For nine days and 21 hours, we mourned the 10 people killed in a racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. That is, until the next shooting occurred. And then the next. And then the next. The New York Times’ breaking news notifications have become a constant hum, no longer distinct tones but one long, mournful cry.
How do we respond when the cry never stops? And for The Roar, how many editorials on gun violence must we write until change is made? How can we, as a nation, end the cycle of gun violence?
Our staff lamented the sense of psychological and political impasse that has come to define America’s relation with guns. Now the numbing recurrence of shootings has come to a head, creating a society that sits with its anxiety.
The vicious world of hatred and conspiracy, which often manifests online, underlies the recent shootings. The rise of the Internet and the acceptance of opinion as fact in America have brought previously-fringe violent and hurtful ideology into the mainstream.
This is not an issue of the one bad actor or the one unfortunate situation. So much of America, composed of genuinely well-intentioned people, falls prey to America’s deconstructive system of media that allows expert persuaders to sow discord.
Take Tucker Carlson, the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News. A man idolized by many, he spins hateful concepts about America’s social issues into seemingly logical conclusions in nightly addresses to millions.
To viewers, his constant presence serves as a nagging reminder of the immigrants that are taking their jobs, the Critical Race Theory that is indoctrinating their children and other haphazard issues that appear to plague the world.
To be sure, some innocuous conspiracy theories, like claims of UFO sightings, are just that. However, Carlson’s promotion of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, a racist and xenophobic belief that immigration is being opened to force demographic and political change, is not one of those theories.
According to the New York Times, he has pushed the ideology in over 400 episodes of his show and has used similar sources as the gunman in Buffalo. “In order to win and maintain power,” Carlson said in an April 2021 episode, “Democrats plan to change the population of the country.”
Algorithms, too, drive not only racism but explicitly violent intentions. In an investigation into the YouTube algorithm, the Mozilla Foundation found that the platform frequently recommended disturbing and hateful videos, pushing users down a rabbit hole of similar videos. Former product manager at Facebook and whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimonial before Congress pointed to an algorithm that was designed to feed into the destructive ideologies of users.
And yet as much as we can point to the specific factors like algorithms behind violent acts, the visceral response to mass shootings cannot be ignored. Instead of finding excuses to turn our heads, we must confront the issue head on. Education is a crucial first step to creating change, as the critical thinking and source analysis skills we learn are far less trivial when applied to the real world.
Beyond receiving a well-rounded education, advocating for issues like economic equity rather than against creates a more constructive social dialogue. Ideologies centered around opposition to something, like the “great replacement” theory abound in modern America, contributing to a pessimistic and polarized environment.
While as individual students we have only our own voices, the school administration determines the course of conversations surrounding the violent manifestations of hatred. While the South administration and teachers open opportunities for discussions more than many other nearby schools, it is a nuanced issue that requires a balancing act.
South must promote active conversations while avoiding anxiety, the desensitization of students and the all-too-familiar copy-and-paste responses to atrocities.
In reality, anything that South does as a school will do little to shift the tide of the nation. Even so, emphasizing critical and creative thought to educate students will contribute to a new generation of informed, not susceptible, adults. Let South be both a safe haven of education and a forum for the spread of informed opinions.