Monthly Archives: April 2013

The view from Brown America.

Earlier this week a co-worker told me that I should be “glad” that the young man, whom we’ll refer to as “The Saudi Marathon Man,” was racially profiled by the Boston police and the federal authorities. He told me that racial profiles and stereotypes were borne of “statistics” – that if we were to “look at the numbers,” the odds were high that the perpetrator(s) of the attacks at the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon were “one of those types.”

“Tell me that again the next time I’m at the airport,” I told him.

“You should be proud to be racially profiled. It’s the only thing that keeps us safe in this country.”

I then asked him if he had ever been the victim of racial profiling, and he – a white man – recounted a story in which he was the victim of “discrimination.” It was 1978, and he was lost, driving in a “bad neighborhood” in Jersey City with his future wife, when he was stopped by police who had mistook him for a drug-dealer. That’s it. No detention. No interrogation. He was pulled over and subsequently let go, and yet this story clearly still bothers him, even 35 years later.

I could understand his frustration, after all, this sort of thing has happened to me before, but the only thing I could think of responding with was, “Now imagine if that happened to you all the time.”

Since 9/11 we’ve all been trained in the practice of “If you see something, say something.” In other words: if you see something suspicious, alert the authorities. But what if you are consistently that something suspicious? What if it’s your friend, or your roommate, or your brother or sister? Are we supposed to be “proud” to live in a xenophobic nation which discriminates against its citizens based on skin color? Are we supposed to be “proud” of our public humiliation at baseball games and concerts and train stations?

Is this the tax millions of Americans are forced to pay for looking superficially different or believing in an alternate divine being?

In today’s society, white privilege it isn’t just about access and wealth and opportunity, it isn’t just about being able to do whatever the fuck it is you want to do, it’s about specific freedoms which white Americans are afforded that others are not: the freedom from persecution and the freedom from discrimination. In a nation in which the government – and the media – practices in the otherization of so-called “minority” races, white Americans are free to live without the fear of being considered a criminal because a suspect shares their skin-tone.

That our first instinct following an attack is to hope and pray that it wasn’t someone who looks like us – and that yours isn’t – says all you need to know about how we are each perceived within our own country.

The difference between White America and Brown America is that, in White America, you fear terrorism because you fear death; in Brown America, we fear terrorism because we fear being considered a terrorist. We fear being detained for hours/days/weeks/years without cause. We fear hate and vitriol toward our people and our religions. We fear attacks on our houses of worship. We fear being pushed onto subway tracks. We fear hellfire raining on our towns and villages in Pakistan and Yemen. We fear Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, and Michele Bachmann, and Matt Drudge and the Ghost of Andrew Breitbart.

The difference between White America and Brown America is that we fear all of them, but we don’t fear you. We know that you don’t hate Muslims. We know that you don’t indiscriminately hate people with dark skin. We know that, when Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols or Ted Kaczynski or James Holmes or Adam Lanza murder innocent Americans, or when the Westboro Baptist Church burns the Qur’an, we shouldn’t view all whites, or all Christians, with suspicion. We know that Mississippi shouldn’t be “turned into a parking lot.” We know and understand that a few loud and crazy people are not indicative of an entire race or religion.

Whatever our faith, whatever our race, we all follow the same ethical code: do unto others… And, yet, somehow, throughout American history – slavery, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, the Patriot Act – we’ve seen this Golden Rule be disregarded entirely when it could benefit the racial hegemony of white Americans.

The difference between White America and Brown America, then, is that, in White America, rules don’t apply.

 

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On the Boston Marathon and finding hope in a hopeless world.

I have nothing to say. I’m never one to mince words, and I’ve always been someone who has something to say about everything – if not a 3,000 word essay, at least a 140-character tweet – but today? Today I have nothing. It’s not out of my being speechless, but, rather, because what can I possibly say today that I haven’t repeated ad nauseum over the years?

When I first heard the news on the radio, I was shocked, but it was more shock from horror and sadness – there’s absolutely nothing shocking about the fact that something like this actually happened. To be honest, I’m mostly shocked that something like this hasn’t happened more often (which, I suppose, is a testament to the job done by the sorely underappreciated men and women who work so hard to keep our country safe). If this sounds familiar, it’s because the events at today’s Boston Marathon elicited the same reaction as those of Aurora, Colorado last July.

My sister got married yesterday. Watching the news coverage this afternoon with her and my new brother-in-law, she looked over and told me, “It’s this kind of shit that makes us not want to have kids. I don’t want to bring a child into this world.” Was she being dramatic? Sure. But she’s not alone.

We now live in a society attuned to disaster, and perpetually fearing the worst – never expecting it to actually happen, but always preparing, and never being surprised when it does. The abstract ideas of terror or hate – whether expressed by domestic terrorists or foreign enemies – can never be defeated: there will always be that one asshole who thrives on your pain.

I have nothing to say today, because, right now, I feel like Admiral Fitzwallace on The West Wing: I can’t tell when it’s peacetime and wartime anymore. Has it gotten to the point where we’ve become so complacent in our fear-based, wartime society, that wartime has actually become peacetime? Have we simply accepted periodic attacks on American lives as the status quo? When did shock and horror and grief and fear become the default status of the American psyche? When did this become normal?

The problem is that I have no fucking idea, and it’s driving me crazy. For the first time in my life I have no opinion on a horrific tragedy, and it’s because I have no answers.

I know that I’m glad to be living in a country where public acts of terror happen once every few months, rather than once everyday. I know that “terrorism” isn’t a term which is mutually exclusive to the Arabo-Muslim world. I also know that whoever did this – whether it was one person or a group of people, whether they were black, white or brown – was not born this way. I know that people are inherently good.

I know this because it’s something I see every single day; it’s something we all see, even in these darkest moments. We see it in the bravery our first responders, in the everyday Bostonians and in the marathon runners helping out in whatever way they could. We see it in the doctors and nurses and everyone working at the greatest hospitals in the world.

In the coming days and weeks we’re going to learn who performed this despicable act of cowardice. We’re going to learn how they did it, why they did it, who they were working with. We’re going to learn about their past, their family, their education, their socioeconomic status.

Fuck them.

Don’t let this scumbag become the story. Make it the policemen, firemen, security and EMT’s on the scene. Make it the marathon runners who crossed the finish line and continued running to Mass General to donate blood. Make it John Eligon of the New York Times, who ran the marathon and then co-wrote this. Make it the amazing medical professionals of the city of Boston. Make it former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi, who carried wounded victims to help. Make it the resilience of the men, women, and children who make Boston one of my absolute favorite cities in the world – despite how I may feel about the Red Sox.

So why would you want to bring a child into this world? Because the vast majority of the people they will encounter will be these kind and beautiful souls. Because one asshole shouldn’t ruin the party. Because these acts of kindness make a seemingly dark world light. Because these people provide hope in a seemingly hopeless world.

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