Episode 5 of FX’s Atlanta, entitled “Nobody Beats the Biebs,” has each character dealing with three separate racial issues. The overarching theme of the episode, as the title suggests, focuses on a Black Justin Bieber (Austin Crute). The episode focused on the hypocrisy inherent in the media representation of pop stars like Justin Bieber, who usually get passes for their crazy antics and crimes, as opposed to rappers and other Black artists who face a media onslaught if they so much as spit on the sidewalk. Although this is a very important issue that needed to be addressed, the subplot that features Darius’s (Keith Stanfield) run in with gun toting, 2nd amendment fanatics is a much more pressing issue that deserves more recognition than the small feature it had in this week’s episode.
In short, Darius travels to a gun range to do what any 2nd amendment-loving American does: shoot guns. However, instead of shooting at a poster of a human target, he instead chooses to use a poster of a dog. He is then approached by two white men who bemoan Darius’s use of the dog target by constantly reiterating, “You can’t shoot dogs.” Darius asks a fair question, “Why would I shoot a human target?” Sadly, Darius’s excellent rebuttal falls on deaf ears, and he is then escorted out of the establishment by the shotgun-wielding manager who tells Darius that he isn’t going to allow him to “start no shit.”
The writers at Atlanta touch upon one of the biggest questions that has racked the brains of people since Michael Vick went to jail for dog fighting, but Ben Roethlisberger never saw a jail cell for the two sexual assault allegations that were raised against him. Why does it seem that Americans care more about their animals than they do real people? It’s odd because animals are innocent creatures that deserve the same recognition and respect that we would give human beings. But on the other hand, we recklessly kill, breed, and maim pigs, cows, and chickens without a second thought to their innocence. So, is it that we really care about animals? Not likely.
In 2015, psychology professor and author Hal Herzog declared his hypothesis that people are more empathetic to their dogs than they are to other humans. Two sociologists at Northeastern University tested this hypothesis by giving people fake news stories and asking them to report how empathic they felt towards the victim in each story. The research showed that people actually felt more empathy for both a puppy and a grown dog than they do for an adult human being. Additionally, people in studies care about their dogs and cats, but would still eat a cow without any hesitation.
To take this a step farther, consider how the public responded to the deaths of animals like Cecil the Lion and Harambe as opposed to how we treat the senseless deaths of Black people at the hands of the police in the United States. In each animal case, there was a large outcry of support for the animal and widespread condemnation of the individuals responsible for killing them. However, every time a Black person is killed, we somehow debate over the justification of their deaths, oftentimes siding with the murdering officers more often than the (often unarmed) victim. The humanity of Black people is questioned, as if we haven’t gotten rid of the ridiculous notion that Black people were not human, which prevailed hundreds of years ago.
We’re so used to seeing the deaths of human beings that we’ve become desensitized and therefore aren’t affected all that much by human death. As displayed in Atlanta, shooting at targets of color can reinforce dangerous stereotypes and prejudices, but Darius is completely right: If you would rather shoot at a human picture than a picture of an animal, you are part of the problem.
How about this? Let’s just get rid of gun use in America altogether. Not only might this lower the murder rate, but then cops can’t use the excuse that they felt threatened by a gun because the weapon no longer exists, but we love our guns too much to allow this to happen. Welcome to ‘MERICA.