Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“Fate chose the victims; time shapes the narrative.”

This is not the story of the high profile killings that gave birth to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The day in question happened four months after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida and nine months before Michael Brown was killed in Fergusson, Missouri.

This is a day (23rd November 2013) chosen at random – unremarkable in any way, including for the number of young people to die of gunshot wounds in a 24 hour period. “The truth is it’s happening every day, only most do not see it.”

Younge is a British journalist who spent ten years living, working and raising children in the USA. “I had skin in the game. Black skin in a game where the odds are stacked against it.”

On the day he chose to write about, seven of those killed were black, two Hispanic and one white. The oldest was nineteen; the youngest nine. The deaths happened in dense urban areas, pretty suburbs, and rural environments with a population density lower than Finland’s. They happened in relatively comfortable areas, areas that have undergone recent decline and areas that have been depressed for decades. By the time the book was finished, only five of the ten perpetrators had been identified. In one – in Newark, New Jersey – police failed to provide even an autopsy or incident report.

“You won’t find another Western country with a murder rate on par with Black America – for comparable rates, you have to look to Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria or Rwanda.”

Heartbreakingly, Younge points out that, “To raise children <in parts of certain cities> is to incorporate those odds <that they will be affected by gun violence> in their daily lives. Every black parent of a teenage child...had factored in the possibility that this might happen to their kid.” But as each of the individual stories shows, knowing that it might happen to your child does nothing to soften the blow when it actually does.

Each chapter is both a personal account of a young person whose life and death would otherwise have passed unremarked by anyone outside their immediate neighbourhood, and an essay on the factors that create this appalling death rate.

Two of the deaths were accidental. One was by an ‘amok man’ – a family member on a path of self destruction. One is a straight up case of mistaken identity. The rest could be described, very loosely, as related to gang affiliation. But as Younge points out, in many neighbourhoods gang affiliation among the young is like Communist Party membership in the Soviet era – something that is necessary in order to get on with your life. As Younge says, “To treat all affiliation as complicity is to write off children in entire communities for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Younge rails against the trap of focusing on the ‘innocent victim’ (such as the children of Sandy Hook), and the danger it creates of implicitly suggesting that those who are less than angels are in some way deserving of their fate. He takes us inside an NRA conference and gives us an insight into a mindset on gun ownership that seems, to most Europeans, to be a form of collective insanity. He breaks down myths – pointing out that crime stats have actually been going down in recent years and demolishing the idea (often internalised by the parents themselves) that poor black parenting is at fault.

He shows how poverty, racism and deliberate policy have created a profoundly segregated country. This segregation creates two separate worlds – one in which youthful rash decisions and experimentation are ‘just a phase’ and one in which they may very well prove fatal.

That segregation also creates a numbing distance across which empathy becomes all-but impossible. This book, which (as Irvine Welsh says on the cover) “breaks the unwritten law: thou shall not humanize the victims of this ongoing carnage,” may be one strut in a bridge across that divide.

Shortlisted for the inaugural Jhalak Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates; Always Running by Luis Rodriguez

Avoid if you dislike: Honest portraits of grieving families

Perfect Accompaniment: A minute’s silence for each unremarked death

Genre: Non-Fiction

Available on Amazon

No comments:

Post a Comment