The Anti-Black History of the Second Amendment with Carol Anderson | Crooked Media
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August 27, 2021
With Friends Like These
The Anti-Black History of the Second Amendment with Carol Anderson

In This Episode

Best-selling author of “White Rage” Carol Anderson explores the anti-Black history of the Second Amendment. There is structural racism built into our Bill of Rights! The story of white Americans’ fear of black Americans with guns starts with the enslaved people who fought against the British and runs all the way to the killing of legal gun owner Philando Castile – and beyond. Her new book is The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America.





Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox and welcome to With Friends Like These. I have a special treat this week, I’ll be talking to Carol Anderson. She’s a professor at Emory University and a true friend of the pod. She’s the author of, among other things, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, as well as One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. Now she’s going to talk to us about her new book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. It’s a heavy topic for sure, but I think you’ll be surprised by how energetic and engaging she is. I am jealous of her students, for sure. So coming right up, Carol Anderson talking about The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America.


Ana Marie Cox: Carol, welcome to the show.


Carol Anderson: Thank you so much for having me.


Ana Marie Cox: Yes, having you back. This is the second time we’ve had you. It’s lovely to have you back.


Carol Anderson: Thank you. And it is great to be back.


Ana Marie Cox: So I guess my first question for you is a really broad one, but I’m so curious, just how did you get interested in the subject of the Second Amendment and as it applies to anti-Blackness?


Carol Anderson: You know, my research, the bulk of my research has been about African-Americans’ rights, their civil rights, their human rights, their citizenship rights. And it was with the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota, and here you had a Black man who had been pulled over by the police, and following NRA guidelines, he alerts the officer that he has a license to carry a weapon with him. And the police officer begins shooting and kills Philando Castile. So Castile wasn’t brandishing the weapon, he wasn’t threatening to use it, he was just alerting the officer that he had one so the officer wouldn’t be surprised when Philando reached for his I.D. and saw the gun. And he was just gunned down in front of his fiancée and in front of her small child. And the NRA went virtually silent on this. I mean, virtually silent. And the NRA doesn’t do silence. But there they were, when a Black man is killed for simply having a license to carry a weapon: virtual silence. And journalists were asking, well, don’t African-Americans have Second Amendment rights? And I went, oh, that is one I haven’t explored yet. And because in our current environment, the Second Amendment right is seen as foundational for citizenship, I thought, oh, this will be a really good one to explore. And it sent me hurtling all the way back to the 17th century.


Ana Marie Cox: You know, so when I looked at the title of your book and started reading it, this idea of the Second Amendment and how it intersects with anti-Blackness, I thought I kind of knew what you might mean because I’m familiar with, for instance, you know, the gun laws in California having targeted the Black Panthers, right? And I’m familiar with how any law that that interferes with any kind of right is always disproportionately applied to Black and brown people, so I have no question that the way the gun laws are applied here disproportionately affect Black and brown people. But what your book does is it shows how the creation of the Second Amendment, like from the beginning, from before there was a Second Amendment, was infused with anti-Blackness,


Carol Anderson: yes, and that was my aha moment in this work, in this research, was seeing how fearful white colonists were of Black people, and how they kept creating the architecture of control: the slave patrols that went into the slave cabins to look for weapons, to look for books, the militia that was there to quell massive slave revolt, to keep Black people from being able to fight for their freedom, and the gun laws, the laws that said that the enslaved as well as free Blacks could not have access to weapons. That kind of fear was just pulsing through. And what I also saw was, again, I go back to your previous question of how we think about the Second Amendment now, part of the way we think about it now is this kind of hallowed ground of the militia as being this incredible force that fought against the British and fought for American liberty and American democracy and wow! And—


Ana Marie Cox: Spoiler alert for people that haven’t read the book: Militias, not so great after all, right?


Carol Anderson: Not so great after all, right. So you have this thing where George Washington is just beside himself because sometimes the militia would show up, sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes they’d show up and then they’d stop fighting and then they take off running. I mean, it’s like, how can you have a battle plan when you cannot rely upon your forces to be where they’re supposed to be, where they’re supposed to be there. And so they could not rely upon the militia to take on a professional army.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. Let’s, let’s just stop for a second and want people to drill down on this a bit, because we do have this, especially I think, you know, white Americans have this idea, like, oh, the noble colonists who rebelled, so brave, you know, took up arms against the British and that’s why we’re free today. Again, not so much. Right?


Carol Anderson: Not so much.


Ana Marie Cox: They had trouble rounding up the necessary numbers of white people they would need to fight the British. And because the idea of arming Black people was already, again, pre-Bill of Rights pre-revolution, but in the height of slavery, this idea—you said it in the same breath, books and guns: same kind of weapons in the eyes of white people. So the idea of having Black people help fight the Revolutionary War, which they needed to do, in order to have the numbers right? Was just resisted so heavily.


Carol Anderson: Oh, I mean, so in 1775, they banned Black people from joining the Continental Army, just banned them. But the British are kicking some USDA Grade A prime beef butt, and they can’t get enough white men to enlist in the Continental Army. I mean, they are so far below their quota standards for what they need to take on the the most powerful fighting force out there. And so finally, two years later, they relent. So you start seeing in the north where they’re like, OK, fine, we are going to let enslaved men join the Continental Army and we’re going to promise them their freedom for being able to fight in this army, for being willing to fight in this army. And so you had Black men joining the Continental Army. So it was, it became a fully-integrated army. So you didn’t have Black units and white units, you had a fully integrated army. And they fought. There were like 5,000 Black men in this army. And it was it was so incredible, so strong, so powerful, so effective that the British were like, dang, “let’s go,” You know, but with a British accent, I can’t do ‘dang’ in a British accent.


Ana Marie Cox: I won’t make you. We’ll just say, well, I liked it better in your accent, “dang,” let’s just say “dang.”


