There has been so much violence in our world lately: Aurora, Syria, Oak Creek, Texas A&M… I wonder & fear if we may be becoming immune to the violence, or if we pick & choose where our sympathies lay. I hope I’m wrong on both counts.
On the morning of Sunday, August 5, I jumped onto Twitter to see what everyone was drinking with brunch, & instead saw tweets about a shooting at a Gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. My blood ran cold. I turned on the TV, and flipped through channel after channel, desperately seeking coverage. CNN was the only station that was covering the tragedy, & the ‘facts’ they were spouting about Sikhism were so completely wrong, off-base, that my eyes filled with tears of frustration. Where was all the coverage? The local news covered it with 2 lines of copy, 20 minutes into that evening’s broadcast. My social media streams were silent, with the exception of my South Asian friends.
Why was it that the only people who were talking about the shooting on my Twitter & Facebook feeds were South Asian? Why did it seem like no one cared? Yes, they were Sikhs who were killed in their place of worship, but above all, they were innocent humans… innocent Americans. I’m not Sikh, nor Punjabi, but I am Indian. Do we not factor into the American consciousness?
My Twitter friend Paresh (@pareshg) wrote a post on Facebook that summed up my thoughts, my questions, about the seeming lack of concern & media coverage over the shooting. I asked him if I could share this on my blog, & he agreed. Please, read on. I would love to know your thoughts on the matter.
I’ve been sitting on this because I don’t want to seem incendiary, knee jerking or instigate anything negatively but I’m disappointed in that nobody on my FB ‘friends’ list who is not of South Asian descent even mentioned the shootings in Milwaukee this weekend. Less than 3 weeks ago, I couldn’t get through a single FB Feed page without postings about Aurora where a movie theater got shot up by an idiot who thought he was in a movie. People kept posting “Pray for the victims! God help us all! What kind of a madman does this kind of thing?’ etc.
However, when a place of worship that isn’t a church gets violated by a known alcoholic who got kicked out of the service, was involved with white supremacists & kills 6 people, there’s not a peep. This appalls me. Like the victims in Aurora, the victims in Milwaukee were people who believed in the right to practice their own religion in the safety and sanctity of their own religious building. If you can’t be safe when you pray, what’s the point?
I’m also finding that nobody gave two craps about the mosque arson in Joplin, MO the next day aside from the South Asians who are in my circles. Also note that this mosque was used by the EMS to stage relief efforts when the tornadoes ripped that town to shreds. The Imam volunteered that building as part of the community the congregation lived in. So what is this? Lack of exposure? Lack of empathy? Or a simple matter of – “well, they’re not White or Christian or [insert stereotype here] so it’s not important.”
Interesting social dynamic don’t you think?
CNN – not the most shining beacon of reporting in the world – was the only channel that carried the Milwaukee shootings live on Sunday (poorly). Fox didn’t even bother to flip out except for a ticker. However, ALL channels went live during Aurora and the mass hysteria & overload of emotions in the social networks was apparent & palpable.
So is it that people don’t care? People don’t know? Or people don’t care to know because it’s outside their comfort zone & realm of understanding to appreciate other cultures and religions. But what do I know right? It’s only in the First Amendment of the Constitution of a country I’m yet to be naturalized into. If that’s the case, it’s xenophobic, ethnocentric & feel free to remove me from your friends list.
For the record – my opinion is that it’s not that people have to be White, Black, Brown, Christian, Hindu, or Muslim or any other faith – NOBODY deserves to get shot at (close range, point blank or in the face) by anyone in a civilian setting. Period.
UPDATED about an HOUR LATER – I understand that this will be shared and people will comment. I also understand that this is a very broad looking statement. I’m not one to point fingers because a friend rightly pointed that this crap happens the world over – everyday. And while that makes me feel powerless to do anything, I can control one thing: The ability to question MY social circle. The people I’ve encountered, worked with, hung out with, broken bread with and spent time with. All I want to do with this post is understand how and why people – normal every day people – can prioritize one tragedy over another based on demographical markers.
