I do not want to get shot. I have had blood-soaked nightmares the last couple of years about that very thing happening to me. As I sit in church or a movie theater, or when I am giving a speech or practicing yoga, I look for the exit signs, contemplating quick escapes for when someone starts to fire.

This is where I am, where we are, in America. This did not begin this week. This nation was born in gun violence, inhumanely inflicted from the start on American Indians and on my enslaved African ancestors. This nation was built on white supremacy and toxic manhood, despite those words of the founding fathers about us being equal. That warped worldview has survived abolition, the civil rights and women’s rights movements, and the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality.

Gun violence is in the American DNA. We learn its lessons from the moment we start school, and it follows into adulthood. We are bombarded with nonstop images of gun violence in our video games, movies, television and music. But that is only part of the core problem. Our culture, our society, is contaminated with violence in every form.

It is what we are taught is the solution for conflicts and grievances — to be aggressive, mean, unkind, violent toward one another. Whether it’s literal bombs or verbal ones, we are steeped in hyper-aggressive behavior on everything from reality TV shows to social media to news programs. Violence is forever rewarded, and those who condemn it, who do not believe in it, or want no part of it, are dismissed as soft or weak.

As a youth in the 1980s, the Reagan years, I was mightily scared about being shot, murdered in cold blood. I was able to escape to the safety of college, but I have jarring memories of what crack cocaine and guns and gangs did to my community, and it seemed as if no one cared. I saw how easy it was for folks to buy sawed-off shotguns, Uzis, virtually any kind of gun they desired. There was general indifference. We mostly poor Black and Brown folks were left to simply kill one another at will.

When these mass shootings began to reach white America in places like Columbine High School in the late 1990s, suddenly more people began to take notice. But nothing serious and sustained was ever done. Not then, not since.

The list of mass shootings in America stretches long and reads like a who’s who of towns and cities and states. Much lip service, a few political moves here and there, but be it people of color shooting each other in the Chicagos of America or one white supremacist male after another waging a very personal war — and domestic terrorism — against Black churchgoers in South Carolina or Latinx immigrants in Texas, violence is the solution for men and boys who feel isolated, marginalized, dissed, enraged.

The toxic definition of manhood most of us have been given, regardless of race or culture or creed, teaches that to be human is to be violent, aggressive, self-centered, domineering and power-mad. We know this from the stories that have poured forth from women and girls in this era of #MeToo.

It is also not lost on me that since the late 1990s, since Columbine, there has been a stunning social isolation brought on by the tech revolution; a real unwillingness to deal with mental health in our country, or violence as the major public health issue it is; and getting one’s hands on a gun seems easier than ever.

So the cultural norm is the same as it ever was in America. Human life is not consistently valued. This did not begin with Donald Trump. Just ask any native-born Black person whose history includes surviving everything from slavery to segregation to the murders of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.

What Trump represents is unapologetic white nationalism, unapologetic white supremacy, unapologetic toxic manhood; his words and his behavior give a renewed and reinvigorated license to disgruntled working-class and middle-class white Americans, particularly angry white males, to just take lives, because they can.

That is why some of us in America do not see life as sacred, as worth preserving. Those who commit gun violence do not feel they have a stake in this society, that their lives do matter, be they Black and Brown people here in my beloved Brooklyn, New York, or white males in El Paso, Texas, or Dayton, Ohio.

So we point fingers at one another, at whomever we perceive to be the enemy, the threat, and we blow each other away with the guns that, if you’re a 21-year-old adult, are as easy to get as a roll of toilet paper or a pair of flip flops at the local Walmart.

I do not want to get shot. Not by a Black or Brown or white person, not by anyone. But until we move this culture of violence and hate to peace and love, nothing will change. Until there are real and permanent gun control measures in place, nothing will change. Until manhood is redefined and mental health care for all is taken seriously, nothing will change.

And until we ask, very directly, very seriously, “America, where are we going?” nothing will change, either. We will just await the next series of mass shootings, recycle the same responses and thoughts and prayers, and continue to deteriorate as a people, as a nation, like it is no big deal. We are better than that. But only action, real action toward real solutions, will reveal that, for the sake of us here, now, and for the sake of our children not yet born. — (CNN)

Kevin Powell is a writer, civil and human rights activist, public speaker and author of 13 books.

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