Carol Anderson: That’ll work.


Ana Marie Cox: And that’s especially interesting because the British were already abolitionists, right?


Carol Anderson: The British were moving toward abolitionism. And one of the things that you saw happening in this war that freaked the colonists out was that the Earl of Dunmore, who was the royal governor of Virginia, had promised the enslaved men who were on the plantations of the rebels, that come fight for the king and you will be free. And whew—


Ana Marie Cox: So this raises a question, what would be the deciding factor there? I mean, because, it seems like if you’re an enslaved person, the British are there, they haven’t enslaved you, right? And the Americans are there and you and yours would not be in the colonies were it not for them enslaving your family. So when you choose who to fight for [laughs] what, can you talk about that a little bit? Because there’s a part of me that feels like how, why would they trust the Continental Army to let them have their freedom after they fought?


Carol Anderson: It’s a great question. And really this was, you see how powerful the quest for freedom is among the enslaved, that they’re like, who’s going to offer us our freedom? How do we get free? Because you had had a series of revolts, slave revolts prior to the Revolutionary War. You had had Black folks fleeing, going into Maroon territories where they were setting up their own communities that were in the swamplands to be almost impenetrable to whites so that they could be free. And so this pronouncement from the Earl of Dunmore was like music, music, and tens of thousands fled to the British. Fled to the British.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. And you can’t blame them. I mean, like as much as the founding myth of America is a part of my upbringing as anyone’s, that seems like a pretty easy piece of calculus to make right? I mean . . .


Carol Anderson: And you had folks like Benjamin Franklin going: wow, they’re getting ready to turn our Negroes against us, right?


Ana Marie Cox: Well, who did what there, really? You know? Who turned them, I would say. [laughs]


Carol Anderson: And this, this kind of framing, because that framing also is what would continue to feed into the anti-Blackness. That Black people could not be trusted, that, you know, they got the slightest little wink and nod from the British and whew, they took off running in our hour of dire need. But during that war, what you saw was that the Black man who fought in the Continental Army, they had a lower AWOL rate than whites, and they fought for longer periods of time than white men. So but all of that got erased and it was just look at all those Black folks fleeing. See, you can’t trust them. They’re untrustworthy. They’re no good. They’re dangerous. They’re fighting against us.


Ana Marie Cox: For one thing, I also want acknowledge the bravery of anyone who’s going to choose to try to escape enslavement and go to fight for the British. It’s not just they made a choice, oh, am I going, it’s not just, oh, am I going to stay here or go fight for them? It’s an incredibly risky choice to say I’m going to make a, take this incredible risk. Because it’s not just like who, oh, who am I going to fight for, you know, decision, decisions, Right? It’s making this incredibly dangerous choice.


Carol Anderson: Absolutely. And the precarity of Black life is for me, one of the salient points that courses through this book, that Black folks would continue to fight for their freedom, would continue to fight for democracy, would continue to fight for justice. But in that fight, how they fought and what they fought for made them absolutely vulnerable to the violence that would rain down on them, the state violence that would rain down on them, the state-sanctioned violence that would rain down on them. The precarity of Black life courses through this book because it courses through American history.


Ana Marie Cox: So all those thousands of people of enslaved people who chose to join the British were taking, we’re already taking their lives into their own hands, as it were. I mean, finally being able to take their lives in our own hands rather than someone else’s hands—but this incredibly dangerous choice to even try to escape to go fight for the British, what incredible bravery there. And then let’s talk about the Black people that fought for the Continental Army, because, dammit, Carol, I don’t know. I mean, I assume there have been some writings or narratives from these people where we get some kind of insight into the choices that they made.


Carol Anderson: You know, and, you know, it’s, there is again, a precariousness there, and so I’m going to go to the point after the war where, so they were offered their freedom for fighting, but then you get a court case in Virginia in the early 1800s that says, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. If they’re Black, there is an automatic assumption that they are enslaved and they have to prove otherwise. So think about that, you have fought for this nation’s freedom and you still have to prove that you are not enslaved.


Ana Marie Cox: Well, that’s the story that continues on through today. I mean . . . [laughs]


Carol Anderson: Yeah, you have to prove that you are not dangerous. You have to prove that you did not provoke the violence that came raining down on you. Because as Black is the default threat in American society, that is what has helped feed the sense of precarity, the reality of the precarity of Black life.


Ana Marie Cox: I’m going to just try one more time with this choice, so the colonies could not have won the revolution without the Black people that fought on their side.


Carol Anderson: Absolutely.


Ana Marie Cox: And there was no reason for the people who made the choice to fight with the white soldiers of the Continental Army—I mean, I feel like, what a, to call it a leap of faith is not enough, right? I just, like I said, I’m curious, to decide to do that rather than either do nothing, you know, I mean, that’s a choice. It’s a valid choice because, again, every choice that a Black person made at this point in time is in precarity, right. Like there’s no safe choice. To escape is dangerous, to stay is dangerous, to fight for the Continental Army is dangerous. So those that fought for the Continental Army, do we know why?


Carol Anderson: There was a sense that they could be free and there was a sense of the language of democracy, the language of a new kind of regime, that we hold these truths. There was this sense of like freedom, and freedom is a powerful elixir, and the sense that the people who had once held you in bondage, held you and your family in bondage, were saying, Lord, we need you now, God we need you now. We need you now so desperately that if you come fight for us, you will be free.


Ana Marie Cox: Carol, that gives me chills.


Carol Anderson: Yeah, yeah. I mean, when you think about it, that has been the promise and the fight for so long. If you fight in this army, for democracy, for American values, you will be free. And what we know from Black men in the military up for a long, long, long span of time, that was not true.


Ana Marie Cox: And that’s the thing that, that, yeah, that gives me like I have a physical reaction to that, the bravery to take that chance, that expression of the highest ideals that the revolution was supposedly fought for, right?


