I am 4,100 miles away from home, and I can’t sleep. I can no longer close my eyes and drift peacefully into the comforting and delusional bliss of ignorance.
I have many titles: American, Southerner, South Carolinian, student, future teacher, daughter, sister, and currently international student. I come from a family filled with Republican, gun-toting, NRA-supporting, stereotypical Southerners. If you’re reading this, you might, too. If you don’t, you have friends, coworkers, neighbors, distant relatives who do.
Living overseas, being exposed to a new culture and worldview of America in the midst of the political upheavals and ongoing incidents of violence — it makes you recognize something you might not at home: We have become numb to all of these violent events.
Yes, we sympathize with the families of the victims. We pray, we donate, we provide “support.” But ultimately do we really feel anything? It’s almost as if we have developed a systematic strategy to deal with mass shootings — something that you might not see if you are an American living in America because you’re in the middle of it all. However, looking at these events from the outside, it seems … absurd.
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No one living in a first-world, free, democratic society should have to live in fear of being shot doing something as routine as going to the store, to school or to your workplace. It is inexcusable that our country has become so incredibly immune to these horrible events that we haven’t taken any actions to prevent them.
Going to college in South Carolina, becoming a public educator in South Carolina, I’ve always had in the back of my mind five impactful words: “I could get shot today.” Europeans can’t imagine living in a country where you’re advised not to go out at night alone on your university campus for fear of being held at gunpoint and forced to do something against your will. But we can. We are.
I had to go through a period of adjustment when I moved to England: walking the streets alone at night, reminding myself that it was unlikely for someone to sneak up from behind and violently attack me. Because my society has systematically trained me to accept violence. My culture shock was not homesickness. It was not about political changes or economic changes.
My culture shock came in realizing that my chance of dying by violent incident was shockingly reduced here. That I no longer had to worry like I was used to. It was seeing a non-violent society around me and realizing how violent my own society truly is.
When I heard the news of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, something happened to me that hadn’t happened with all the other shootings. It felt raw. My stable image of the United States had been completely shattered.
For the first time, I cried over a mass killing.
This was personal. This was my people dying at the hands of unfathomable and preventable violence. This could have been stopped, but no one did anything to stop it we just accept it as a routine part of American society. These incidents occur every day, and where are the preventative measures?
Being an American should mean more than mass shootings, broken families, and broken promises. We are more than dying at the hands of senseless violence. Our children deserve safety, our people deserve safety, and serious action needs to be taken. I’m tired of being afraid in my own home.
Ms. Williams-Shealy is a Leesville resident studying at Cambridge; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.