Imagine for a moment that a large group of Black men bearing sawed-off shotguns and AR-15s crashed the Texas Capitol during ACL festivities to solicit your support for open carry.
Would they be met with the same inquisitive looks from tourists similar to those that met a group of armed white men who did the same earlier this year at SXSW? Or something more fatal?
According to international relations and global studies senior Azeem Edwin, the answer to that question is simple.
“If there were 10 Black guys walking with guns on campus, I believe the perception would be 10 times different than if it were white men,” Edwin said. “The image of a Black male is a thug, while the image of a white male with a gun is [excused as carrying] for recreational use.”
History has shown gun control and racism have a long and vile union. Before the Civil War, Southerners passed laws to keep guns away from slaves and freed Blacks to stifle potential revolt. After the Civil War and during the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, Southern laws were passed to disarm the Black man.
The fear of Black people with guns survived well into the 1960s. After a group of Black Panther members wielding guns barged into California’s state capitol, lawmakers passed the 1967 Mulford Act, banning open carrying of loaded guns in public.
“Gun laws started changing in California when Black people started to carry arms,” said Edmund Gordon, chair of the African and African Diaspora studies department. “I am sure if [Black people] were disproportionately exercising concealed carry, they would quickly pass laws against that.”
These racist perceptions have not left America’s conscience and still plague us today. The death of John Crawford III, a 22-year-old who was gunned down in a Wal-Mart for carrying a toy BB gun, and the brutal shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed by police for playing with his toy gun, have shown how Black bodies, regardless of age, can be criminalized.
“The denigration of Black people comes out of the act of slavery and the notion that Black people are still less important,” Gordon said. “The lives of Black people, in general, matter a lot less than the lives of white people in this society. We are more disposable.”
The polarizing discussion on race as it pertains to gun control is a critical element to the campus carry debate. It is crucial to consider how the aftermath of this legislation can potentially perpetuate the criminalization of Black students. Campus carry does not consider the safety of students of color. Based on the historical precedent of Black people framed as dangerous, the new gun policy will endanger Black students who choose to exercise their new rights.
Gayo is an African and African Diaspora Studies senior from Houston. Follow her on Twitter @LoyceGayo.