Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Are You Banicking?

It occurred to me that we don’t belong in North Carolina, a state where many people still harbor distrust of Yankees and the government. In truth I am a Yankee, I suppose, though just a first generation Yankee on my mother’s side and second generation on my father’s side. My husband Ronald is a first generation Yankee, but, unlike my recently immigrated family, his family had been Southerners for generations before his parents moved up north for better job prospects than could be had in a Jim Crow South.
It’s not that we don’t want to belong here – I love the weather and the beautiful landscape – but oftentimes we don’t feel welcome here.
I know we don’t belong when, like the other night, we were walking in a parking lot and a white guy and his family were walking across our path up ahead, and the white guy kept staring, then shaking his head, then staring and glaring at us, and shaking his head.
As soon as they passed in front of us and got out of hearing range, I said, “Really?”
“He’s got his own wife,” Ronald said. “Why’s he so worried about mine?”
“It’s not like you were dragging me against my will,” I said. For new readers, I am white and my husband is black. We’ve been together for nearly forty years, have two successful, adult daughters who are professional contemporary dancers, and we beat divorce statistics by decades.
Ronald may not have been dragging me along, but I feel dragged into a cultural war, and I am living in the heart of it.
Gun storeowners are describing what they call a “banic” – people worried about Obama passing a ban on assault weapons. So many guns were sold in November and December that there are few guns on the shelves today.
I can attest that the ammunition shelves are empty, too. Ronald shoots on a bull’s eye league, and we have been to just about every store in the area looking for ammunition, and we can’t find it. Ronald says if he has to stop shooting on the league for a while, then he'll find another hobby. It's no big deal to him. 
But it is to a lot of other people.We see store patrons staring forlornly at the empty shelves, grumbling about the Obama conspiracy to prevent people from getting ammunition. One guy we passed was saying something to his buddy about, “for when the war comes.” They kept staring at the empty shelves, perhaps wishing to find a stray box that hadn’t been scooped up earlier.
The guy at Wal-Mart said he got eight boxes on the delivery truck the day we stopped in there on an ammo search, and they were gone within the hour.
I hate going into sporting goods stores down here. Last week a trip to Gander Mountain elicited the same old thing: people stopping in their tracks and staring at us, like the family guy in the parking lot, when we entered the store. They display what we’ve coined as “the Southern stare,” meant to show shock and disapproval. Their expressions tell us what they are thinking: My country is going to hell in a hand basket; where did the America go that I remember, the one where people who aren’t white know their place?
I went out on the Internet thinking maybe he could order ammo online, but all the big gun equipment seller sites listed ammunition as “sold out, no backorder.”
This happened in 2008, too, and it took almost two years to right itself. People hoarded ammunition as if that will save them. Save them from what, I keep asking. But I know the answer: they want to be saved from people like us, or the Mexican family living up the street, or the gay couple around the corner, or the government that is “of the people, by the people, for the people” because they don’t think we should be included.
All those arms, all those assault rifles, and all that ammunition, are to protect a certain way of life – a life where white, heterosexual men reigned and enjoyed the privilege of whiteness while everyone else lived oppressed lives.
Why else would a Georgia man shoot a young man who mistakenly pulled into his driveway because his GPS directed him to the wrong house? The 69 year-old white pastor and Vietnam vet fired his gun into the air and ordered the man to leave, but as the young Hispanic man was backing out of the driveway, he lowered his window to apologize, and the man shot him in the head. He died at the scene. The pastor thought his home was being invaded, but why didn’t he just call the police instead of taking the vigilante route and killing an innocent person who hadn’t even gotten out of his car let alone kicked a door in to gain access to the house?
It’s dangerous to be a person of color, an interracial couple, or a gay couple. We are the people they want to shoot, or deport, or send to concentration camps, or erase. We have rights that include the 2nd Amendment, but more than that, we share the right for equal protection under the law, and the right to be safe from people who think we don’t belong to their America. Because it isn’t just their America, it’s our America, too.
Ronald found ammunition at a small gun store located in New England. He’s ordered equipment from them before. While placing a phone order, the owner told him, “We don’t have that problem up here. We’ve got anything you want in stock.”
So much for the Obama conspiracy that says the government is preventing ammunition sales. The truth is people are scared, and they are hoarding ammunition. They hurt themselves, because prices will go up to follow demand. And it will have nothing to do with President Obama, Senator Feinstein’s bill, or the government. It’s just plain old capitalism, and the gun companies love it.
Their fear translates into hasty, bad decisions that could hurt or kill someone, including family members or friends or neighbors, but the banic continues.
I’m not banicking, but I admit panic is creeping into my psyche. I am in the heart of the culture war, in a right-to-work state, with a 10% unemployment rate, that declined to extend unemployment because it causes a “welfare dependency.” I am in a state that doesn’t support early childhood development because it is an “entitlement” unless you can afford to pay for it yourself, which means only wealthy people can afford it – this in spite of study after study that says early childhood programs increase school readiness and school success for all students.
I am in a state where “sovereign citizens” are so common the country’s leading sovereign citizen expert is a member of the Greensboro, NC police force. Sovereign citizens are people who refuse to follow laws imposed by the government – they register and license their cars under their self-named sovereign nations, refuse to pay taxes, and file exorbitant claims and suits against the government, costing taxpayers money.
I am in a state that has many sheriffs saying they will refuse to enforce any Federal weapons ban or gun control laws. It’s the same state that passed a marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and the same state that refuses to pay restitution to the victims of involuntary, state mandated sterilization. It’s the state in which I learned about the Southern stare, and the state in which I wonder if we'll ever truly belong.
I understand we do not all share the same perspectives and beliefs, and we don’t have to. I acknowledge our differences while still believing we have more in common than uncommon and that we can live side by side, peacefully and respectfully. But my panic is growing because the outcome of this culture war doesn’t look good from this inside view.