First of all, thank you for the shares/likes on Facebook (that are visible to me) and the discussion this has created. I want to come out & admit that it’s humbling that I was able to reach a lot of people who don’t know me. But I also had to edit this post to add some color/context based on positive & negative feedback I received in terms of comments + private messaging since this was posted. It’s been a week since the shootings so I wanted to let the original piece breathe & then add the following, so here goes –
1) I am not a Sikh. I do not practice Sikhism. I am not Punjabi. I’m a mutt of some Gujarati, Sindhi something that has roots in the Jaisalmer area of Rajasthan pre-partition and from the mid 1800s. I’m a Hindu of convenience which means I’ll do the poojas at Diwali but hardly ever go to the temple.
2) No. I’m not bandwagon jumping to show outrage for ‘my fellow desis’ [Which is justified by the way]. My outrage is at the general apathy situations like these (minority targeted crimes) have been shown in the United States. I cannot speak for Canada, Mexico or any other country simply because I do not live there.
3) Yes. I fully acknowledge that things like this happen every day, all across the world. No doubt. So while the original post is me standing on a soap box; I stood on it in front of my social network. I never expected it to be shared as much it has been which is why I added the ‘broad statement’ line on the original writing as an addendum.
4) Of course, The Atlantic came out with a very interesting take on this shooting: http://bit.ly/OUHj9M – that ends with a very telling thought. Since the shooter was white – normal white folk didn’t know what to do because it flew in the face of the conditioned messaging since 9/11 of ‘Anyone but white folk could be terrorists’ & then they looked away. Totally unsure as to what to do with themselves.
5) Is that a racist statement? You tell me. Because I sure as hell don’t know simply because I’m confused as to exactly what is going in this country anymore.
6) Is the media to blame for uneven coverage? Yes. Absolutely. It’s an election year. We can’t have too much controversy.
7) Did I write this post to call out the white people in MY social circle? You bet I did. But I also should point out that I’m calling out the media and everybody else too. This is a HUMAN tragedy. Regardless of the victim set, the crux of my post was to point out the disparity in a) coverage and b) general lack of reaction from non South Asians
8) Some people, very intelligently I must say, added that it’s a question of relatability. That somehow imagining oneself in a movie theater just hits home with more people than a victim set practicing a foreign religion & being in its house of worship. To which I say – fair enough. I’m not sold on this idea but I do see the logic there so I’ll acknowledge it.
9) Other people right fully said that people are desensitized to violence. If that’s the case, we REALLY need to sort out our priorities.
10) One bright spark said people should be allowed to own guns to protect themselves and that if someone was armed in the Gurdwara, this would have been averted. Let that sink in for a second… Come on man. For real?
11) Someone commented that I shouldn’t be questioning people on social networks. Are you kidding me? I find out about births, deaths, pregnancies, marriages, divorces, re-marriages, circumscions and hysterectomies, earthquakes & tornadoes etc on Facebook and Twitter. This is our world now. I can’t exactly gather 450+ plus people on a Skype call & tell them all what I think now can I? These mediums use the word SOCIAL – which automatically implies that I want to see social interaction about things. If you choose to not comment on anything of this sort on your social networks, then fine. But if you’re picking and choosing tragedies to talk about and rage over, let’s rethink that stance a bit.
12) To the people who said I made a good point, or that the original post was a good read – Thank you.
Look. I’m not a civil rights authority. I’m not even actively involved in the desi scene in my own city. Hell, I’m not EVEN going to pretend that I’m sort of righteous holier than thou desi because, quite honestly, I’m kind of an asshole. And a pretty big one at that.
So what is my problem? My problem is this:
We are the most evolved species on this planet. We are all, each of us, genetically marked to be human. Our genetic mutations allow each of us to evolve with differing skin tones, eye color, bodies etc. Our ability to communicate with words, art, music & the languages makes us far superior than 99.99% of all species here on this rock. So we’re evolved right? And here we are in 2012 – A random dude who has no business owning a gun kills 6 other random strangers when they were getting ready to perform a service to the community they lived in. Why? Simply because they weren’t White/ Caucasian.
Then what did most people do? Quietly acknowledge it in their heads, feel a moment of sadness & then moved on. Because ‘Well. I don’t know anybody who died there. And since the victims were not Caucasian, it’s not that important. And I really don’t get why they wear those turbans? Isn’t the turban what the Taliban wears? Didn’t the Taliban try to bomb us and kill us all multiple times?’ That’s the example we want to set for our kids, our siblings, and the people around us? Look the other way because the reality of the situation does not conform to our prejudices & social comfort zones?
That’s the best the human race can do?
Shame on us. All of us.