In the past few weeks, we’ve seen two mass shootings in the U.S. that were committed by White men against targets those men did not know in seemingly-random acts of intense violence.
While there were some differences between the two shootings, the biggest differences seem to be in the identity of the victims and shooters and in the levels of media coverage each shooting has received. After the Aurora shooting on July 20th, there was ’round-the-clock coverage of the shooting, the shooter’s background, and the implications for culture and politics on every major news network for at least a week, and coverage still leads when any new info breaks on the shooter. On the Drudge Report and Huffington Post, there were leading headlines with remorse expressed for the victims’ families and takes from the political right and left respectively.
Today, though, only two days after the horrific attacks at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the coverage of the shooting at the Drudge Report begins halfway down the page.
The Huffington Post’s coverage is worse. In the entire homepage, there are two articles about the shooting. One is about some asinine comment that Pat Robertson made regarding the tragedy, and the other, with attention paid to the irony, is an article by Riddhi Shah about why the media seems to care less about this shooting than others. On the homepage, there’s no scrolling image slideshow of the scene and victims faces. There’s no analysis of why. There’s nothing! But there’s plenty of coverage of Paul Ryan!
So, in much the same way that Shah tackles this question, I want to interrogate why people in the U.S. don’t seem to care much at all about the Sikh temple shootings when there was such anger, sadness, and indignation only a few weeks ago. I’ve heard some argue that there’s been less attention because there were fewer casualties or that people had “tragedy fatigue” after Aurora. I think it’s something much deeper than that . . . and much more troubling.
1. The victims are an “other,” so White America doesn’t care!
After the Aurora shooting, many people I talked to had a feeling of “it could have been me!” When I went to see Dark Knight Rises almost two weeks after the shooting, a family member expressed worry, “I’m not seeing it in the theaters. I don’t want to take any chances.” The violence felt real to “normative America” because it happened in a diverse Denver suburb and because the victims who died (as far as I can tell) were all White.
In the hours after the Aurora shooting, the images on the news looked like this:
Photo found here.
In the hours after the Oak Creek shooting, the images on the news looked like this:
Photo found here.
The victims were wearing turbans and head scarves. Their skin was brown. In the words of my grandfather, they looked “A-rab.” The attack took place at the house of worship of a little-known religious group, a group of people who resemble the stereotype many people in the U.S. have in mind when the word “terrorist” is said. In short, the victims are an “other.”
Riddhi Shah said it well:
Consider, for a minute, a situation in which the skin colors of the victims and attacker were reversed. What if, instead of a white supremacist, the attacker had been a Muslim fundamentalist, and the place of worship a synagogue or a church? Would Fox News have aired a segment about a Latin American prison just hours after the shooting? Would we be talking about the Olympics right now?
2. White America doesn’t want to interrogate White Supremacy. It might hit just a little too close to home.
The other big difference between the two shootings lies in the identity and (apparent) motivations of the shooters. The narrative that has been presented in the media about James Holmes, the alleged Aurora shooter, was that he was “mentally unstable” and “disturbed.” He seemed to suffer from “delusions of grandeur,” and his motivations are, to this point, unknown.
Wade Page, the suspected shooter who was shot and killed by police after unleashing bloody havoc at the Sikh temple, isn’t so easy to marginalize as “crazy.” Instead, he had a clearer motivation for the attacks, or at least so it seems. A former Army vet, Page had known ties to White Supremacist groups, and he was tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the FBI. He was even the singer of a White Supremacist band!
It’s not surprising for many People of Color to shake their heads and mutter “typical” when they see the news of Page’s ties. White people, on the other hand, immediately want to distance themselves from the ideology of White Supremacy Page preached. If White people comment on the event at all, they seem to be saying things like “his ideology is disgusting” and that he’s “scum.” In our Colorblind world, someone is marginalized when they point out that the emperor has no clothes by owning the White Supremacy on which this country is founded.
And Page should be marginalized, but unfortunately, too often he is marginalized for the wrong reasons. Instead of marginalizing him because White Supremacy is truly deplorable, we White folks marginalize him and his ideology (whether knowingly or not) to distance ourselves from the system of White Supremacy from which we benefit every day. The White Privilege that helps us coast a little more comfortably through life in the U.S. and that privileges us over people of Color in life or death things like employment and wealth, education, health care, police brutality, and presumption of guilt is built upon the very White Supremacy that Page sang about in his music. Just because that Privilege is cleaned up and made to be unnoticeable to White folks doesn’t make it any less malicious or deadly to People of Color.
We White people don’t want to talk about the White Supremacy that seemingly led Page to open fire in a Sikh place of worship because to do so can lead us down the path of discussing the system that we benefit from every single day. And we can’t acknowledge that the emperor wears no clothes.
So I still can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with White Men.