In December 2014 I naively walked into Farish Street, a fairly conflictive area in Jackson, Mississippi. To give you an idea,
this is how a neighbour describes it on TripAdvisor: "I'm from Jackson and if you are white in this area make sure you have a gun on you. It is a very
dangerous part of town." However, at that time I only knew that it was a historical site because it had been built by slaves, and so that seemed like a good enough reason to grab my camera
and just show up there by myself like a perfect European fool.
Just a couple of months back, when my journey was just starting, I had reencountered an old friend in the state of Maine. When I told him that my plan was to backpack the country on my own, he walked me to his car, took a can of pepper spray out of the glove box - the first one I had ever seen, since they are illegal in Spain - and handed it to me. Basically, it was intended to protect myself in case of rape attempt or any other form of physical attack, given that everyone knows that you must not confront a robber. I didn't want to take it with me, but he insisted and I ended up keeping it.
I never used it. However, my journey would have been completely different if I hadn't taken it with me.
From that moment on, every time I put my hand inside my fanny pack to grab something and my fingers touched the spray, the awareness of danger came back to my mind. Its touch became a reminder of how risky my trip was, of how vulnerable I was and, all in all, of the fact that any man could attack me. I would pull out my cell phone to look at the time, or my wallet to buy an ice-cream, and suddenly everyone around me represented a threat inside my head. Ironically, the spray made me feel more restlessness, instead of more safety.
This is the fear culture. Living in a constant state of defense, remembering that you can be the target of an attack at any given
moment. The legality of guns is not only fatal in a practical sense, but also at a
psychological level. Every time a person sees, thinks or talks about the weapon they have at home, the need to own that
weapon automatically comes up to mind. Whether we are aware of it or not, a constant discourse grows around that necessity and this, too, is dangerous, because
it normalises and justifies its use. Paranoia, free-for-all, never lowering your guard - all this encourages us precisely to "shoot before you get shot". Shooting just in
case. Shooting, and then asking.
Yeah, but, what if I hadn't been so luckY? What if I had actually been attacked?
While I was walking down Farish Street realising where I really was, I reached out for the little can in my fanny pack, seeking for a sense of safety in its touch. But I didn't feel safety. I didn't because I understood immediately that it would be no use at all. In the U.S. guns are legal - what was I supposed to do with some pepper spray in case of an attack? Even a gun wouldn't have made it, since the possible aggressor would most definitely carry one himself. So I got out of there as quickly as I could and since then I made sure I was well informed about a place before setting foot in it.
Gun attacks don't get solved with more guns, but with education. Rape is not avoided by teaching girls to defend themselves, but by teaching boys not to rape. And the justification of violence will not stop if the last thing we think about before going to bed is the weapon inside our drawer. I learn this every time I visit this country and I understood it after catching myself being part of its system. Fear is a tool of control that makes us see more monsters than there really are. And this way, in the end, we end up creating them ourselves.