Carol Anderson: Yes. Yes. And you know and, so one of the things that I continue to argue is that our freedom struggles have been on that aspirational plane of what the United States says it is. Not what it actually is, but what it says it is. And that is where you have seen these incredible freedom struggles of people fighting to gain access to those aspirations, to that democracy, to that freedom, to that equality, to that justice.


Ana Marie Cox: It’s one of the arguments of the 1619 Project, that it’s people of color, Black people especially, that have kept America honest, as it were, or tried to, right?


Carol Anderson: Yes, yes. Yes. Whew.


Ana Marie Cox: Tried. And that’s the other thing that breaks my heart to hear you articulate this powerful belief that these formerly enslaved people had. They bought our bullshit—speaking as a white person. Right? Like they believed what we were telling them, because on some level it’s true, right? And then had to have it, as you said, like right after the war, a court case finds you’re a slave until you prove you’re not. And then after the First World War, those veterans are lynched and tortured and subjugated. And then after the Second World War.


Carol Anderson: Yes!


Ana Marie Cox: And then after, and after Vietnam. I mean like, it’s just this, and we can argue about whether or not the Vietnam was necessarily fought to uphold American values, but this idea that we will, we will—and let’s get to the real point of your book, right, the Second Amendment—we will take up arms. We, the people who were brought to this land in chattel slavery, we will take up the guns that you have given us, we will fight for you. We will not turn them on you [laughs] at least not right now, because you’ve told us we need to do this. And they keep coming, this, it keeps coming back to that. It keeps coming back to that.


Carol Anderson: Right. And the, we will take up arms, and so part of what we also see in this is the exigencies so that when whites need Black folks to bear arms, then there is a a loosening in that boundary so that during the Revolutionary War, and you couldn’t get enough white men to enlist in the Continental Army and the British are like coming—I mean, the British are coming—and there is this sense, when you think about this, the Americans were traitors to the British crown and we know what happens to traitors. So this is the Oh, my God, we can’t get enough white men, what are we going to do in this? And when you think about it as well. In South Carolina, when the British, when the war stiffened up north and the British said, we’re going to hit the soft underbelly, we’re going to go south. And so they send basically a doggone near armada of 8,000thousand troops to the south, they hit Georgia. Georgia collapsed like that. General Howe was like, I don’t even know what happened. And then the British like, we just whipped your butt, that’s what happened. And now they’re going to head toward South Carolina. They’re coming to Charleston. And George Washington sends his emissary, John Lawrence, a prominent son of South Carolina, to beg the South Carolina government to arm the enslaved because South Carolina had deployed the vast bulk of its white men to control its enslaved population as part of the militia. Right?


Ana Marie Cox: Yes, the militia.


Carol Anderson: The militia. And there were only 750 available white men to take on this mass force coming from the British of 8,000 troops, only 750 white men available. And John Lawrence is like, you don’t have enough white men to stop that, so you’ve got to arm the enslaved. And the response from the South Carolina government was, we are horrified that you would ask us to do something like that. This is alarming. This is appalling. And we don’t even know if this is a nation worth fighting for.


Ana Marie Cox: So this gets to the question that that came to me fairly quickly as I was reading the first part of your book. With friends like that [laughs] do enslaved people need enemies? When I mean there is, I’m just going, we know how the story ends, right? Eventually, the enslaved people are armed, eventually you and I are here speaking with American accents as fellow citizens of the United States. When I heard the vitriol expressed by Southern colonists still, right, about arming enslaved people, when I heard even, I mean, you know, northerners were not racist, right? I mean, they were still pretty racist.


Carol Anderson: Oh, yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: And then at the same time, you have the British saying, come on over. You know, we’re not going to keep you, we’re not going to enslave you. And it was so close right, America was on, the colonies were on the edge of losing this whole thing.


Carol Anderson: Yes, yes.


Ana Marie Cox: I have to ask the counterfactual, what do you think it might have been like for Black people if let’s say, the South Carolinians were just so far up their own asses, they couldn’t see it straight to have some help fighting the British, and the British had won.


Carol Anderson: That is an incredible counterfactual.


Ana Marie Cox: I know, but I have to ask, I know it’s not necessarily useful, but . . .


Carol Anderson: You know, and I think it would have been something akin to Jamaica where you would still have British rule and you would have the lure of the profits that come from these vast plantations and you would have the language that would justify it via racial hierarchy. Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: So what I hear you saying is anti-Blackness is a hell of a drug, and that it’s going to win out a lot. So it’s not necessarily to say, so, yes, the Americans were pretty horrible. British were pretty horrible. British for a second there seem less horrible. But, this language and these ideas that are bubbling up in the colonies. I mean, there is a reason why the enslaved people chose to go ahead and fight against the British.


Carol Anderson: That language was powerful and we really see the power of that language with the Haitian revolution.


Ana Marie Cox: I was going to ask you to tell us about the contagion of liberty.


Carol Anderson: Yes. Yes!


Ana Marie Cox: So why don’t you tell us about the Haitian revolution and the contagion of liberty?


