Last week The New York Times published a lengthy op-ed by an African-American historian, Tiya Miles, who from her secure academic perch known as Harvard University believes she has discovered a new breed of gun-owner, namely the gun owner who happens to be Black and holds strong, positive views about gun ownership and also about the NRA. Her discovery appears to have come about when she visited a home in the hoity-toity Boston neighborhood known as Beacon Hill (where Ted Kennedy had an apartment) which had once been a stop on the Underground Railroad and now sports a NRA window decal right next to the front door.
Professor Miles describes herself as being ‘anti-gun’ and a supporter of ‘strict gun laws.’ But after seeing an NRA logo on a house that is considered a monument to the history of civil rights, she decided to dig deeper into the history as well as the current situation covering Blacks and guns. Her review of how Blacks justified arming themselves both before and after Emancipation is judicious and sound. On the other hand, her understanding of how the present African-American community relates to guns borders on the absurd. Frankly, if Professor Miles had submitted the second half of her op-ed to me as a research paper in a graduate course, she would have received a big, fat ‘F.’
To begin with, Miles bases most of her knowledge about the current situation on an article published by NPR which is, pardon the pun, shot full of holes. This article, which claims, according to Miles, that Black gun ownership has ‘surged,’ is based wholly on a single interview with Philip Smith, who heads an organization he founded called the National African American Gun Association. The NAAGA’s Facebook page contains a video of the group’s 4th Anniversary meeting this year which appears to have attracted somewhere between 10 and 15 folks. Smith told Professor Miles that his organization has 75 chapters in 30 states, a claim she repeats as if because he said it, then it must be true.
The op-ed’s vision of a burgeoning Black gun constituency is bolstered by an interview with Sharon Ross, who claims to be involved in a movement known as Afro-survivalism, which appears to be an offshoot of the wacky, how-to-survive-the-end-of-the-world nonsense which Glenn Beck used to promote on his television show by hawking freeze-dried foods and other products that were essential to keeping us safe from whatever Armageddon was about to erupt. Sales of all this crap were particularly brisk after Obama was inaugurated in 2008.
Actually, if you really are worried about the imminent collapse of Western civilization, you can purchase survival foods on Sharon Ross’s website, along with survival tools, survival medical supplies, survival this and survival that. What I really love is the disclaimer on the website which evidently Professor Miles didn’t bother to read: “Sometimes companies pay me, either in cash or free product, to write about them or their products. However, I only work with companies I can stand behind.” Ross calls herself an Afrovivalist – too bad the Khoi-Hottentot tribe in South Africa didn’t have Sharon around to help them when they were basically wiped out in 1850 after they rebelled against British rule.
If The New York Times is now publishing op-eds based on such an egregious mix of nonsense, self-promotion and outright lies, then either the newspaper has abandoned any concern for responsible journalism or, as I suspect, they are only guilty of the usual condescendingnoblesse oblige which characterizes mainstream media coverage about Black ownership of guns.
Every year somewhere around 40,000 or 50,000 African-Americans use a gun to shoot themselves or someone else. How come Professor Miles didn’t bother to interview some of those folks, all of whom would have told her that being Black and being armed was hardly a new state of affairs? Oh, I forgot. When it comes to the so-called surge in Black gun ownership, we’re only interested in legal guns – the others don’t count. Right – they don’t count.