It is a simple but devastating premise. On average, 7 children are killed each day in America by gun violence. Gary Younge, previously the America correspondent at the Guardian, now Editor-at-Large, has written a powerful account of one such day. Another Day in the Death of America paints a picture of a country divided, brutalised and utterly complacent about the young children and teenagers that are being routinely killed through gun violence.
Younge writes that writers are never objective: they choose the subjects they wish to focus on; they give a voice to the otherwise unheard or the stories which would otherwise be left untold. Younge has picked this subject because, as he puts it, “he has skin in the game”. He is a father to two young black children and he, like us, is only too familiar about how black bodies and black lives, are cast aside and afforded scant value. Whilst this book isn’t specifically about race, racism is linked to the deprivation black people in America can experience.
It is a searing and passionate account whilst also being an exercise in outstanding investigative journalism, painstakingly delving into the lives of the children killed. Interviews with parents, friends and teachers give us a window into the heartbreaking personal cost of these deaths. This is put in the context of the structural, economic, cultural and historical factors which have led to the prevalence of gun violence and gun-related deaths in America.
The book is divided into ten chapters. Each one tells the story of a child or young teen killed on 23 November 2013 (on a weekend or summer break the rate of deaths is slightly higher than the 7 average). The book has echoes of Younge’s very first book No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South, where he took a series of greyhound buses to explore the American Deep South. His visits to the states where the young children have been killed have a similar rhythm and description. We learn about the sprawling nature of the states and the daily grind experienced by some of the most disadvantaged groups.
Younge describes the complacency he meets in the face of children dying. These deaths do not lead to a mass outpouring of collective grief, soul searching or society wringing its collective hands. Indeed, they barely make a paragraph in the local newspaper. Individual killings are far too common. Mass shootings such as Sandy Hook grab the nation’s attention but even then stricter gun control laws have made no headway through the legislature.
Younge juxtaposes society’s indifference with the pain and grief of the families left behind. These families try desperately to make sense of what has happened whilst struggling to survive. Younge writes that often when these deaths happen, there is a sense that the parent is at fault. The common misconception that black children die at a disproportionate rate is founded in the myth that black parents do not care enough about their offspring to protect them or that there is some deficit in their parenting. He cites Bill Cosby’s infamous pound-cake speech , in which Cosby had put forward an entirely baseless critique of the parenting of black working class people to illustrate this. Younge dismantles this damaging myth deftly. Such simple answers mask what is actually happening. Younge makes clear that everyone wants an easy answer to solve a complex problem. Actual structural change would require real intellectual rigour as well as dismantling the status quo. To drive forward change, those at the grassroots as well the political class must address the entrenched inequalities. Even more so than the UK, class matters in America. Deprived communities are stuck in “ghettos” where violence, poverty and with very few, if any, opportunities to get out.
America has an obsession with the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms. This cultural bedrock is a way for the gun lobby and specifically the National Rifle Association to maintain its hold. Parallel to this, the gun lobby has whipped up a climate of fear: a fear of the intruder, the rapists, the murderers, the outlaws. This fear seems to have gripped America. Speaking to Andrew Marr on Start the Week on BBC Radio 4, Younge suggested he’d ask Americans what matters more: the Second Amendment or the lives of all the children being killed. It’s a question that needs an answer.
This study in American society, culture and politics provides a provocative and deeply absorbing backdrop to the upcoming presidential election in November. Reading Another Day one can only be deeply cynical and fearful about what lies ahead. When I asked Younge about this he suggested that with Clinton at least there has been a discussion on gun violence with her association with “Mothers of the movement“. But I still worry. Will the odds always be stacked against any form of gun control because of the influence of the gun lobby? In his conclusion, Younge writes that this book has made him “howl” with anger, which is entirely understandable. To address the prevalence of gun violence and deaths, America must address deep-rooted deprivation whilst also dramatically changing the culture which favours guns over children. One wonders how many lives will have to be taken to bring about this change.
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Huma Munshi is a writer, activist and trade unionist. She writes on feminism, race and fighting for justice. She is a regular contributor for the F-Word and Open Democracy and has also written for the Guardian and Feminist Review Journal. You can follow her on Twitter at @Huma101.