Carol Anderson: And so the Haitian revolution began in 1791. And remember, you had the French Revolution. Haiti was a French colony, and the French Revolution began in 1789 and you had King Louis the 16th who was beheaded and deposed in that. And so you had this battle happening in Haiti over who would control this incredibly rich colony. You had a battle between whites and mulattoes and you had a vast Black, enslaved population. And so while the whites and mulattoes are battling each other, the enslaved looked up and said, oh, we’re getting ready to get free. And they took it in 1792, they brought it to Saint Louverture. And the Haitians rose up and just started fighting for their freedom and to get rid of that colonial structure that had imposed an incredible brutality on the Haitians. And they had talked in these revolutionary terms of equality and fraternity, so equality, brotherhood, but what they also brought that, and liberty—but what they also brought was a sense of racial equality, something that wasn’t just about the kind of civil liberties that the US talked about, but in fact, a racial equality. They made that central to how they envisioned freedom because it had been racial oppression that had kept them down. And they fought. And I mean, so they took on the Spanish because the Spanish came up in there, and the Haitians were like, son, you don’t know my name. You don’t want some of this. And so and so then the British rolled up and they’re going, but you know where the British. And they were like, no, you would be dead, that would be your name. And so the British talked about, it was like fighting for a cemetery with the number of dead Brits because of how the Haitians fought. And so then Napoleon rolled up in there and he was like, oh, I got this. And he came in with you know, he brought, it wasn’t him, he sent his brother-in-law and with a fleet and like tens of thousands of French troops. And the key was guerrilla warfare, where you don’t try to meet this army one-on-one. Instead, you hit them, you destroy their means for existence, so a scorched earth policy. And then they said we wait for the rains, because with the rains comes yellow fever, and the fighting and the yellow fever just destroyed the French troops. They lost they had an 80% casualty rate.


Ana Marie Cox: Oh, my God. Wow.


Carol Anderson: So, yes. So Napoleon had to just go: OK, uncle, you win. And so you begin to think about what this means. Haiti is not that far from the United States. And so having a successful slave revolt where they have fended off and destroyed three European armies, it up ends that whole sense of white supremacy, that whites are absolutely invincible and that Black people are docile and are, and are here for subjugation, here for nothing but labor. They’re not here for freedom. And so the ideas coming out of Haiti are just, you know, George Washington called them lamentable to see Blacks in this state of revolt. And Thomas Jefferson was like, oh, Lord, Lord, they coming, they’re coming. We have got to keep this kind of evil from getting over here.


Ana Marie Cox: And the irony or, I don’t if it’s right ot call it irony, but there’s this echo chamber of revolutionary idea is basically happening, right?


Carol Anderson: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: Because the Haitian revolution builds upon the ideas of the French Revolution and the American Revolution, right, and then it goes back into the US and white people are scared shitless. Like, you started it, guys, but . . . [laughs]


Carol Anderson: And they were like, they were like, OK, the wrong people are getting these ideas. These ideas have a “whites only: sign on top of them. I don’t know what made you think you could be free. I don’t know what made you think that that this was available to you.


Ana Marie Cox: And it’s at this point in the book where—I’ve studied American history. OK? Full disclosure, but I studied it in America. So I did not know this, which is that you can make an argument and you do make this argument in the book, that the Bill of Rights itself, which of course, written around the same time as the Haitian revolution, right, that’s sort of going on same time there, in some ways was designed, designed, to put that “whites up only” sign, right?


Carol Anderson: Yeah. I really look at that with the Second Amendment.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, the Second Amendment, specifically. Like in a weird way—not so weird because you’re going to explain it—but it was, that what we think of as the, you know, sacred, you know, list, wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the South demanding some kind of carve-out. Right?


Carol Anderson: Exactly, exactly. So, you know, we had the Articles of Confederation coming after, or coming during the War for Independence, and then those Articles of Confederation were like the governing rules when the US won. But the Articles of Confederation were just that, it was a confederation, and so each state was acting like its own little thing with its own money, its own foreign policy, tariffs between their borders—stuff wasn’t working. The thing was getting ready to collapse. And so there’s a group that gets together to revise the Articles of Confederation, and James Madison is like, nah, this thing isn’t revised, but we need to start from scratch. And they join together and they get into Philadelphia and they start drafting this constitution that has a much stronger central government. One of the things that Madison does is he puts control of the militia under the federal government. And, yeah, and he does that because of the weakness that the militia showed during the war, because he’s like, OK, they need some real serious training.


Ana Marie Cox: We can have you turning tail on us, we need to like, we need to smack you around a bit, get you under control. You can’t just go off to your farms, you know, when things get tough. So we’ll take control. And again, for people that are following current Second Amendment debates, this is kind of an important thing to know, right?


Carol Anderson: It really is. I mean, this is the piece that gets obliterated, right? Is that the role of the militia was that that militia turned tail, that militia, even when they were winning like at Bunker Hill, couldn’t close the deal because the folks who were fighting just were like, OK, I’m tired of fighting. And they were going home. And the group of militia men that were supposed to replace them were like, no, I’m not doing that. So it just, so Madison puts control of the militia under the federal control, under the federal government,. And when it’s time for ratification, then ratification is moving along, moving along, moving along, and then it stalls like in New Hampshire. And Virginia hasn’t signed on either. Virginia’s one of the big states and so Washington sends Madison down to his home state of Virginia to get into that constitutional ratification convention. And he runs into the buzz saw of the anti-federalists of Patrick Henry and George Mason. And they start laying into him. They are like this militia thing now, you know, good and doggone well that the North detests slavery. How dare you put control of the militia, which is our only defense, against a massive slave revolt, how dare you put that under the federal government? That includes, like folks from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, you know that they would not call in the militia to protect us against a slave revolt. We will be left defenseless.


Ana Marie Cox: And just sort of have to fast forward to the current debates about what people who believe that the Second Amendment is about individual gun rights say, this is such a . . .  [laughs] No, it’s not. It’s like, because what they’re, and also this this veneration of the militia, right? Like which again, is sort of built up, and I don’t think it’s just like outright racists who say this, it’s sort of just part of the the culture of the history that we are kind of absorbed into is that our brave militias fought for freedom. And indeed today, the reason why we have a right to a well-regulated militia is in case some assholes come and try to take our liberty. Not all wrong. [laughs]


Carol Anderson: But this was the other component in that, is that right before the constitutional convention, there was Shay’s rebellion. And Shay’s Rebellion was in 1787. And you had a group of white men who were angry at Massachusetts taxation policy, and they decided to basically attack the Massachusetts government and they were taking over courthouses because there were seizure of land for nonpayment of taxes. And so the way that you you stop that mess is that you go, you take over the mechanisms of the law that allow for that seizure. So they’re taking over the courthouses and then they’re going after the armory in Springfield so they can get more weapons to really bring it. And so the Massachusetts government is like help! Help! And calls in, so the Massachusetts government tries to call in the militia to put down Shay’s rebellion and the militia’s like: nah, not doing that. And you actually have some militia men who actually go and fight with Shay’s forces. And so Boston merchants have to hire a mercenary army of 4,000 men to put down Shay’s rebellion. That thing is what is hanging over the head. I mean, it is there like Banquo’s ghost. It is this really daunting shadow, as they’re writing this language about the militia. The militia is not reliable. And when it—yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: Except when they’re there to go after formerly enslaved people.


