Hate Crimes Always Have A Logic: On The Oak Creek Gurudwara Shootings

By Guest Contributor Harsha Walia

Candles at the Vigil. Photo: Overpass Light Brigade via DailyKos.

The Oak Creek Gurudwara is my brother’s and frequently my parent’s sangat. Over the years, they have described to me how, with deep love and commitment, the community came together to build the Gurudwara. How every week the Gurudwara provided a refuge, a sanctuary, a sense of home, a sense of belonging from the isolation of being an accented brown-skinned immigrant living in Wisconsin. When I heard about the shooting at Oak Creek Gurudwara, I happened to be facilitating at an immigrant and refugee youth camp. Dozens of young middle-school and high-school aged racialized immigrants and refugees from Latin America, Asia and Africa were describing being taunted and bullied at school, feeling discriminated against by their teachers, the hardships of systemic poverty, daily fears of detention and displacement, and feeling like “unwelcome and unwanted parasites.” As young people in British Columbia, Canada they were articulating an experience of racism similar to that which my family faces living in the Midwest of America.

While these murders were abhorrent, they were not ‘senseless’. The ad nauseaum suggestion that the killings were senseless attempts to construct the shooting as random and without logic, when in fact racist hate crimes operate through the very deliberate and precise logic of white supremacy.

The local Sikh community in Milwaukee had been raising concerns about racial harassment, targeting, and violence for at least the past year. The Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 incidents of anti-Sikh hate crimes in the U.S. since 9/11. One of those was 49-year-old Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first post 9/11 hate-crime fatality. He was shot five times on September 15, 2001 in Mesa, AZ and his murderer Frank Silva Roque admitted that he killed Sodhi because he was dark, bearded, and wore a turban. White supremacy is fostered, cultivated, condoned, and supported–in the education system and mainstream corporate media, from military missions to the prison industrial complex.

The crimes of white supremacists are not exceptions and do not and cannot exist in isolation from more systemic forms of racism. People of colour face legislated racism from immigration laws to policies governing Indigenous reserves; are discriminated and excluded from equitable access to healthcare, housing, childcare, and education; are disproportionately victims of police killings and child apprehensions; fill the floors of sweatshops and factories; are over-represented in heads counts on poverty rates, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, and high school dropout rates. Colonialism has and continues to be shaped by the counters of white men’s civilizing missions. The occupation of Turtle Island is based on the white supremacist crime of colonization, where Indigenous lands were believed to be barren and Indigenous people believed to be inferior. The occupation of Afghanistan has been justified on the racist idea of liberating Muslim women from Muslim men. Racialized violence has also always targeted places of worship–the spiritual heart of a community. In Iraq, for example, the US Army accelerated bombings of mosques from 2003-2007 with targeted attacks on the Abdul-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque, Abu Hanifa shrine, Khulafah Al Rashid mosque and many others. And so I repeat: the patterns of hate crimes have a sense, have a logic, have a structure – they are part of a broader system of white supremacy.

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, notes that the 40-year Army veteran and gunman Wade Michael Page was the leader of a racist white-power band End Apathy. Potok further details Page’s involvement in a number of other white power bands and his attempts to purchase good from neo-Nazi websites. Media reports also note that Page was a psychological operations specialist in the Army, responsible for developing and analyzing intelligence that would have a “psychological impact on foreign populations.” While racialized cultures and religions are consistently held to task, the culture and system of white supremacy is never scrutinized by the state or media. What breeds white power movements? Who funds white power groups? How are people recruited into neo-Nazi groups? What is the connection between white supremacist groups and state institutions like the Army? These are the questions that will never be interrogated because whiteness is too central, too foundational to the state and to this society to unsettle.

White supremacy, as a dominant and dominating structuring, actually necessitates and relies on a discourse that suggests that hate crimes are random. Otherwise, whites might just have to start racially profiling all other young and middle-aged white men at airports or who are walking while white. Whites might have to analyze what young white children are being taught about in schools and in their homes about privilege and entitlement. Whites might have to own up to and seek to repair the legacy of racialized empire, imperialism, and settler-colonialism that has devastated and continues to destroy the lives and lands of millions of people across the globe.

Whites might actually have to start distancing themselves from white supremacy.

To my Sikh sisters and brothers: this incident is yet another reminder of what it means for us to be racialized as Others and as eternal Outsiders. No matter how hard we strive to be “hard-working, tax-paying model minorities,” our bodies and lives and labour will always be rendered disposable and expendable. We are and have been deliberate targets much before 9/11. The turning back of the Komagatamaru and the experience of the Ghadr Party on the west coast are our most salient reminders. So perhaps it is time to stop attempting to assimilate into white supremacy, to stop capitulating to colonialism and empire, and to take a stand against oppression. We cannot see and name ourselves as ‘accidental’ victims of Islamophobia, which suggests that somehow Muslims are more “appropriate” targets of racism. While racism and its impacts often paralyze us, we must channel our collective grief and outrage as a space for alliance and solidarity with other racialized communities–with Muslim communities bearing the brunt of Islamophia, with Blacks who disproportionately endure police violence and over- incarceration, with Indigenous people who are being dispossessed of their lands and resources, with non-status migrants who have been deemed illegal and are facing deportation. Striving to be more desirable within an oppressive system–that is built on our social discipline and compels our obedience–will never set us free. What will set us free is our collective liberation and thriving as the proud brown people we were meant to be. Chardi kala.

Harsha Walia is a community organizer and writer based in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. She has been involved in anti-racist, feminist, and anti-imperialist organizing for over a decade and can be reached at @HarshaWalia.

