The Sikh Temple Shootings: Why White People Don’t Want More Media Coverage

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!

When I turn to facebook, there are few-to-no statuses of support or photoshopped images of sympathy with the date of infamy.  But there’s plenty of comment on Ryan Lochte!

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.

With photos like this, it’s hard to ignore Page’s motivations.

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.

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3 thoughts on “The Sikh Temple Shootings: Why White People Don’t Want More Media Coverage

  1. As if these massacres weren’t sad and deplorable enough. Shit.

  2. I actually do think a lot of people are talking about this shooting, and the man’s involvement in hate organizations.
    Many American’s will not identify in the same way with the victims in the latest shooting. Whether white, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian-whichever the ethnicity, many will not feel the same kind of fear that followed the Aurora shootings.
    Everyone I know is heartbroken for the victims in Wisconsin, because anyone with a loved one and has the ability to empathize feels pain for all who was involved there.
    The media is bias. We all know this, but please don’t generalize so much.
    This article is easy and lazy.
    It’s funny how you use the same brand of fallacies as your adversaries. If you _____ then you must be _____.
    I, like many others have had to search a bit more for the news coverage on this shooting as the days pass by, and that is a shame.
    There have also been Islamic Mosque burning is Missouri that aren’t being wildly covered, and the boy in Arkansas who was probably murdered by the police with his hands cuffed behind him.
    I feel like some of your pieces are inspirational and helpful, but some are divisive and guilty of overly-generalizing.
    But if I say that then according to you, I may be fighting my own prejudices, right? These racial prejudices that are so ingrained in me that I can not see them at all. Thankfully, I have you to point this out to me! Where would I be without out you?

    • My question is why do we have to search for the coverage of the shooting as the days pass when it was thrust into our forefront with the Aurora shooting? Why don’t we see widespread coverage of the Islamic Mosque burning? Why don’t we see as much coverage of the extra-judicial killings of Black men by police?

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