“People aren’t innocent of everything…but do B grade students deserve to be shot dead?” Gary Younge makes a habit of humorously and painfully exposing our social failures.
Moving to America amid the start of the Iraq War and back to Britain in time for Brexit, it’s no surprise that his work – with its running themes of exploring the human face of identity questions and political flashpoints – reads so pertinently.
In town as part of Brighton Festival, Younge spoke about his latest book, Another Day in the Death of America – published just a month before Donald Trump became President-Elect Trump – which tells the true stories of ten children and teenagers killed by gun violence across America in one day. The approach is no gimmick; the average is seven per day, and ten is by no means the most.
More than anything, it is the genuine humanity with which Younge speaks and writes that comes across to make his work so resonant and powerful. He speaks about trying to reframe eyes on the human consequences of gun control, not write a polemic – “show, don’t tell,” as he puts it.
Spending an hour in Gary’s company – it felt as conversational and intimate as that – I find the approach is a welcome antidote to our narrative-driven, “half-a-minute” news cycle. He asks us to dig deeper at the human issues that underlie the narratives we all start to accept: why is ‘dog bites man’ not a news story just because it happens often? Who owns the dogs, and why do they bite? Why do we become desensitised, allowing ourselves to be absorbed into victim-blaming or dehumanising narratives, internalising and proliferating the damage of segregation?
In the gun control debate, commentators are often rightly or wrongly accused of politicising tragedy and then forgetting as the news cycle moves on and the column inches recede. Younge’s work is a more profound challenge to everyone, regardless of political persuasion: are you satisfied with the violence in your society? Explicitly he asks of staunch gun control opponents in the States – “is your love of the Second Amendment greater than your love for your children?”
It’s hard not to reflect personally on his words given recent political developments.
Britain is a country which greeted a referendum result with a surge in hate crime; where ‘go back home’ becomes a resonant slogan; where ten people are killed by knives in the space of two weeks in our capital; where a seventeen-year-old Kurdish boy is beaten up by a mob of 30 in South London. Even our Foreign Secretary can’t help himself but extoll the virtues of Scotch whisky in a Sikh Gurdwara.
One could go on. We can all think of myriad examples that seem to illustrate Younge’s statement that we are in many ways a more violent culture than America – he feels less likely to be killed but more likely to be beaten up, he says.
I’m reminded of the first of Younge’s works I read – 2010’s Who Are We – which explores the ways we as a society need to reach a more mature and understanding approach to our identities. I’m sad to write the inescapable conclusion that the intervening seven years have brought a reversal in our ability to understand and tolerate, not improvement.
It is into that climate that the human, compassionate, genuine approach Gary embodies becomes so important and moving. I encourage everyone to seek out his writing, and learn with it as he draws our collective eyes to the common humanity we’re so quick to forget. It’s a lesson to keep in mind in this divisive election season.