Carol Anderson: Oh! Drop that mic.


Ana Marie Cox: The militia is not reliable in the place where we’re sort of kind of, you know, in a very propagandistic way, taught to believe that they’re reliable, which is, you know, stand up against oppression. They’re incredibly reliable on the side of oppression!


Carol Anderson: Oh, my. Oh, my. They are there. So it was Stono’s rebellion in 1739 in South Carolina where you had Black folks rise up and try to get to Spanish Florida because there wasn’t slavery in Spanish Florida. And the South Carolina militia was like, oh no, the last thing we need is Black folks thinking they can just go south and get free. And they hunted them down. And their militia laws, for instance, required men, white men to carry guns at all times. And so Stono’s rebellion happened on a Sunday. So these white men were in church with their guns and the alarm started ringing that all the slaves are fighting, the slaves are in revolt. And these white men got their guns that they had right there with them and took off to hunt those who were fighting for their own freedom.


Ana Marie Cox: I want to revise and extend my remarks, by the way, about militia and when they’re reliable.


Carol Anderson: OK,


Ana Marie Cox: They’re reliable, when they’re fighting to oppress Black people, specifically. Because the Shay’s rebellion thing is about white people, right? Militia not so reliable. And we don’t care, right, that’s the militia response to Shay’s rebellion. You know what? Government, shmoverment. You know? But then when is the militia really reliable? Right here.


Carol Anderson: Right here. Right there. Right there. We see that consistently, how the militia is called upon and how responsive the militias are to slave revolts. They are there. My mother used to say Johnny on the spot. They are there. And so you have George Mason talking about—and recall that during the war, the North was trying to get us to arm our slaves. And so, you know, we can’t rely upon them. You know, we have to have the militia to be able to to put down these revolts. And there had been a series of revolts in Virginia before the big ones that we often think about, which is Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner. There have been a series of these revolts prior to the constitutional convention.


Ana Marie Cox: So, Carol, I’m going to pause us on this cliffhanger, and we’re going to take a short break.


[ad break]


Ana Marie Cox: In case people have forgotten, we’re at the exciting debate over the ratification of the Constitution, and Madison has introduced this idea of the militia being a part of the federal government, correct?


Carol Anderson: Yes, it’s already in the draft constitution. Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: The South is not happy because they know or they suspect that those darn freedom-loving northerners would not help them put down a slave rebellion if they were called upon to do so, right?


Carol Anderson: Oh, yeah. They were they were afraid of that.


Ana Marie Cox: They were afraid of that. So, so where are we? So what, what is the, what is the twist here? What happens?


Carol Anderson: And so what happens is, is that George Mason starts pounding on the issue of having a Bill of Rights put in the Constitution, these amendments that could curtail the power of the federal government and that would protect basically the militia. And so when you think about, and so and they were very clear that if they didn’t get that, that what they would do is that they would push really hard for a new constitutional convention. And what Madison was afraid of is that this would be Pandora’s Box and it would hurt the United States right back to the unworkable years of the Articles of Confederation. And so he’s wants to make sure that he’s got this Bill of Rights there. And what he knows from the battles over the in the constitutional convention itself was that the South will play some serious hardball with the being of the United States, with the foundation of the United States, the existence of it.


Ana Marie Cox: You know what, he wasn’t so wrong to be afraid of that. I mean, a few years, one hundred years later . . . like [laughs]


Carol Anderson: Boom! Right, right.


Ana Marie Cox: He was no wrong to be worried.


Carol Anderson: He was not wrong to be worried, at all. He smelled it. He smelled it. So, I mean, this was they, they wanted to get the 3/5ths clause in order to get representation in government because the South was afraid that it didn’t have enough people when it came to the House of Representatives, you know where you count the number of rep—that they didn’t have enough people and they would always be outvoted in federal in the federal system. And so they demanded, first they demanded—the Lord help me—they demanded that the enslaved be counted on a full equality with whites. Which led Elbridge Gerry to say: excuse me, I thought you said they were property!? So if there all full equality with whites, they’re citizens, right, and they can vote, why don’t you give them the right to vote? And they’re like, no, that’s not what we saying. And then another delegate said, excuse me, so did you count them for your state representation? Right? And they’re like, no. They’re like, so if you don’t count for the state, how on earth are you going to count it for the federal? And they say, let me tell you what, we don’t get this, we don’t at least get 3/5s?


Ana Marie Cox: We walk.


Carol Anderson: We walk. Madison was used to the hard ball that the South would play. And so when George Mason was like and, Patrick Henry, who hated James Madison from the depth and the breadth and the heights that his soul shall reach, hated him some James Madison and Madison knew it—he was like, they will scuttle the United States of America. They will call up a new constitutional convention. I’ve got to get this Bill of Rights through the First Congress and get it ratified. And so Madison goes up to that First Congress and he’s drafting these amendments because they’re pouring in from all of the different states, and he’s condensing them. And when you think about them, we end up with the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to not have a state-sponsored religion, the right not to be illegally searched and seized, the right to a speedy and fair trial, the right not to have cruel and unusual punishment, the right to a well-regulated militia?


Ana Marie Cox: It’s weird when you put it that way, Carol.


