Death and Privilege

Quick! How many kids have been shot to death this year in Newtown, Connecticut?

That’s right, 20. That number is seared on our brains. How sad, how frightening.

“If it happened here it could happen anywhere,” said Danielle Collins, who attended a candlelight vigil in Newtown last night.

No, Ms. Collins, it could not happen anywhere. That’s the voice of privilege. You’re right, though, in this sense: We don’t expect kids to get shot in Newtown or places like it. That only happens in places like…

Quick! How many kids have been shot to death this year in Detroit, Michigan?

The answer is 21, but you didn’t know that, dear reader. Honestly, the only reason I know is because I spent a couple of hours researching it just now. And about that many kids were shot to death in Detroit in 2011, and 2010, and 2009, etc. How many child homicides were there in Newtown in those years? You know the answer without having to look it up.

Newtown is a bastion of privilege: 95% white and less than 2% black, median household income $111,000/year, 9 out of 10 people live in single family homes that they own. Unemployment is 6.1% and the poverty rate is 1.2%.

The comparable numbers for Detroit are: 11% white, 83% black, income $31,000, owner-occupied housing 49%, unemployment 15%, and poverty rate 35%.

Twenty dead kids in Newtown are national banner headline news; the same number of dead kids in Detroit… well, you can find the information if you look hard enough.

This is so unfair. Our white privilege is supposed to protect us from bad things. Our affluent enclaves are supposed to be safe for kids. As Ms. Collins said, if we can’t protect our privilege behind the barricades of Newtown, where can we?

And by the way, this is not about gun control. Oh sure, now we’re all screaming for gun control, but when the twentieth kid was killed in Detroit, the silence was deafening. And really, give me a break – nothing short of a national ban on handguns would have made a difference in Newtown. Remember, the guns belonged to the killer’s mom. Realistically, a retired white kindergarten teacher in an affluent white suburb will never be denied a gun.

No, the gun control reaction is just part of the overall emotional reaction of sadness and fear. We affluent and middle-class white people are afraid, because we never expected that violence would find us. Sure, we expect violence in Detroit; that’s just the way it is, right? We are sad because children are dead, but we are especially sad because the dead children in Newtown look like our own children. The poor, black little faces in Detroit don’t touch our hearts in quite the same way, and so they don’t make the national headlines.

It chills me and it sickens me to say it: our extreme emotional reaction, and the resultant screaming headlines, are about nothing but privilege.

References and credits:

http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=DEC_10_DP_DPDP1

http://www.newtown.org/pdf/NewtownFactSheet.pdf

http://chamspage.blogspot.com/2012/05/2012-detroit-homicidesmurders-partial.html

http://chamspage.blogspot.com/2011/12/detroit-homicide-statistics-age-ranges.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit

http://www.movin1077fm.com/cc-common/news/sections/newsarticle.html?feed=104668&article=10643188

http://www.areavibes.com/newtown-ct/employment/

http://zipatlas.com/us/mi/city-comparison/percentage-housing-units-occupied-by-owner.7.htm

http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2012/09/detroit_has_half_the_median_in.html

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2 thoughts on “Death and Privilege

  1. mariposa December 15, 2012 / 4:27 pm

    No, this act appalls us because 20 children and 7 of their teachers were killed in what was supposed to be a safe place. Society’s reaction would have been no different if the mass killing had been in Detroit or anywhere else.

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