Op-Ed

A home divided cannot stand: America seen from across the Atlantic

Images of school shootings from 1966 to now look eerily similar

Charles Whitman opened fire on the University of Texas campus in 1966. Since then, the images of school shootings across America look eerily similar.
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Charles Whitman opened fire on the University of Texas campus in 1966. Since then, the images of school shootings across America look eerily similar.

I’m studying abroad in the UK for a term, and often have to make a commute from London to Oxford. I wait at the same bus stop every time.

A couple nights ago, a young woman dressed all in black asked me for the time. She told me that her bus had passed her earlier, and she thought it was because of her dark attire and her black skin. I chuckled and told her I’m not surprised that buses in the UK are racist.

We had some time to kill, so we discussed US politics. As her bus approached and our conversation came to a close, she told me that the one country in the world she wouldn’t visit is the United States, because she was afraid of being killed there. And then she boarded her bus and I didn’t see her again.

I want to say that this sentiment didn’t surprise me — since I arrived here, people have heard my accent and bantered about our president — but I was a bit taken aback. It was eerily similar to the shock I felt when the 2016 election results were announced. This time I was quicker to correct myself and my shock — people within the US are fearing for their lives every day.

I’ve felt that on a smaller scale, being in classrooms with school shooting threats and being harassed on the streets, but I am a white woman. My mortality is not a political bargaining chip. She is a black woman. There is clear statistical evidence that she is more in danger than me, whether it’s through incarceration and police brutality, or maternal mortality and reproductive care.

She also could have been referring to US gun policy. Earlier in the conversation, she remarked that in the UK, you are only concerned about stabbings, and at least then you can see the knife coming and run. I told her about my parents, how both worked in schools most of my life and have been in real lockdowns, in real danger. I also told this story to two Scottish blokes when I was in Glasgow, and they told me about how their news channels are dominated by US news, and that they cover nearly every shooting we have. They watch their television screens in horror.

I have always been proud of my home, and after five months away, I am so ready to return to it. I can see the ways in which Olympia has shaped me into who I am, from the way I recklessly smile at every stranger I pass and how I like spending time in quiet coffee shops, like Batdorf and Bronson.

Then I remember that I had only one black teacher throughout my K-12 education. I remember being crouched in the corner of my first period class at Washington Middle School, waiting for the lockdown to end. I remember when Olympia High School students spray painted “white power” on the rock outside the school. I remember not being as outraged by that as I should have been.

When she told me she was afraid to visit the United States, I wanted to tell her about the Olympia Food Co-op and our Farmer’s Market. I wanted to invite her to visit the Hands On Children’s Museum and to hike around Priest Point Park. I wanted her to see my favorite parts of my home, the places where I’ve always felt safe and loved in my community. She boarded her bus too quickly though, and left before I could defend my home.

I remember my AP Government teacher in high school, after the election in 2016, telling me not to worry because we are in Washington, we are safe. He was right, we were safe, but the interracial couple that was stabbed in Olympia in a hate crime, just months before, was not. Hate crimes across the country have skyrocketed since 2017. The number of missing and murdered indigenous women are growing and Seattle has the highest rates.

We don’t talk about this though, it hits just too close to home.

Gracie Anderson is a student at Pacific Lutheran University who was born and raised in Olympia. She helped organize the Youth Call for Climate Action Rally at the state Capitol in 2018. Reach her at gracienanderson@gmail.com.
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