted with pervasive gun cultures. What’s more haunting is Meg’s testimony in a legacy of Black women as an object of sacrifice.
Meg’s statement that “He shot me and I still tried to protect him because the police be killing us” is what Angela Beatty refers to as obligation-as-violence, in her interview with theGrio concerning the complexities of Black women reporting partner violence. According to Beatty, “There is this sense that we have to be conscious of not making things look worse, or not feeding into negative stereotypes where African-American men are viewed as hyper-sexualized, violent and aggressive… If I admit that these things have happened in my home, or that my boyfriend, husband, child’s father or whomever, assaulted me, then [there’s a sense that] I’m feeding into that [violent and aggressive] stereotype… which is not [representative of the character of] most Black men in general.”
Beatty, who is the senior director of Domestic Violence Victim Services at the YWCA in Oklahoma City, contextualizes Meg’s sacrificial ethos as one which is historic and which partners—often cisgender brothers—manipulate to introduce more insidious measures of abuse, secure in the probability of evading repercussive consequence.
It’s a type of deranged weaponizing of historical violence (previously mentioned justifiers for gun ownership modalities) as a tool in interpersonal abuse that can be fatal (this amplified proximal to firearm use), because of a void of interventionist measures in the support of Black domestic violence victims/survivors. With that knowledge, one might propose an inquiry of strategies subverting state violence and if they include preventionist methods, in community, or if the testimony of those harmed via firearm is merely an inconvenience to the posturing of those firearms as political artifacts.
So if the aim is undoing harm, then while assessing the full cost of gun ownership in community, especially of us—cis het brothers—we ought to draw an impartial estimation of the harm and fearmongering actualized where a bullet operated in one of many traditions of patriarchal brutalities which erodes any proposition of firearms as solely apparatuses of survival.
According to the YWCA, the modalities of gun ownership—especially of cisgender Black men—often increases the likelihood of harm against Black women, especially Black trans women, in and out of the home. “Gun violence is particularly dangerous for women of color, who are nearly three times as likely to be murdered with a gun than white women. Black women are shot and killed by a husband or intimate partner three times more often than by male strangers, and most often during the course of an argument. Transgender women of color face an even higher increased risk of gun violence: transgender women are four times more likely to experience gun violence than cisgender women, and nearly 85 percent of transgender victims are women of color.”
These statistics do not include the dimensions by which young Black male identifying persons complete firearm-related suicide, at a rate twice as high as their white counterparts, according to the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry or the implications of gun violence on Black children who experience domestic violence attributed to the presence of a firearm or the usage of one. And that is suggesting nothing of the trauma associated with firearms as a symbol of domestic violence, or the injury of bearing witness and loss, by the meaning applied to their use and the retraumatization of living where the image of a gun is an inescapable trigger.
Some meet these statistics by politicizing responsible gun owners/ship, especially of non cis male identities, and there is legitimacy in pragmatic resolution, specifically concerning the usage of technologies and knowledge of their proper functions/ dangers. But this suggests little of cost. What do you do about what has been done and the causes by which these events occurred.
Addressing the tool, or how the tool is used by some, in reaction to any interior loss feels like a consolation to actual repair or, worse, a type of gaslighting where if only X were trained, then Y would not have occurred. This is not an answer to matters of condition which allows violence to manifest. If anything, it’s passively negligible, to the point of eroding gender/age/disability oriented abuses.
This, again, is not some contribution to an argument of “Black on Black crime”, but an inquiry into how we negotiate resistance modalities congruent to the afterlife of slavery—as I address in the essay “Black gun ownership as resistance against white terrorism“—as well as the presence of cultural trauma as evidenced by inter/intra-communal observations of violence.
I don’t pretend to know how to imagine resistance, where meaning is subject to absolutes: no guns or universal ownership. But I do recognize two relevant truths. We have a duty to all Black lives, and Americanism is a religion of murder where one of its artifacts is a firearm pointed towards us all.
I’ll never oppose that we require a culture of protection against the impulses of this implosive death cult, but if we don’t collectively illustrate some manner of properness for such necessity, which includes all of our safeties in the presentation of a philosophy in proximity to higher probabilities of bloodshed, then the line between revolution and political retrograde is as fragile as a trigger itself.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.