Charleston Showed How Racism and Violence Are American Values

Charleston Showed How Racism and Violence Are American Values

Why we need to change NOW

It happened again. Another mass shooting with the same reaction from American politicians. Democrats say we need more gun control, and Republicans say the shooter was mentally unstable. Neither party is going to do anything. Just watch.

Both parties are incredibly flawed in their reasoning and actions. Democrats immediately jump to gun control, because they see it as the easiest option and think that removing guns will reduce violence. Which doesn't really work. And Republicans always say that people commit mass shootings, because they're mentally unstable. Which isn't always true.

Gun control is always brought up after a mass shooting. It seems like an easy solution to reducing gun violence, but it's not. Simply making less guns available on the free market doesn't work. If it did, Washington D.C. wouldn't have the highest gun crime rate in the nation, and Barbados wouldn't have a gun crime rate twice that of the United States.

In the wake of the Charleston attack, Obama said we need more gun control, because we "don't see murder on this kind of scale, with this kind of frequency" in foreign countries. That is not completely true. Take a look at this graph, taken from an Independent Journal Review's article on mass shootings.

It shows that out of 12 advanced nations, the United States is 6th in rampage shooting fatalities and fatal rampage shooting incidents per one million people. So while the United States had the most incidents from 2009-2013, it only had the 6th most per one million people. Also note how out of the 12 countries, all but the United States and Belgium have restrictive gun policies.

Look at these facts and statistics as well, gathered from various anti and pro gun-control websites, as well as school and government reports-

  • The NRA reported that the U.S. murder rate lowered 43% from 1991 through 2008, while at the same time, the number of privately owned firearms increased by 70-75 million.
  • Washington D.C. has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, and has the highest gun crime in the nation. Utah has some of the least strict gun control laws in the nation, and has the lowest gun crime rate in the nation
  • Guns are used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense, according to a Northwestern University study. The Brady Campaign reports that 31,537 people are killed from gun violence each year. That means that guns are used 79.27 times more often to save a life than to take one.
  • A University of North Carolina study showed that twice as many children are killed playing football in school than are murdered by guns.

Aside from any sides' facts and statistics however, people are obviously still using guns to murder. But why is that? America's love for violence has to be at fault.

Take Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA 5) for instance. In the game, you have to shoot and kill people, steal cars, run from the police, and beat up and kill prostitutes to succeed. And people laugh when they play it. They think it's funny to run over people in the street. I have yet to meet a single person, including myself, who has not laughed while playing GTA 5. We know it's not real, but we still laugh and think it's funny when we kill people. Why? Because America loves violent video games. Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, Destiny, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto are all among the most popular video games today, and every one of them requires you to kill. I personally enjoy some of those games, and don't think they are necessarily bad, but it just goes to show how much we love violence.

The problem doesn't just lie in our video games though. It lies in our movies as well.

Consider that 80% of the top 20 movies on the All-Time USA Box office chart feature violent deaths, murders, and/or gun violence. That's the stuff that excites us. If The Avengers featured a bunch of heroes fighting bad guys with karate, no one would see it. If Transformers fought the Decepticons with bows and arrows, no one would see it. Our thirst for an incredible amount of violence is why Iron Man has three movies and Hawkeye has zero.

We all love the movies how they are because we can, and frequently do, imagine ourselves in the characters' shoes. Who hasn't imagined themselves as Iron Man, Hulk, or Captain America after seeing them in action? Almost everyone does, because we think it'd be awesome to save the day by beating up or killing a bunch of bad guys. We think it would be cool to be those heroes and commit those acts of violence. We get an adrenaline rush just imagining it.

Now, take a look at this graph and just think about what it means.

This graph, taken from a 2013 MSNBC article, shows that six of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history happened in the last six years. Since 1949, 28% of the deadliest shootings have been in the last five years, and 92% have happened since 1980. Meanwhile, gun control in America has gotten more strict. Is that the cause? Maybe. Or is it more likely that America's increased love for violent movies and video games- which took off in the 80's and 90's- might have something to do with it?

This is where both the Democrats' and Republicans' arguments on guns fall apart. The amount of privately owned firearms from 1991 to 2008 increased by 70-75 million, while at the same time, America's gun control laws have become more restrictive. The murder rate decreased by 43%, but mass shootings have become more frequent. If gun control worked, then Americans would have bought less guns, and the amount of mass shootings would have gone down. If those 70-75 million guns reduced the murder rate, then why did mass shootings go up? There clearly is another factor or factors at play here.

