Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School walk out to the football field for 17 minutes of silence in honour of the 17 victims killed at the school on February 14. File picture: Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP
Sometimes it is hard to see beyond the hype of a new social movement. Even legitimate, credible and important ones like the anti-gun movement sweeping across the US have a tendency to obscure and overlook factors that must be foregrounded if the movement is to make an impact.

Last week, over one million pupils took to the streets in the US, to protest against gun violence.

Under the banner “National School Walkout”, pupils took out 17 minutes from their school day to remember the murder of 14 students and three staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

On Saturday, another mass protest, the March for Our Lives, will take place in cities across the country.

The effort to dethrone the gun mafia in the US, led by the notorious National Rifle Association (NRA), is noble.

The school walkout and March for Our Lives is a grassroots effort; those behind the protest have refused to allow this issue to fall off the agenda.

But the pace at which this movement has sped across the US speaks to a greater reluctance to talk honestly about race and empire that lies at the heart of the gun violence debate in the US.

It is difficult to know if the pupils behind the mass action understand that their protest is no longer an act of defiance but rather one that is rubber-stamped, endorsed and sponsored by the country’s political and social elite.

Even celebrities have come on board. George and Amal Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian all donated tons of money to the cause.

There is nothing wrong with celebrities getting involved. But when you are deeply embedded in the political establishment and have a thunderously selective moral pointer, I’d rather you sit down and let the pupils take the lead.

For instance, how often have you heard the elite speak about the gun-induced mayhem in US inner cities or the war crimes abroad involving an arsenal of US military equipment?

Think of these celebrities’ actions as you would the South African chief executives’ winter sleep-out: an act of Mickey Mouse activism.

I am not suggesting that the battle for common sense to prevail has been won. The rules governing more strenuous background checks are not going to change overnight; civilians with assault weapons aren’t likely to give them up without a fight. This war has not yet been won.

Instead, post-Florida and the upheaval it has created, much of corporate America has sensed a shift in public sentiment towards guns and has responded to save itself.

Days before the march dozens of companies began pulling away from the NRA. What was meant to be a time of national mourning has become a time for collective amnesia and convenient corporate rebranding.

As it stands, mass shootings comprise a tiny proportion of gun-related violence and deaths in the US.

The majority of gun violence in the US impacts African-Americans. About 10 times more black children are killed by guns than white children each year. Almost 85% of black victims of homicide are killed by guns.

The violence comes in various forms; gang warfare, drug wars, opportunistic violent crime and racist police brutality on black bodies being among the most well known.

The majority of killings take place in the inner cities or ghettos with high crime rates. Addressing gun violence in these places means addressing poverty, infrastructure, poor education, alienation and lack of opportunity.

But no one wants to address any of these matters.

So when black youth were raising the issue of gun violence for years - especially after the spate of police killings - it seemed very few wanted to listen.

But when a group of young white boys and girls spill tears on the microphone at the loss of their friends, or take to the streets, suddenly protests have a sheen of civility, instead of black lives matter thuggery.

This is precisely the problem with white, liberal America that many of us will never accept.

Liberals in the US - most who might have voted for Barack Obama - supportive of gun control, gay rights and rhino preservation in Africa, somehow seem to trace present-day American buffoonery to Donald Trump.

They forget that the US, like the world, is a country of two halves. Those with lives that matter and the rest who seem to procreate in abundance and hold shorter life spans.

Americans now awakening to endorse the anti-gun protests are merely interested in protecting their lives, not of those who are most vulnerable, including black people and the urban poor.

The poor are vile after all, and they can kill each other all they want.

Where white conservative America is racist and unyielding in their determination to preserve the status quo, liberal America is mostly interested in appearances. For them, a police officer killing a poor black person is white America displaying too much power. It is this display of power inequality that embarrasses US liberals most.

The anti-gun movement in the US is about ensuring more gun control. Americans are finally awakening to the possibility that its laissez-faire approach to selling weapons domestically is not altogether very smart, but what of US arms being sold to some of the most horrific governments and non-state actors across the globe?

Just ask Iraqis, or Afghans or Yemenis, or anyone else facing up to American-made weaponry. Ask Palestinians or Somalis. In 2017, the US sold $41.9 billion (R502bn) worth of weapons to foreign countries.

According to the Pentagon, this was 25% more than 2016, but they wouldn’t say who bought the weapons or what was sold. Nonetheless, for the longest time, the US has been the world’s biggest exporter of arms.

And here comes the kicker: foreign arms sales of late have become a lot more important to US defence companies, given the stagnation in the domestic market. Another indicator that this anti-gun movement has been allowed to breathe.

The pupils leading the charge are brave. Their cause forever noble.

But this is a story far bigger than they, and as it appears, most Americans, can possibly understand.

* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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