I grabbed my phone to screenshot my digital boarding pass, just so I could save it on my home screen for easy access at the airport. That’s when I realized my 10:40am flight in fact departed at 7:40am. Oops. At that moment, it was 6:30am. I leapt from a leisurely packing process to a frantic mad dash. I just knew I would miss my plane, but somehow, the travel gods spared me.
Several hours later, I found myself camped out at a little Starbucks with an absolutely amazing view of the Colorado River in central Texas. It was there, with lots of caffeine, that I finished up the last few slides of my presentation for the annual conference of A Girl and A Gun. I was invited to speak this year, and it was my first time attending. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was slated to discuss diversity: a touchy subject in many pro-gun circles.
Nearly 125 ladies had RSVP’ed (and paid extra) to attend that day of seminars. I was dead last on the agenda, following giants like Tatiana Whitlock and Gabby Franco (both of whom were phenomenal speakers, BTW). I tried to scan the audience, and at first glance I don’t think there were any other black women there, though of course I could be wrong about that. After the long day of back-to-back speakers, I was nervous that folks would be tired, irritable, and ready to leave. Hell, frankly I kinda felt that way myself, since I hadn’t hit the sack until 3am the previous morning.
Finally, showtime. I started with two live polls to gauge how people felt about diversity in general. Here are the results:
That got the circulation flowing and (I hope) piqued some curiosity. From there, I channeled my inner Tony Simon (kudos to Tony and his Diversity Shoot). I had asked Tony a few days earlier if he had any advice for me or suggestions on what I should say to the audience. He said, “tell them to meet people at 60%.” That conversation inspired this series of slides in my PowerPoint, mostly created during my 11th-hour Starbucks session the night before.
That strip of green at the end – that represents potential common ground. Just imagine what awesome magic we could make with even that modest little sliver of accord. No, seriously, stop what you’re doing right now, and imagine.
The presentation rolled on, and about half-way into my time, I had only made it through about a third of my slides. I could tell I was falling way behind, but the conversation was great, people seemed to be listening with genuine interest, and I was getting some fabulous questions from people. So, I just let it roll.
By the end, we had discussed the racist history of gun control (many had no idea), the occasional anti-gun twitches of famously conservative Republicans and pro-gun organizations (lookin’ at you, Ronald Regan), and the priceless gift that left-leaning Justice Breyer unwittingly gave to the pro-2A community as recently as 2016. All of this stuff, I argued, was useful to our efforts to broaden the proverbial pro-gun tent. I wasn’t talking about how to converse with top-tier operators and trainers. Instead, I was offering tips for endearing ourselves to the average, everyday person who is possibly gun-curious, gun-agnostic, or even anti-gun. What do you say? How to you respond? What drives them away? What hooks them in? Below are just a few of my tips:
- Be non-political. If you’re just breaching the topic of guns with someone who is on the fence, leave all the political ideology out of it entirely.
- Be relatable. It’s tough to hear someone out if in your mind you can’t help but think, he’s nothing like me. Try ditching the plate carriers and 5.11 pants every now and then if possible. Talk to folks while you look like a regular guy/gal instead of an “operator.”
- Tell the whole story. Too many pro-gun people only tell the good side, the popular side, the rosy side, the stuff that has been recycled and bumper-stickered so much that it’s now hackneyed. Try discussing other parts of our history, so others can see that we (gun people) are just as multi-layered and complex – and imperfect – as any other group. For example, one lady in the seminar proudly declared that the Second Amendment was written for all human beings. I had to politely add an asterisk to her comment. While it might have been written for all humans, black folk weren’t considered humans back then (as Justice Taney makes clear in the Dred Scott decision, surely the founders did not want those creatures having guns). Obviously, we’ve come a long way since then. But we can’t erase history, even when it’s ugly and uncomfortable. I think the gun community should be more vocal about stuff like this. It would lend us a lot more credibility with groups that are sometimes suspicious of the squeaky clean “guns are the great equalizer” mantra. Yes, it’s true. But it’s complicated. Let’s own that.
- Use subliminal messaging. Some messages are better delivered by feather than by sledgehammer. Instead of lecturing someone (who is already late to pick up her kids or eager to clock out or whatever) about how non-traditional groups could benefit from joining the 2A fold, try just hanging a photo of Otis McDonald on the wall at the local gun shop. I guarantee you it’ll spark some curiosity from that black guy who just came in to look around and never intended to seriously train. If that guy stops to look at the photo of a hero for gun rights who happens to be black, then boom – golden opportunity to reel him in.
- Go where the people are. It’s not enough to say, “Anybody is welcome to come to me, and I’ll help them.” If you can, when you can, also go to them. Volunteer to give a short talk at the local YMCA, or the youth group, or the black church or barber shop. They don’t bite. (Well, I’m sure there are some who bite, but no more than the biters in your own tribe).
- Speak up for others. That means even people who disagree with you. If Ted Nugent calls a Hispanic man “Beanochimp” while the NRA banner sails behind him… Well, when that happens, you have two options. You can sit quietly and look the other way, taking solace and refuge in the fact that at least it wasn’t you personally who deigned to spew such gag-worthy cowplop. Or… you can speak out against the Nasty Nuge and refuse to let him give further ammunition to all those who think the entire gun community is, well, Ted Nugent.
- Be nice. This one speaks for itself. And one might think it would go without saying. But suffice it to say, well, it needs to be said. And said, and said, and said again. For the love of Thor, don’t be an @$$hole.
Of course, no discussion about race would ever be complete without me bursting into tears. 🙂 So yeah, that happened too. Luckily, the wonderful ladies of AGAG didn’t judge me for it, and some even shed a few tears right along with me. I know, I know. I should stop being such a cry baby. I had every intention of keeping it together for that session. But apparently that plan was overruled.
