Guns, Racism, and Respectability Politics

Reflections on the shooting of Ralph Yarl

Pax Ahimsa Gethen
3 min readApr 19, 2023
Two black and white T-shirts reading “Black Lives Matter”. On one of the shirts, the letters in the slogan are made out of the names of Black victims. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The recent shooting of Black teen Ralph Yarl for the crime of ringing a white man’s doorbell has captured a large amount of media attention in the U.S. Yarl, who was seriously injured, has received over three million dollars in contributions to a fundraiser for his recovery, and got a phone call from President Joe Biden. Many of the articles written about the 16-year-old high school student mention that he is an honor student and a musician.

Yarl deserves every bit of that money, and I wish him a speedy and full recovery. But here’s the thing. While his good grades and musical skills are commendable, I also see them as irrelevant to this story. (I say this as a Black person who was also a high school honor student and musician.)

If he had been a dropout who watched TV all day, or a drug addict, or even a gang member, it would have been just as wrong for Andrew Lester to shoot him in the head — and shoot him again when he fell to the ground — in response to that mistaken doorbell ring. Yarl’s…