Our violent video games and movies have become a reality for too many people. You can see violence any time you turn on your TV or X-Box. People who watch movies or play games like this their whole lives know violence all too well. It becomes normal to see someone or something getting shot and killed in a movie. It becomes a reality. People like to imagine themselves or imitate what they see on their TV. It's why anime and comic-con conventions are so big and why superhero costumes and sports jerseys are so popular. We love imitating what we see on TV. If people watched shows and movies and played video games with little violence, where would they find something to model their violence off of?

I'm not saying that video games are necessarily the cause for America's violence. I understand studies show that they don't make people more violent. I'm just using them to show how much more America has come to love violence, and that if someone is already violent in nature, they could possibly use video games or movies as something to model their violent outbursts on.

Should we ban those video games and movies? No. They are fun and don't always have a negative effect on people, and we have the right to enjoy them. But should we, as Americans, try to pursue a values change? Should we try to reduce our love of violence? Should we try to make our violent desires less of a reality? I don't know how anyone can say no.

Speaking of things we need to change...

America has a problem with this.

Look, the Confederate Flag is a symbol of hate and racism. Period. The Confederate States of America formed and failed because they were relentless in maintaining a country that lived off of enslaving other human beings. Does the Confederate Flag stand for states' rights and a way of life outside of slavery? Sure. Are the majority of people who fly it racist? Probably not. But it's like the Nazi flag. The swastika itself is not a racist symbol, as it actually means "good fortune" or "well being" in Sanskrit. But it was ruined by racists, and we don't use it anymore because of the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Like the Confederate States, Nazi Germany had some good aspects in their culture, as they made great technological and medical advancements that changed the world, but blatant hate and racism overshadows everything else.

"But the flag represents states' rights!" Yeah, so does this one...

"It represents our way of life!"

Ok, but do you know what flag represented the South's way of life before the Confederate Flag? Yeahhh. This one (minus a few stars though, of course)...

The American Flag has stood for terrible things in its past, but we as a country have realized our mistakes and are doing our best to make up for them. We are constantly changing our values to reflect a society where everyone is equal. And we still do have problems. You can still hear the "n-word" in almost every rap song. We still define each other by the color of our skin or the continent where our ancestors came from, instead of just calling everyone an American. But we as a society have the ability to quickly move on and make up for our past problems.

Now, I feel like greatly reducing mass shootings can be easy. In terms of laws, maybe we should look into background checks. If you're mentally stable and aren't a criminal, your right to own a gun is not infringed upon. Proper background checks only take about 2-3 days. If that's what it takes to keep guns out of the hands of people who would want to harm others, then I think that sounds like a fair sacrifice to me. If I can help prevent another Sandy Hook or Charleston shooting by waiting three days to buy a gun, then sign me up.

Look, if your kids are doing this shit in your back yard, don't buy them a hand gun for their 21st birthday! Whether they have a mental illness or not, something is clearly wrong with them.

If you kid is exhibiting behaviors like this, chances are he or she has some serious issues. I don't get it. It seems like mass shooting after mass shooting, the gun itself was legal, but it was from a parents' gun safe or in Dylann Roof's case, was bought for him by his dad. If your kid has issues, don't tell them the password to your gun safe. Don't buy them a gun. If parents were more responsible in situations like this, I guarantee we would have way less mass shootings in America.

Let's wrap this up. Racism and violence are not one-way streets. There are racists in all races and creeds in America. If we foster our youth to understand that racism is wrong, that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of hate and racism, then maybe we'd have less Dylann Roof's in America. If we stop using racially-driven words and stop worshiping the racist symbol that is the Confederate Flag today, then maybe we could have a little less racism tomorrow.

If you want to watch and play violent movies and video games, have fun. But just try to include something else except violence in your lives or your kids' lives. Binge watch Planet Earth on Netflix with your friends. Play a board game with your family. Go on a hike. Just do something calm and relaxing. Our love for violence and support for racist symbols has gone too far. Enough is enough. It is time to change.

Cover Image Credit: Alan Henry

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'As A Woman,' I Don't Need To Fit Your Preconceived Political Assumptions About Women

I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.


