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.



Filed under This Sucks

6 responses to “Dirty Words: Race Talk

  1. This whole situation is just horrible. I don’t live too far from where the shootings yesterday took place and today no one is really talking about it.

  2. Bhairavi

    I couldn’t agree more. Hidden bias in this country is one of the worst, lingering, beneath the surface ills that eats away at the heart of this great democracy and violates the founding principles of the constitution. The lack of talk about this extremist violence in WI serves as a glaring example of this issue. Thank you for expressing what many of us are feeling. I believe this needs to be circulated widely and posted on Huffington post, NY times and Wall street. Political pundits and moral vigilantes need to wake up and take notice. If we are to Be what this country’s constitution inspires us to be –a truly democratic nation and serve as a beacon of hope to the world then this bears widespread discussion and awareness. I would encourage as many of us as possible , to write to the editors of various leading publications, media and to our local politicians.

  3. Preeti, I finally got a chance to go on Facebook today and was equally shocked by the lack of updates regarding the deaths in WI (especially after the significant reaction to the CO deaths). I’ve strayed more from making political/current event posts because I have found it stirs a lot of “debates” (using the term loosely) that frustrate/anger/sadden me, but a good portion of FB friends aren’t afraid of making them. Before reading this post, I took note that out of the SEVEN FRIENDS of mine that posted (or at least appeared in my newsfeed) about the WI shootings, FIVE of them were of Indian (is SE Asian more PC?) descent. I missed a call from a good friend today, who, more than likely, is calling to discuss the shootings. He is, “of course”, of Indian descent.

    I’ve come to similar conclusions as you. People aren’t afraid to update about the CO shootings because it happened at a movie theatre, people were targeted for an unknown reason (and probably related to a man’s mental illness), and America can relate. The victims of the WI shootings elicit fear and ignorance. [white] Co-workers of mine didn’t even know what Sikh was. People are afraid to post about it because they don’t GET it. If the shooting had involved a Christian church or Jewish synagogue, you better believe social media would be offering prayers/updating about the tragedy because for them it’s something more relative to their lives (like a Batman movie) than perhaps a religion that is unknown to their uncultured existence.

    At any rate, I’ve shared your post on my FB newsfeed because I am a white Christian and I’m hoping that influence (sadly) will help educate others about this TRUE tragedy that happened here, in our country, in 2012. Gah.

    Praying for the victims, and more than anything, praying for education, compassion, and the support families effected by the WI shootings need.

    Thank you for writing this.

  4. AK

    There are many reasons i can attribute, why this is not getting that much traction as we would like.

    1. The Law of large numbers play a vital role. more the casualties more the publicity.
    2. The shooter has been shot dead, while the Aurora shooter was not. So the media coverage will continue in the Court rooms.
    3. There was too much to report about the Aurora shooter (PHD drop out, Has been in contact with Pysciatrist, Purchase history of weapons, Biggest movie opening night of the year, He rigged his apartment with loads of bomb and much more, Youtube live videos of poeple running from the Theatre, clear manifesto and more..)..More the information more the coverage..

  5. JayBee

    I didn’t post about either because I don’t think my facebook status is an appropriate place to talk about something so horrible. It feels like it’s making light of something profoundly sad and horrifying. Personally, I feel like what happened in Wisconsin is more troubling than what happened in Colorado because of the hateful, prejudiced motives behind it, but I don’t want to write a facebook status about it.

  6. Shabbir

    It is sad that in a country where we come from India with great enthusiasm and hope, that some people with a gun in hand (which they claim to have a right to) can destroy so many innocent lives and the politicians are afraid to tackle the question of gun rights.

    We hope and pray for the victims of all these stupid acts of violence which exists all over the globe and USA can take a lead in educating and setting an example for all that LOVE prevails above all.

    God bless all humanity

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