Carol Anderson: Right? Right!? For the security of a free state? What? What?


Ana Marie Cox: One of these things is not like the other, I feel like.


Carol Anderson: Yeah, one of these things is not like the other. This is the bribe to the south, to the southern anti-federalists to mollify them so that they are comfortable enough with the Constitution, comfortable enough with the protections of slavery, so that they won’t scuttle the United States of America.


Ana Marie Cox: It’s basically we’re going to enumerate all these rights, for the first time in history, which is kind of cool, right, that are natural rights such as—the natural rights of what they think of as man, you know, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to express yourself—these are all, again, sort of this language of God-given, and then you get to militia. [laughs]


Carol Anderson: Right. Right?


Ana Marie Cox: Which isn’t such a natural right. Like, it’s you know, you aren’t born with a militia. So it’s there specifically—so we’re going to list all these rights that we believe are available to everyone under God, and then also, hey, South we’re going to give you the right to beat the shit out of anyone you want.


Carol Anderson: Right. And so sitting here in our Bill of Rights is the right to control and contain and destroy the rights of Black people.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah.


Carol Anderson: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: So one thing I thought about as you unpack this in your book is, sort of begins to flash to the current debates over the Second Amendment, a lot of them are about was it, is it intended to be about militia? Is this about arming a militia, or is about arming an individual? Right?


Carol Anderson: Right.


Ana Marie Cox: All these debates, all these legal scholarship about that. And I know you’re not claiming to be the utmost legal scholar here, but to follow the history of your argument, it seems like it’s intentionally unclear, right? They’re not trying to make it for sure, oh, this is definitely about a well-regulated militia or this is definitely about an individual right to bear arms, they’re saying, like, whatever you need to do South. Like, uh, this, here, like whatever you need the second movement to be, we’re going to let you do it.


Carol Anderson: I read that most, more as to be able to arm individual men to be able to be in a well-regulated militia.


Ana Marie Cox: Right.


Carol Anderson: And so I think about Madison’s initial draft of the Second Amendment, what we call the Second Amendment now, where he’s like, unless you have a conscientious objection to bearing to bearing arms, then you don’t have to be in this well-regulated militia.


Ana Marie Cox: See, and that’s also kind of a mind fuck too, right? That’s not the way we think about it. Like . . . [laughs]


Carol Anderson: Right.


Ana Marie Cox: They were carving out, the initial idea was to carve out the right to not participate.


Carol Anderson: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And then when the Senate committee got a hold of it, they’re like, nah, get rid of this conscientious objection stuff. Because what they were also afraid of is that you had this argument—you had a couple of arguments going on. One is that this conscientious objection thing, that would lead the the North to say everybody’s a conscientious objector to this and so the South would be left defenseless. They’re like uh uh. And you also had during—and I’m going back again—during the Virginia ratification debates, you had—I can’t remember if was George Mason or Patrick Henry—arguing that what would happen is just what we saw happening in the war for, the Revolutionary War, was that these Black men would be enlisted in the Army and being given their freedom. And they said, could you imagine under a federal structure that would control the militia, they would bring all Black men into the military and they would get their freedom. That is absolutely objectionable! Yeah.


[ad break]


Ana Marie Cox: Carol, you and I have talked for almost an hour and we’ve gone all the way up to almost 1800s. So . . .


Carol Anderson: But had to get the foundation right for the Second Amendment.


Ana Marie Cox: We did. Right. And, of course, we can crowdfund our like 10-episode podcast series on, each extra, each decade in American history as it applies to the Bill of Rights and anti-blackness but  I’m going to have to fast forward us just a little bit.


Carol Anderson: Definitely.


Ana Marie Cox:: So the first place that I have as far as like I think we might want to stop our time machine is in Oakland, California, with Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. They’re driving along. They have some shotguns with them, as I recall. Tell us about, tell us about the, when this is and what happens.


Carol Anderson: So this is in Oakland, California, in 1967 and what has happened is that the Oakland police have just been brutalizing the Black community, brutalizing that Black community, beating up folks, shooting folks, just—and there’s no accountability in the system, none. And so the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense arises out of this sense of the lack of accountability. And Huey P. Newton is a law student and he knows the law about open carry. And he’s like, we are getting ready to police the police. And so they figure out what kinds of guns they can actually have, how they have to carry those guns, how those guns are have to be loaded. And they know also how far away they have to stand from the police when the police are making an arrest. And they are policing the police. They are standing there open-carrying with their guns. And the police are not liking this at all.


Ana Marie Cox: I recall they have some things to say, don’t they? Aren’t they yelling some things as well?


Carol Anderson: Oh! The cops are just like you: you damn—, what makes you think you got a right to a %^$& gun!? What you doing with these MF guns!? And it’s like: man, these are my guns, I know the damn law! And just start spewing California code at the cops.


Ana Marie Cox: Spitting code! They’re spitting code.


Carol Anderson: Right! And the cops are like, damn! And so they run to Don Mulford, who is a a conservative assemblyman in the California legislature, and say: look, we need your help with these Black Panthers, every time we pull them over, they’re legally carrying, you know, they’ve got these 45s, they’ve got these shotguns, but they’re not sawed-off shotguns and the way that they’re open carry openly carrying them, it does not violate the law. They’re legal. How do we make them illegal? We need your help. And Mulford’s like, yeah, I’m there. And starts, and starts writing the law and he gets help from an NRA representative in crafting this law that bans open carry in California. And you’ve got Ronald Reagan as governor of California writing: I’m eagerly awaiting this piece of legislation to hit my desk, I will eagerly sign it. So, you know, we often think of this kind of constellation of the conservatives of being pro-gun, except when you’ve got Black folks carrying guns like the Panthers. They’re like: oh, no, we’re not having that, we are not having that. And when you think about it, the genesis for this was the massive police brutality raining down on the Black community. But you didn’t see any kind of legislation coming up in there about how to rein in the cops and make the cops accountable for that violence, for that extraordinary extraneous violence. Instead, it was: how do we stop the Black Panthers?


