Welcome to Walmart (Bam! Bam! Bam! You’re Dead)

Over at Commonweal.org, Fordham University professor Michael Peppard reflects with pointed honesty about how the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, opened up new vistas of realization for him on the entrenched disease of racism in America. Yet for Peppard, “the most horrifying example” of America’s “racist dirge” is the surveillance video of the shooting of John Crawford, killed last month in a Walmart in Ohio. I agree.

As Peppard points out, the situation in my home state of Ohio and many other open carry states “would be worthy of satire if it were not so tragic.” He highlights the case of an assault-rifle-carrying man in Tennessee who decided that “a school is a prime place to be able to hand out my leaflets and educate children that guns aren’t dangerous as people think they are.” Peppard observes:

A white man can wear a bullet-proof vest and carry a real assault rifle around the perimeter of a school. It gains him free publicity for his bizarre cause. A black man carries a BB gun (for sale by the store) around a few of its aisles and is shot on sight, from the side, by police.

Meanwhile here in Cincinnati, I ponder the prospect of open carry in our local Kroger store. The Tennessee man–his name is Leonard Embody–thinks I should just relax and get over it. “I don’t think I look terrifying. Other people may think I look terrifying, but that’s in their own minds and that’s something they should deal with … with maybe a psychologist.”

Whether I’m a policeman or your average Joe shopping for ice cream, my once-banal trip to Kroger now invites the scenario of nervous strangers making split-second judgments in the freezer aisle about who “looks terrifying” and who does not. God help the NRA card-carrying black man, trained and registered to carry, who walks into Walmart or Kroger with his gun while wearing anything but a 3-piece suit – universal code (I guess) for “safe and respectable” in the white world. Or is it hunting fatigues and a Cabella’s sporting goods cap?

Leonard Embody, our Tennessee hero, is right about one thing. This is something all of us have to “deal with,” and already it looks like most of us — not least our state and federal legislators — will need “maybe a psychologist” to sort it all out. Welcome to Walmart: May I get you a cart, a Rorschach Test, and a bullet-proof vest? And God help my  children and yours, children of every color, victims already in this crossfire of American racialized culture and culturally racialized insanity.

I invite you to read Peppard’s piece here, as well as the comments thread. Is Peppard guilty, as one reader accuses him (and by implication other white scholars like myself) of a kind of self-congratulatory public hand-wringing about race, a bad case of white “selfie scholarship”? Or is he right to join with others of all races–albeit many of us rather late to the game–in communal lamentation for this “dark testament” of America’s original sin?

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