[Content Note: Racism; guns; eliminationist violence.]
Also: In November of last year, I wrote about the murder of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, a black boy who was shot by 45-year-old white man Michael Dunn after Dunn asked the car full of teens in which Davis was a passenger to turn down their music in a public parking lot and they refused. Dunn shot at the car "eight or nine times" and then fled the scene.
Dunn, who "has been charged with first-degree murder in Davis' death and also faces three counts of attempted first-degree murder for shooting at the three others in the vehicle who survived," pleaded not guilty and has claimed self-defense because "he felt threatened."
By a car full of unarmed teenagers in a public parking lot who were listening to music loudly than Dunn wanted.
Dunn's Florida trial is scheduled to begin in September.
Let me reiterate why these laws, which justify murder if the killers can prove they "felt threatened," are wholly unjust: Privileged men—like George Zimmerman, like John Henry Spooner, like Michael Dunn—don't learn how to sit with fear.
One of the things that privilege does is insulate one from legitimate fear.
Most very privileged men—white, straight, cis, able-bodied, middle- or upper-class men—spend their lives without knowing sustained fear. Every person knows individual moments of fear—the sort of fear that grips a human moments before a car accident one can see coming but cannot avoid, or in the moment one begins to choke on a bit of lunch while eating alone, when one isn't sure if a cough will dislodge the intruder. Privilege doesn't insulate any of us from that kind of fear.
But the sustained fear of being hurt, being victimized, being exploited—unexpectedly, at any moment, and most frequently by people one trusts—is something that the very privileged do not know intimately, the way the rest of us do.
Privileged men's lives and the lives of marginalized people are very different in that way—and that difference underlines privileged men asserting that they have a right to feel safe. And law enforcement, and the courts, agreeing with them.
Because of this difference, most marginalized people learn how to live their lives against a backdrop of present threat, to a soundtrack of the dull roar of constant fear. For the most part, we learn to ongoingly process fear as we move through our days on such a subconscious level it's as natural as our hearts beating without conscious thought—women, for example, position our keys in hand as a potential weapon and scan deserted parking lots for signs of danger and size up dates in search of anything dangerous with the ease that we execute any one of thousands of other routine daily tasks.
Privileged men don't understand this reality, and, upon having it explained to them, will often react with disgust, with contempt. They accuse marginalized people of being oversensitive, of having a pessimistic view of the world, of profiling men, and yawn gaslight blah fart.
Fear—or, perhaps, fear management—is a central part of marginalized personhood in a way it is simply not a central part of privileged manhood.
So boys, especially privileged boys, don't learn how to sit with fear the way girls do. We tell boys explicitly not to be afraid; we tell them that being afraid makes you a pussy. They learn that to be afraid is to be like a woman, and to be not a man.
And then we structure the world so that privileged men don't have a lot to be afraid of, so that it is easier to maintain an identity that is rooted in not being fearful, even though fear is a normal part of human experience.
So, there are large parts of the male population in this country who don't know how to process fear. And then there is this entire industry that is dedicated to planting manufactured fear in those very people. The Republican Party. Fox News. Conservative Christianity. A vast weapons industry whose marketing is based on the specious premise that there is Something to be afraid of, Something from which you need to protect yourself.
The same people whose privilege affords them the luxury of never having to learn how to sit with, how to live a life in the echo of, how to process fear are the target demographic for manufactured fear.
And the less privileged among their ranks—the working class men of otherwise undiluted privilege—have real fear about job insecurity or healthcare access or how the fuck they're going to pay the mortgage next month. They are fears that are out of their personal control, and for which the Fear Manufacturers are happy to provide scapegoats—immigrants and brown people and feminists and kissing boys—lest anyone notice the Fear Manufacturers have been the architects of that real insecurity, too.
What is one to do when one has no capacity to process fear, no ability to sit with it and live with it, no developed strategies for coping with fear?
Well, in a lot of cases, one buys a gun.
And when that doesn't make the fear go away, one buys another one. And another. And another. And magazine clips that shoot more bullets. And more deadly bullets. And so forth and so on.
Only privilege masks the material difference between feeling safe and being safe, to only the latter of which is one actually entitled. A threat to one's privilege is not actually a lack of safety. It's a feeling of insecurity, which is the closest thing to the existential threat with which marginalized people live every day that many privileged men will ever experience.
"He felt threatened." That isn't good enough. It can't be. Not in a culture where we fail utterly to teach privileged male people that it's okay to be afraid, and how to live with fear.
Fear is a part of a mortal life. Only privilege makes it seem like it could ever be otherwise.