Ana Marie Cox: I, it is, I believe, always a good rule of thumb in American history to when you see a restrictive law, ask, who are they trying to oppress, right?


Carol Anderson: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: In almost every restrictive there is, from laws regarding sex work to drug laws to licensing of hair salons—as much as I’m a, you know, I am a commie pinko simp and I love government, I really do, but you have to look at all of our history through that lens, I think. You know? Or at least ask that question. And your book pointed out something that I hadn’t thought about before, because, again, I’m happy to have the government regulate stuff, that seems like a good idea to me most of the time. But if I, if I remember the story of the Black Panthers and I remember the story of the Bill of Rights, and then I think about gun laws and I think even a law like not allowing felons to own firearms, Carol, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never really thought about that as being an anti-Black law. But, guess what? [laughs] When you decide felons can’t own firearms, who are you saying you can’t own firearms?


Carol Anderson: Particularly when we have criminalized Blackness.


Ana Marie Cox: Yes! All those other things that we’ve we have regulated and criminalized. Yeah.


Carol Anderson: Right. When we have criminalized blackness, that that makes the “felons can’t bear arms” an anti-Black provision, it is a way of making that disproportionately Black. And this is what we see happening. And so the power of these laws is that they are often coded in this language of safety and security. This is what we’re bringing, safety and security to the American people. Look how we are protecting you. And what we’re actually seeing is look at how we’re protecting you from Black people, because Black people are the threat. Black people are who are dangerous in this society. Look how we are protecting you from them.


Ana Marie Cox: And also, you point out laws against guns in public housing is another law that winds up being de facto anti-Black.


Carol Anderson: Absolutely. I mean, this was the thing is about seeing the ways that these laws worked and seeing then who is disproportionately affected by them. And one of the other laws that I looked at—as you can tell, I moved us all the way up until the 21st century. So to go from the 1600 to the 21st century. Whew.


Ana Marie Cox: Our podcast series that’s just about every decade is going to have to be longer than ten episodes, so we’ll just have to come back around on that. I’ll write up a treatment, I’ll get back to you. But yes, bring us up to the 21st century.


Carol Anderson: Is that, you think about the law of “Stand Your Ground,” right? This is a law that is supposedly one of the hallmarks of the Second Amendment: the right to self-defense. And what has happened with this law is that what it does is it expands the “castle doctrine.” The castle doctrine is when, it says somebody who comes into your home, an intruder, you have the right to defend yourself, to expel that intruder, to neutralize that threat. The Stand Your Ground says anywhere where you have a right to be . . . whew. And if you perceive a threat, you have the right to defend yourself. Well, you know, so if I’m at the grocery store, if I’m in a parking lot, if I’m at church, if I’m at work—places where I have a right to be and I perceive a threat, well, when Black is the default threat in this society, this is why we’re seeing the kind of disproportionate—so what do I mean, by disproportionate? When whites kill Blacks under Stand Your Ground, they are 10x more likely to walk under justifiable homicide than when Blacks kill whites. 10 times more likely, under Stand Your Ground. When whites kill Blacks under Stand Your Ground, they have a 281% chance of, they’re 281% more likely to walk under justifiable homicide than when whites kill whites. When Blacks are the victims of this violence, because they are seen as the threat, it makes it justifiable.


Ana Marie Cox: I want to stand up and turn around and look back at all that history that we somewhat fast forward it over. Because I think it’s really important to, I want us to to land somewhere that I think, that you do bring us to in the book, which is the recognition of the incredible resilience, grace, and fortitude of Black people in America, and how hard they’ve fought for this country and the ideals of this country, even when admit they were fighting the country. You recount story after story after story, all these stories—again, I thought I knew some American history, these stories of revolts and uprisings, just from before we were a country up until everyone remembers a year ago, and of course, since then too—Black people have have taken their rights seriously . . . and fought for them, whenever, whenever necessary.


Carol Anderson: Yes. Yes, I’ve got to say, this was a hard book to write, because I was writing it in the midst of the pandemic, and in the midst of a wave of police killings of Black people, and in the midst of the the assault on our voting rights. And so seeing all of this work that Black people had done to fight for this democracy, to make it live up to its ideals, to make its aspirations real, and all of the terror and the bloodshed. So in this book, you see I’m talking about Red Summer of 1919 and like in Elaine, Arkansas, where you have Black folks who were sharecroppers and who had their wages stolen from them. And so they had the audacity to try to organize a labor union, to join a union, and for that, and the white landowners found out about it and sent a scouting party up there to disrupt the meeting, to break it up. And the Black folks said if white folks find out about this, they’re going to kill us. And so they had set sentried out in front of the church where they were organizing, and there was an exchange of gunfire as that scouting party came up and a white man was killed and another white man was wounded, and the word got back: Black folks are trying to kill all of the white people here in Elaine, Arkansas. They’re trying to kill all of the white people here in Phillips County. No. They’re trying to get paid for their labor, and they’re trying to defend themselves against violence. It got so intense that they called in, the governor called in the U.S. Army that brought in machine guns that had been used in the war in France and began machine gunning down Black people.


Ana Marie Cox: And yet . . .


Carol Anderson: And yet. Yes, and yet.


Ana Marie Cox: There, again, grace, resilience, fortitude, to keep fighting.


Carol Anderson: To keep fighting.