It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.

As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.

"As a woman…"

This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"

Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.

To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.

It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."

That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.

We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?

As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It's Hard To Stay Friends With A Kavanaugh-Lover, But It's Possible

Or hater.


If you don't have your head buried in the sand these days, it's impossible not to realize how viscerally raw most people's political emotions are. And unless you live in a bubble, you likely have friends or family who have very different political beliefs with you. If you want to cut off those relationships, read no further. But if you view your relationships more T. D. Jakes style—"I like to see myself as a bridge builder, that is, me building bridges between people […], between politics, trying to find common ground"—then play on.

Before beginning a conversation with a politically-differing friend, put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: what aspects of their life might have influenced them in this way? Accept that you just don't know what their experiences have been like. Maybe your gun-supporting friend had her house traumatically burglarized when she was quite young; maybe your friend who believes the government should solve all our problems was only able to get hot lunches at school because of government aid. View it as a thought experiment if you will: imagine a sympathetic reason (rather than a judgment-worthy reason) that your friend has this differing viewpoint.

We have two ears and one mouth. Ask them questions and then genuinely listen. As humans, we often listen to respond, not to understand. Try to understand without demonizing or judging your friend. David Livingstone Smith, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, said that when we dehumanize or demonize others, it acts as: "a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable." Try to accept that your friend's point of view—no matter how much you disagree with it—is (in their eyes) just as valid as your own. Your goal is to listen first, persuade later, argue rarely (or never).

It's not about you. Your friend's support of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court means just that: they think he should have been confirmed. Or if they are angry that he got confirmed, it means just that: they think he should have not been confirmed at the time. Use our earlier thought experiment: perhaps the supporter found fault in the accusations against Kavanaugh or genuinely viewed it as a false accusation, and (whether that happened here or not), we can agree a false accusation is concerning. It doesn't necessarily mean that they think the assault he was accused of is okay—perhaps they think any form of sexual assault is utterly appalling and should never be tolerated, but just didn't happen here. Your friend's view is not personal to you, no matter how personal it may feel.

There's a difference between supporting a politician and supporting an action. If your family member voted for Trump, that doesn't mean they support his personal behavior. (If they DO—that's a different story.) It's like watching Lady Bird (great movie) and someone saying that means you think all children should treat their mother like Lady Bird treats hers. The two could be equated but aren't necessarily. Have you ever gone to the theaters and seen a movie that had elements you didn't agree with or like? The same can be said for politics.

If it seems appropriate, when they are done sharing and seem receptive to conversation, share why you may disagree with them. Times to NOT share: if they are angry or closed off. (Observe both their words and their body language. If their voice was raised or their arms are crossed, not the time.) If they just shared something vulnerable with you (eg. they are vehemently pro-choice because they've been assaulted and got an abortion), now is not the time.

Remember, your goal is not to argue, but to listen and then to persuade. If they're not in a place where they can listen to you being persuasive—then let it go and try again some other time.

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. However—sometimes you shouldn't always maintain these relationships. Politicians your friends support don't necessarily fully reflect who your friends are, but political views are an aspect of who they are. To use the above analogy: when you see a movie at the theater, you are supporting it. Even if you disagree with it and warn your friends away, you still paid for the ticket.

And sometimes you don't. Understand when you need to disengage. It's okay to have some things you can talk about civilly and rationally and some things that you just can't. If my friend thinks communism is the way to go, for example, I am able to speak respectfully and rationally about it. But if a person tries to support child abuse, I absolutely cannot have a conversation with them where I try to understand where they're coming from and listen to them without telling them how wrong they are. It's okay to have some topics that mean so much to you that you can't engage with all of them or respect every differing point of view.

When you win, be gracious. And lastly, if you supported Kavanaugh, your friends who opposed his quick confirmation are crushed right now. It's okay if you think that's silly or not a big deal. But go back to the first point: put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if some political issue you felt really strongly about was dealt a crushing blow? You'd want the people on the winning side to be gracious, or try to understand, or at least not rub it in. Maybe you didn't like how the situation unfolded, but your guy's in now. Think of the golden rule and be kind to your friends who are struggling with this.

Just remember:

"Be sure when you step—step with care and great tact. And remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft—and never mix up your right foot with your left."
Dr. Seuss.

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