Every day in America, the average number of children and teenagers aged 19 or under killed by guns is just under seven. Of those, three are black, three are white, one is Latino, and every third day a Native American or Filipino is added into the numbers. Of the seven, two are female and two are suicides. There is no country in the western world that has a problem with gun crime quite like America and it is this sobering reality that has led to Gary Younge's Another Day in the Death of America. The set-up of the book is simple with Gary documenting the lives of 10 individuals who lost their lives on Saturday 23rd November 2013. The date, we learnt, was picked as the first available day the writer had to work on this project but it has a significance as it was the day after the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, or as the host Matthew Stadlen pointed out "still the most famous act of gun crime in history", as well as being the weekend before Thanksgiving. But it could have been any day and there would still have been too many stories to tell.
The Oxford Literary Festival played host to Gary Younge who, over the hour of his interview with Matthew Stadlen, proved to be an insightful and light-hearted speaker. It was surprising how amusing the hour was given the devastating subject matter at hand. Beginning with the book's birth as an article in the Guardian in 2007, the talk explored the process which Gary used to craft his text. It also covered the connection he fostered with the families of the victims, some of whom he is still in contact with, as well as his contact with individuals across the political spectrum. Wryly observing that the sense of otherness of his presence - "evoke my Britishness and hope that they don't realise I'm black as well" - helped him reach a range of communities, Gary packed his hour with anecdotes and stories of his time covering American politics and culture for the Guardian. But at the talk's centre was his powerful new book.
The book's foundation was in the principal that "each of those kids has a story, each of those kids is a kid" and the talk did not shy away from the difficult subject matter. Early on it was highlighted that while we have words for those who lose their parents and those who lose a partner, there are no words to describe a parent who loses a child. This sense of something fundamentally wrong taking place, the seeming failure of the parent to protect the children and the social embarrassment caused, feeds the difficulty of finding a consensus with gun control. Gary set out to breakaway from the narrative of splitting victims between the worthy and the unworthy, and explore their individual stories, ones that go unreported. So the black teenager shot in the back of the head late at night in a 'bad' neighbourhood was walking his friend back to his grandmother's house after an evening spent playing Uno. Another Day in the Death of America was introduced by Matthew as not a polemic but more journalistic in its approach, almost novelistic by the multiple strands that it the book explores.
The talk itself had many multiple strands, and pulled from the micro-impact of deaths by crime to the larger sense of a country out of joint. Gary delved into the difficulties of legislating for gun control with guns and freedom locked in the psyche for many Americans, and a narrative of gun ownership built around masculinity, small government and individualism. Searching further back into America's history Gary highlighted that America was founded on genocide and slavery, as many colonial states are, and that guns were central in the founding and keeping of the American state. Gary also explored the easy moralistic framework that leads to certain stories, such as those around the Black Lives Matter movement, punching through. If there is an issue that a story can be grafted to then it finds room for exposure that the deaths of those in his text were not gifted.
This would all seem like a bleak perspective, yet in the talk's final moments Gary talked of his hope for the future. He talked of the change in American politics in the past few years when it comes to gun control. Highlighting that in 2012 Obama shied away from discussing gun control during his second election to the 2016 election where Clinton did not shy away from talking about it, he argued this showed that at least Americans are now talking about the prospect of gun control.
Gary Younge proved an insightful, often very funny interviewee and his book came across as a powerful must-read. The fact I left with a signed copy proves that he made a difficult topic a must-read and I urge you all to find a copy of Another Day in the Death of America and explore this painful subject.