Ana Marie Cox: And again, I just I thought I knew about the slave rebellions and uprisings that had happened in America, but clearly there are, you tell so many stories that I knew, and I bet there are even more stories. There are stories we don’t know. Because the stories of the uprisings aren’t good for history. They’re not good for us, me, speaking as a white person. Like . . . [laughs]


Carol Anderson: And I think that this is part of the reason why we were seeing an incredible backlash against the 1619 Project and that, and the way that it gets cast as critical race theory. And I’m like, you are not teaching kindergartners critical race theory. I guarantee it. You know? But it is, you know, when they say we want a patriotic history, that means that you’ve got these flattened, two-dimensional heroic figures who are just making great decisions all the time. Well, you know, so their humanity and their humanness is stripped from them. We don’t see them in their full embodied selves, making good decisions and bad decisions, and dealing with the consequences of those decisions. If we don’t have Patrick Henry and George Mason talking about “we will be left defenseless,” we don’t have that Second Amendment in there that is talking about the right to a well-regulated militia for the security of a free state.


Ana Marie Cox: I think some people, maybe even good, well-meaning white people, get itchy when we call something that used to be called a riot, an uprising. This book really helped me understand why we do do that. Because it’s something I said a little bit ago, which is that what I see in this book is a history of Black people fighting for the ideals of America, even when it means fighting America. Right?


Carol Anderson: Yes, yes.


Ana Marie Cox: Standing up for the rights that we, we white people have always taken for granted, and saying: no these are ours—even when it means taking up arms against fellow Americans. That sounds maybe rough. I don’t know. I mean, I’m trying to put this in the best way I know how.


Carol Anderson: No. No, it is, and so this has been also part of the strategies of how do we fight? And so one of the reasons why I think the civil rights movement ends up on this iconic status, besides -t being, like, incredibly awesome—


Ana Marie Cox: Well, yeah.


Carol Anderson: Is because it went after that narrative of Black people as being inherently dangerous and violent and criminal by deploying that nonviolent strategy and allowing the cameras, that new technology of television, to be able to show the violence of Jim Crow, to physically see the violence of Jim Crow. That it wasn’t just these laws that were eviscerating, creating civic death in Black folk, but it was the way that it created a violent death as well. And to see, and so when you see white people beating up Black folks who aren’t swinging back, then, it was like, oooh. I mean, it was like cognitive dissonance, a national cognitive dissonance. This isn’t making sense. Whites are law abiding, they’re freedom loving, and Black people are the dangerous ones. And so the image that we were seeing in the civil rights movement just flipped that upside down. And that’s why the Panthers then became so, they became what J. Edgar Hoover called the most dangerous organization in American society. Basically public enemy number one were the Black Panthers, because you have Black men and Black women carrying guns and being unequivocal about their rights.


Ana Marie Cox: Which again, if it was Cliven Bundy, right, it’s OK. See, that’s why, I mean, like I get weird about saying this, about saying like, they fight for their rights, Black people fight for their rights even when it fights against other Americans. Because I don’t want to make it, I don’t want to play into this idea that Black people are dangerous or Black people are, or whatever. But I feel like we, popular culture lionizes white people who stand up against the government. [laughs]


Carol Anderson: Right.


Ana Marie Cox: You know?


Carol Anderson: I mean, think about the insurrection on January 6th.


Ana Marie Cox: Oh! Well, yes. Speaking of. Yeah, sure. I mean, we’ve been, I mean, that story, I mean, it’s almost cliché to say what would have happened if it had been Black people. But the thing is, like, I just I, I just . . .


Carol Anderson: And we know because, when, remember, the Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., where they called out every federal force available, including folks from the Bureau of Prisons, all in uniform, riot-geared up, thinking about how to deploy kind of weapons that would heat up the skin.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah.


Carol Anderson: Right? I mean, Black people as dangerous.


Ana Marie Cox: It just bothers me that white people—that Black people shouldn’t have to be so noble. [laughs] Like, you know, I mean . . .  [laughs]


Carol Anderson: Oh, preach.


Ana Marie Cox: You shouldn’t, it shouldn’t just have to be, I mean, white people get called heroic even if they’re not necessarily nonviolent, so, you know, what it takes. [laughs]


Carol Anderson: Let’s take the case, you know, in this book I talk about Kyle Rittenhouse.


Ana Marie Cox: Yes! Yes.


Carol Anderson: Right?


Ana Marie Cox: Exactly.


Carol Anderson: Who is the—


Ana Marie Cox: A sad story, very sad story, but . . .


Carol Anderson: 17-year old who crossed state lines with an illegally-obtained AR 15, goes to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where there is a protest going on because of the shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in the back by police. And so there is a protest happening there. And so the cops see this white teenager with this AR 15 and they welcome him. You know, they’re like, oh, we really appreciate you guys being here. It’s hot out here. You want some water? And then he goes and gets into altercations and he shoots down three men, killing two of them and seriously wounding a third. He walks back to the cops with his hands up as if to surrender, and the cops go right by him. They don’t see threat. Juxtapose that to 12-year old Tamir Rice, who is the Black child in Cleveland, was playing alone in the park with a toy gun. Now, granted, it doesn’t have the orange tip on it that says, hey, I’m a toy, but Ohio is an open-carry state. And so it says as long as you’re not pointing the weapon at somebody, you can openly carry it. So there’s nobody in the park. He’s not threatening anybody. The cops roll up and within two seconds of their arrival, they shoot him down. And the police say we were afraid, he was threatening, he was dangerous. How is a 12-year old with a toy gun dangerous and threatening, but a 17-year old with an AR 15 in the middle of a crowd, not? Anti-Blackness.


Ana Marie Cox: Carol, it is always, I don’t like that we have so much to talk about when you come on the show, but I do love talking to you, and I can’t recommend your book highly enough. It is called The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Thank you again, just thank you so much. I hope you’ll come back.


Carol Anderson: Oh, definitely. Thank you so much for having me Ana Marie. Thank you.


Ana Marie Cox: And that is it for the show. And once again, we were talking to Carol Anderson, author of many, many good books, but most recently The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. I don’t have much to add this week, so I’ll just say the usual. Everyone out there, you . . . take care of yourselves.