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

 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!
[email protected] 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.

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