Monthly Archives: August 2012

Dirty Words: Race Talk

Jeffrey Phelps / AP

Two years ago, I blogged my thoughts on race in America in my super awkward / uncomfortable Super Chocolate Brown Bear post. And in it, I say:

“Sometimes, I still feel like a secondary citizen, socially.

Not secondary in the sense that “you’re brown, you can’t frequent this establishment” – more like, you’re brown and not really American. … It’s not too far off for me to think that way, is it? The way a frighteningly large number of Americans are reacting to our President?

This race thing largely wasn’t an issue until I got older, of course. I like to blame the last good ole’ Dubya for teaching our country that difference is to be feared and rejected. We joke about being called terrorists and being looked at funny in the airport – but the fact remains: there’s truth behind it. I only started laughing about being called a terrorist after I heard a group of kids in college walk by and say: “Yo, check out that terrorist.”’

In light of the shooting that happened this weekend, I’m forced to reckon with this feeling again. Only this time, there’s more anger and confusion. Those of us who were old enough to remember just after 9/11 know that the first man to be killed in a hate crime was Sikh. They’re in the unfortunate position of playing “Muslim” to modern racists / extremists who don’t know the difference. And of course I’m not saying it would have been okay if he had been Muslim. It just shines the light on the first of two big issues here:

A Lack of Education and Understanding

We all hear about Arizona, who, for the past few years with their uneducated governor Jan Brewer, have consistently been anti-minority. Sorry are you brown, I need to see your papers because you might be illegally living here. No, no, I don’t care if you were here first. We believe in white people in Arizona. Where they’ve cut what they are calling “Racially divisive ethnic-studies classes” (also-known-as Mexican Studies.

We hear about Texas, where they’ve voted to downplay the civil rights movement in text books that will be used across the country.

These are not outright attacks on a particular ethnicity or culture, but they are designed to promote the White-is-Right attitude, and that anything that is different doesn’t need to be understood, it just needs to go away. And unfortunately, we’re all kind of sitting back and taking it. This brings me to my second issue:

Why Bother Talking About It?

A few weeks ago there was a terrible incident in Aurora, Colorado. The reaction was immediate. It was all over my newsfeed, all over my tweet stream, everywhere everyone was talking about this thing that had happened. As they should have been! It was a senseless act of violence and needed to be discussed and shared if only so we could create a conversation on how to make it better. One day after the shooting, the Huffington Post posted the reactions of politicians. There are 57 slides of reactions. Within three days of the shooting, there were hundreds of articles about it.

The Wisconsin shooting happened yesterday morning. I didn’t hear about it until yesterday evening. As of this post, I’ve read the reactions of six politicians, one of whom is the executive director of the Sikh Coalition. Most of the people who are talking about it on social media seem to be of South Asian descent. Which makes me think: Do people just feel like this isn’t all that big of a deal?

A man walks into a house of worship and shoots and kills these Asian-Americans. The lack of reaction is disheartening. Why aren’t we worth the same anger and confusion that people felt weeks ago? Is it old news? Is it because it’s more expected?

I’m genuinely struggling with this. After the Aurora shootings, it was all people I knew were talking about. It came up frequently in conversation at home, at work, and everywhere else. Not a single person has brought up this Wisconsin shooting in my office today.

Roger Ebert wrote an op-ed for the Times after the Aurora shooting that because of this act of violence, we should be able to discuss Gun Control in a rational way. I agree. And I think that because of the Wisconsin shootings, we should be able to discuss race and ethnicity in a rational way.

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