My husband and I went to see Black Panther last weekend. Although my husband has had enough Marvel movies for one lifetime, I was quite stoked to see this one in particular. It wasn’t just the all-black (and beautiful!) cast, but I was also excited to see a unique marvel world crafted out of African culture.
The movie was great—until a group of young teenagers a few seats behind us began to provide loud and offensive commentary on the film. I won’t repeat what was said, but let’s just say they said the ‘n’ word twice, among other things. From start to finish this group of teenagers just kept at it—and no one said anything.
I thought about standing up and telling them to shut up, but I must be honest.
I was afraid.
In America, it is very possible that a group of young, aggressive teenagers could turn hostile.
…. And since we’re in Texas, the likelihood they have a gun is very real. I was afraid to risk it.
Although I was seething in my seat, I was also surprised that no one else spoke up. These teenagers were so loud I’m sure people from across the theater could hear their offensive remarks in stereo. What about the people sitting right next to them? How could they keep quiet?
“I liked the movie, but didn’t appreciate the commentary,” my husband told me when we were driving back from the movie. “I was going to say something, but since we’re in Texas, I held back—I mean, what if he had a gun?”
“Oh my god!” I cried. “I THOUGHT THE SAME THING!”
“I don’t think I can live in Texas,” my husband said, shaking his head. “Maybe I was spoiled in California.”
I nodded in agreement.
And believe it or not, that’s not the most alarming part of this story.
When the lights came on at the end of the film, the group of teenagers in the back of the theater weren’t the racist rednecks I imagined.
They were black.
But that’s a different post entirely.
A few years back I wrote about how America sometimes isn’t the paradise we think it is—especially when it comes to physical safety. The biggest culture shock I had when moving abroad was how many East Asian countries—even those third-world ones we look down on so much—are much safer than almost all urban megacities in the USA. It’s much safer to walk around Hanoi at 2AM than it is to wander the streets of downtown San Francisco. Trust me on this one.
There is a wealth of arguments as to why this is. It could be socioeconomic circumstances. Culture. Religion. Hegemony.
Me? Well, I blame the availability, and proliferation, of guns. Especially those used by the Las Vegas and Florida shooter—the type of weapons used for mass killings in war zones.
Basically, because it is so damn hard to get a gun in Asia, the worst thing that could happen to anyone is getting stabbed. And yes, getting stabbed would really suck, but we can all admit it’s definitely harder to enact a mass stabbing than a mass shooting. Stabbings, while lethal, keep the kill count down to a minimum.
Even then, stabbings rarely happen in Asia. Pickpocketing is probably the worst thing that will happen to any tourist in Asia.
When people in Asia told me to watch out for pickpockets, I laughed. I don’t care if they take my purse, I told my friends, at least I can walk the streets and not fear for my life.
At least I can walk around and know no one will shoot me.
In the USA, the fear of guns—and mass shootings—is very real.
At my previous job, we had to undergo specific training about how to hide from an active shooter in the building. Those training videos were traumatizing. How to attack an active shooter (yes, they told us not to run from him/her!). Where to hide. What numbers to call. How to help students/co-workers/victims. How to tend a gunshot wound.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later, there was a school shooting only five miles away from the University I worked at.
One survivor of the most recent Florida mass-shooting told reporters that he had undergone survival drills to prepare for mass-shootings since elementary school.
In other words, if I someday have a child in the USA, they will have to undergo mandatory drills on how to run away from a maniac with a gun running rampant in their school.
As my husband so poignantly stated after the Las Vegas incident:
“If a mass shooting at an elementary school (Sandy Hook) won’t put a halt to gun proliferation, then nothing will.”
When I told new friends in China and Japan that I was from the USA, they often followed up with a question.
“Do you have a gun?”
And if they didn’t ask me about a gun, then they often assumed I had one. When I told them that my family never possessed a firearm, many of them were shocked.
“You’re American and you don’t have a gun? I thought everyone in America had a gun. Don’t you guys always shoot stuff up?”
I even had some friends from Asia come to my home and ask me where I keep my gun.
I’m sad, because my friends from Asia assume I’m a trigger-happy, gun-toting aggressor just because I’m American.
I’m sad, because I can’t walk around late at night in fear of either being shot or held up at gun point.
I’m sad, because when people flip me off or curse at me on the highway, I don’t do anything in response because there have been incidents where retaliation has led to gun violence and death.
I’m sad, because I can’t go to the movies and tell someone to be quiet—in fear of guns.
I’m sad because guns negatively influence the American image.
I’m sad, because even subconsciously, guns dictate even the most simple and menial actions in my everyday life in the USA.
Is there good news?
After way too many mass shootings, a group of very brave students (the survivors of the latest Florida shooting) decided to step up and fight for change. Their courage and determination to stand up to the NRA and Congress reminds me of movements only found in history books.
In other words: I think the new generation—a generation sick of seeing their peers die from senseless violence—is not only willing to fight for change, but might make it happen.
I know America will never fully rid itself of guns or the assumed power of the second amendment.
But here’s to hoping that America can, at the very least, pass some simple reforms to ensure tighter gun control (like Australia or Switzerland). I personally hope someday the US can better control guns in our lives, instead of guns controlling how we live.