Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Self Defense and Marginalized Communities

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky. 
 Self-defence has been in the news again lately – self-defence and proportionality (whether if someone hits you with their open hand, it’s acceptable to shoot them 11 times in the head for example), self-defence and weapons, self-defence and carrying weapons, self-defence and why Americans need to carry enough weapons to bury people in let alone shoot them etc etc.

I have to say I’m very wary of self-defence laws – and expanding the access to weapons and reduction of proportionality tests in the back of the principle of self-defence. But, surely, as a marginalised person who has faced violence and is more likely to face violence than my non-marginalised counter-parts, I should be more needful of self-defence, right?

Uh-huh, unfortunately society, the justice system and the powers that be don’t agree with you. If you look at most cases where the words “self-defence” and “minority”  appear together and it usually ends up with the minority broken and bleeding on the floor while the “threatened” privileged person protests they were defending themselves. “Self-defence” has Black kids shot by “threatened” white men upset by loud music. “Self-defence” has gay men beaten to death by “threatened”  and panicked straight guys.


It’s the narrative of self-defence in our societies. The dangerous, menacing minority is a stuck meme and always used to demonise all minorities repeatedly. Gay people are trying to rape you and are after your kids! Trans people are in your bathrooms! Latin@s are invading, outbreeding you and taking over! Black people are gang members and gun toting criminals! Arab people have bombs and want to blow you up!

The menacing minority saturates our culture and it is rarely, if ever, acknowledged how often we are the victims of the majority’s hate and violence (and when we do try to raise it, we’re “playing the victim” or playing the X card). When self-defence is invoked, it’s all too often another offensive weapon against minorities – whether it’s “stand your ground” or “my home is my castle” or “I have the right to carry fully automatic rocket launchers because waaaaargleblaaaargle2ndamendmenraaawrgle” (no I’m not even going to try to extract something coherent from the American killing machine lobby). We’re too reluctant as a society to see minorities as victims, and too ready to see us as villains for it to be otherwise.

I also dislike the onus self-defence champions place on us. It’s our role, our duty, to be prepared, to be ready, to be alert, to not take risks, to be carrying a weapon, to be dressed appropriately, to be in the correct place, to say the right things: it all amounts to victim blaming. Whether it’s “you should stay inside, never go out and hide under your bed silently” or “you should have an alarm/pepper spray/knife/gun/tank and know how to use it.” Be on combat alert, be trained, be armed.  You can hear it now during the US debate but it’s hardly new or exclusive “if only they had…” “why didn’t they…” “it wouldn’t have happened if…”. I think the prize at the moment for sheer vileness goes to the man saying the Jews in Germany should have had guns (ignoring a military strength that locked a continent – a planet – into war); same old story “they should have fought harder.” The same deeply offensive blame keeps coming up every time.

I’m not a champion, I’m not a hero. I don’t want to be scolded about the precautions I’m not taking, nor do I want to have to carry a small arsenal of things I’m more likely to hurt myself with than anything else. I don’t want to have to carry weapons all the time to stay safe, while my attacker needs only carry theirs when they plan to hurt me. I want the focus to be on people not attacking us, I want that to be the priority, that to be where the debate is, that to be where the money is sunk. I want the attackers to have a harder time procuring items that can hurt or kill me. I want the items they do acquire to be less deadly. These will give me a higher chance of survival and survival with the least injuries.

And, from a purely personal stand point, self-defence with any kind of weapon is of limited use. I take precautious – but they largely lie in the realm of paranoia, running and hiding, than carrying improvised weapons and knowing how to use them. I do do the latter, but I recognise how well and truly screwed I am if I have to resort such. I’m bad around violence as I’ve alluded to in the past. I’m not ashamed of that, it doesn’t make me a coward or weak – it makes me someone who doesn’t deal well with violence. I’m someone who has mental illnesses both caused by (or contributed to) and triggered by violent trauma: it should be obvious that imposing or shaming some kind of requirement to be capable of defending myself is unfair.

It’s pretty to think of noble, ferocious minorities walking the street courageously, vanquishing those who try to harm us. But that simply isn’t what we see over and over and, frankly, if it did happen that minority would be thrown into a prison cell so fast they’d bounce off the back wall. Instead these weapons, these self-defence chants are inevitably another weapon the privileged majority will use against us.