After the session, I got tons and tons of great feedback. I also sent out an email to the entire group with summaries of my points and links to related material online. I hope it was helpful. Apparently, someone liked it, because a few days later I got invited to the Women’s Luncheon at NRAAM. That’s later today. Wish me luck!
I’d like to thank Julianna, Robyn, Debbie, and all the wonderful ladies of A Girl and A Gun. I hope to be invited back in the future. Later in the week, I heard someone casually refer to “colored people” and then express genuine shock that the phrase would have ever ruffled any feathers. She honestly had no idea that term had died on the same hill as poll taxes and literacy tests. I had to take a moment to educate. I also got a lot of comments from people who had no idea that any racial drama even existed, in the gun community or otherwise. “I don’t even notice race,” many professed. That’s a whole ‘nother topic.
There’s still so much more work to be done.
17 comments on “Wait, Otis McDonald is Black?”
I appreciate your response. I’m an old (61 yrs) white guy, originally from North Texas. I truly don’t think I’m racist, but some of the values I was raised with may make it appear so (quite unintentionally).
FWIW, I’m for equality all across the board (meaning equal reward for equal effort and attitude, regardless of race or gender). Guess I just don’t know how to be any less racist than that. I have some other thoughts, but this is a firearms related blog. 😉
Anywho… I love your attitude and common sense outlook on gun (and other) issues. And I wish a lot of other gunowners were more like you.
Keep up the good work. 🙂
Thanks, Mac! I appreciate the feedback! Please come back often and don’t be shy.
P.S. Sixty-one ain’t old! 😉
“Later in the week, I heard someone casually refer to ‘colored people’ and then express genuine shock that the phrase would have ever ruffled any feathers.”
And yet there’s the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
How are folks supposed to know what’s acceptable and what’s not? :/
Welcome to the party! This is an EXCELLENT question, and I’m glad you asked it. Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer (sorry). The most common answer I hear is that the NAACP keeps the name for historical reasons, the same way no one erases outdated terms from classic history books (here’s one explanation, and here’s another from a former NAACP president). The organization itself has struggled with whether to change the name for years.
Note that “colored” (in my humble opinion) is not a racial slur; it’s just outdated. It’s like wearing bell bottoms. 🙂 Calling people “colored” doesn’t mean someone is racist, just like wearing bell bottoms doesn’t necessarily condemn you to fashion jail. Using the term “colored” does, however, tend to give the impression (rightly or wrongly) that a person may be still clinging to the 60s in the context of race. And for me, in the context of race, the last place I want to go back to is the 60s.
That being said, if I ruled the world, I personally would change the NAACP’s name. But hey, that’s just me.
Thanks for chiming in!
Oh – I almost forgot to answer your question: “How are folks supposed to know what’s acceptable and what’s not?”
First, kudos to you for even giving a damn. Many don’t. But if it matters to you at all (and I hope it does), the only real way to get an idea of what’s acceptable is to hang out with lots of different kinds of people. There will never be any memos sent around on what’s acceptable, and unfortunately sometimes propriety is as fickle as fashion (back to my bell bottoms analogy). But if it’s important to respect cultural norms at least to a reasonable degree, it just comes with exposure and familiarity.
I had no idea I was supposed to take my shoes off in certain households… until I visited those households. Or here’s another example: Folks who don’t hang around gun ranges much might ask themselves, why on earth do they stick those funny looking bright orange plastic doohickeys down in side of the guns? That ain’t gonna stop a bullet, so what the heck is it for? Not until you hang around gun folks for a while does it all slowly start to make sense (or even if it doesn’t make sense, at least it gets put in context).
Bottom line, I think the more you hang around people who are different from you (not just racially but across the board), the easier it gets to navigate these sometimes murky waters.
Sorry if that’s not a terribly satisfying answer, but it’s all I’ve got! Hope it helps at least a little.
I came across this article through Active Response Training. I will definitely be reading more of your writing. Thank you.
Thanks Riley. Welcome aboard! ?
Good job but, then again, I expected no less. You are awesome. I wish I could have been there.
Aww, thanks, Andy! ?
I see race. Everybody does, it’s unavoidable, like seeing height and weight and style of dress. I know there’s good history and bad. I know it’s important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons.
I simply don’t think it should be important, and I wish it wasn’t. It doesn’t say anything about someone. It’s just a trait. It’s the least useful trait for dividing people I can think of. Nobody is who they are because of what they look like.
I applaud you because you work to bring people together and help them understand each other, not because you’re a black woman doing it. Wisdom, compassion and courage are not race- or sex-dependent. Thank you.
Thanks, Mark. I appreciate that. ?
Run for the NRA Board Of Directors! You’ll get my vote (and I suspect lots of others).
You may (or may not realize you’re a pioneer in the sense that Rosa Parks and Otis McDonald were. Keep at it!
And I thought us old dinosaurs that remember when “colored” was in regular use had mostly died out. Sad some still think it’s OK.
Thanks, Mike! I wouldn’t last two seconds in any kind of election, but it’s an interesting thought. ?
Hooah! Works for me. I already see too many “not my presidents” running my clubs into the 19th Century. Move on!
I know that I’ve always thought your posts are insightful and helpful.
This post just raised the bar to unimaginable levels. Would that the executive leadership of the NRA see this, hear this from the attendees, and take it to heart!
Your voice, the voice of the women at AGAG, people like Sarah Cade and Erin Palette… these are the voices of the NRA that should be heard. Nuge should be out. WLP should be out.
It is time for another Cincinnati Revolt.
This old fart is heartened by the very large green bar on the right. May it come true.
Comments are closed.