Hello, how are you? Having a good Saturday? Did you let yourself forget for a few minutes that everything is garbage? Please, allow me to bring you back to nightmare reality with this review.
Every so often I read a book and I think, “Everyone should read this book.” I’ve thought that (and probably written it) about several books I’ve read since joining Cannonball Read, but I’ve never felt it as strongly as I have about this book. Another Day in the Death of America is important, and everyone should read it. The premise is simple. Author and journalist Gary Younge randomly chose a single day (November 23, 2013), and investigated each of the child gun deaths that occurred in the United States on that day. With that cheery description you may be surprised to learn that within ten minutes of starting it I was crying and wondering if I’d be able to keep reading. I am very glad I did.
Ten American children died from being shot on that day. They were all boys (the daily American average is closer to 7, and usually at least one of them is a girl). A few were accidentally shot by friends, a few died in gang violence, one was murdered by his mother’s violent ex-husband. For a few, the reason they were shot remains unknown. Younge travels to each city, attempts to meet with each boy’s family, and tries to piece together the events and influences that led up to each shooting. All of them are hard to read about, but some are almost unbearable. The worst for me was Samuel, who was walking a friend home after an evening spent with his grandmother, playing card games and drinking cocoa. Police believe the shooter mistook him for a rival gang member.
I assumed, going into it, that this was a book about gun control. It is, of course, to some extent, but I think what Younge really wants the reader to take away is the unrelenting horror that comes from living in a place where it is not only possible, but expected that some of the children who live there will be shot. I think Americans like to pretend that those places only exist overseas, but as it happens they also exist in every big city in the U.S. and they are disproportionately populated by people of color. Not every boy who died on this day lived in one of those places, but most of them did. Not every boy who died on this day was a person of color, but most of them were. Younge says, “Herein lies one of the most tragic elements to emerge from my research: that every black parent of a teenage child I spoke to had factored in the possibility that this might happen to their kid. Indeed, most of them had channeled their parenting skills into trying to stop precisely that from happening.” What could that possibly be like? It’s unthinkable to me, and probably most people reading this website. No one wants to imagine terrible things happening to their child, but unfortunately what that means is a distancing, where most of us end up thinking, “That could never happen to my child, for these reasons.” This line of thinking leads to less empathy and an “us and them” mentality.
I live in Indianapolis, and in fact one of the boys featured in this book lived here. We sometimes make an appearance on the list of America’s most dangerous cities. I do home visiting as part of my job and routinely go into neighborhoods where my friends would never venture. I have never felt truly unsafe in this city, even in those neighborhoods. I am insulated by virtue of being a white woman, who is clearly there as a helper, and who always leaves before it gets dark. I can’t do my job without empathy for the families I work with, and yet at the same time I rely on my privilege to keep me insulated and oblivious from anything truly bad that may be happening. We all do this to some extent, and what Younge is asking of us is to step out of that insulation and allow ourselves to empathize with the people who were affected by these deaths: “The more likely you are to be wealthy or white, the less likely you are to believe that these children could be your children. Statistically that is true, but the fact remains that they are somebody’s children, and those parents grieve like everybody else.” Every time I started a new chapter about a different boy, I thought involuntarily, “Maybe this boy will survive,” even though the outcome is right there in the subtitle. The horror was right there in front of me and I still found myself trying to look away.
Maybe we can’t truly feel empathy for every sad story that crosses our path–that’s too overwhelming. But Another Day in the Death of America demands that you feel that empathy for at least these few out of the thousands.