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  • Buck

    White people! (I am white.) “We’re not ALL like that!” is a form of derailing and does NOTHING to fight white supremacy. Instead of “I’m oppressed too!”, we should take these critiques of white supremacy to our communities, to other white people. For more on this: http://racismschool.tumblr.com/post/23071081102/were-not-all-like-that

    Walia said: “Whites might actually have to start distancing themselves from white supremacy.” Why are you choosing to interpret this as an attack on you?

  • Buck

    White supremacy isn’t “tolerated” in mainstream society, it *is* mainstream society. It’s not about a secret cabal, it’s about it being pervasive to the point of invisibility (to white people).

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  • Anonymous

    These so called lone wolves and the hate groups that spawn them have been feeling especially emboldened since the 1990′s. That’s because the platform that David Duke used in his attempt to become governor of Louisiana-became the official platform of the Republican Party. We forget that the anti-gay and anti-abortion stance are also tenets of white supremacists. Journalist Russell Bellant tried to warn us with his 1991 book ” Old Nazis The New Right And the Republican Party.”

    There is virtually no difference to what one may read on Stormfront to what one may read in the National Review. John Derbyshire was indicative of that. Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has displayed some of the most degrading, despicable acts of racism. The GOP revealed this year just how profoundly devoted they were to racist ideology. They permitted two white supremacist to speak at this years conservative convention, known as CPAC.

    It’s all so very dangerous. Not only has Republican Party racism been propagated and encouraged by their media stooges (Fox News & Right-wing radio) the rest of the Mainstream Media has been complicit as well. Make no mistake about it, the Republican Party is the largest and most dangerous hate group in America. Let me say it again! The Republican Party is a hate group!

    If you think the bigoted climate the Republicans have created in this country is not a factor in the violence- you are a fool. The Southern Law Poverty Center, NAACP, NOW, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, along with all civil rights groups should join together and condemned and repudiate the Republican Party- for its bigotry. But most of all, those of us who believe in equality for all, should end this madness, before it’s too late.

  • http://twitter.com/lifepostepic Cade DeBois

    I got a few people angry at me over the past couple of days by saying there is a connection to mass shooters, who are overwhelmingly white male, and white male privilege. I think the anger comes from my saying this in relation to this latest mass shooting, because the shooter was a neo-Nazi and most whites are horrified to be associated in any way with neo-Nazis. I get that, as I’m white and nothing makes me lose my cool like being in the same room as a neo-Nazi whose mouth is moving with words coming out.

    But I understand my rage at neo-Nazis because I have confronted how I as a white person, engage in and benefit from a culture that created them, a culture of white privilege. It’s everywhere, and it ipat virutally our every thought and action. I was just reading today an great article on Jezebel about gender and race in the Olympics that pointed out how femininity is often assumed to be white femininity. How many of us white people have ever thought about that? Asa white woman, I don’t really have to–I’m the default. The rest of you woman have to measure up to me. And if you don’t, I get to shun you and define you by how you’re not like me. And when there’s a whole lot of me’s doing that to a bunch of you’s, I get to define your life and your identity. That’s more than privilege–that’s power.

    So white privilege begets white power, and white power begets whites who want to defend that power. Ergo, white privilege begets cults of white power, like the neo-Nazis. We whites don’t like that idea, that we in our passive participation in a culture that sustains white privilege may be helping sustain a culture that breeds extremists. No, that’s what Muslims and South Asians and South Americans and Africans and Iranians do. Not us good, morally superior, civilization-spreading white folks. We don’t breed extremism. We just were behind two World Wars, some of the bloodiest civil wars ever fought, some impressive attempts at genocide, racially-fueled colonialism on every continent save Antarctic, the atomic bomb, arms races like the Cold War, Christian fundamentalism…but not extremism. And certainly not militarized or pro-gun extremism that would lead to our soldiers or vets turning to neo-Nazism, right?

    What’s more is white privilege is patriarchal, so it’s really all about white males and the authority they get for society for the sake of being male. White males who grow up getting messages that they are who matter grow up thinking they are suppose to be in power. And when they aren’t, when they are faced with the reality that as individuals, they’re as insignificant as anyone else, that’s pretty disconcerting and in less balanced minds, can lead to something pretty ugly. (Not surprisingly, white supremacist groups are overwhelmingly male, and like the Third Reich, typically revere an ideal of white masculinity that is central to their beliefs.) Like Hugo Schwyzer said in his article written after the Aurora shooting (http://jezebel.com/5928584/why-most-mass-murderers-are-privileged-white-men?popular=true):

    “White men from prosperous families grow up with the expectation that our
    voices will be heard. We expect politicians and professors to listen to
    us and respond to our concerns. We expect public solutions to our
    problems. And when we’re hurting, the discrepancy between what we’ve
    been led to believe is our birthright and what we feel we’re receiving
    in terms of attention can be bewildering and infuriating. Every
    killer makes his pain another’s problem. But only those who’ve marinated
    in privilege can conclude that their private pain is the entire world’s
    problem with which to deal. This is why, while men of all races
    and classes murder their intimate partners, it is privileged young white
    dudes who are by far the likeliest to shoot up schools and movie
    theaters.”

    But of course it’s not limited to just young white dudes, and it’s not limited to schools or theaters–but also Holocaust museums, restaurants, college campuses, places of work and places of worship.

    So, yes, I do think we white people need a come to jesus talk with ourselves and our culture and how it relates to cults of white (male) supremacy. I don’t expect it will be easy–as a feminist, I know how hard it is to get people to think about patriarchy, let alone the intersection of race and patriarchy. But it’s not like these white supremacist dudes just got these ideas about male authority and white power out of thin air, you know? And we white folks often don’t realize how white privilege lets us get away with thinking we’re the default white person who’s separate from the whites we disapproval of, as opposed to being on a spectrum of attitudes about being white in which we’re all related. As I said in response to the anger directed at me in the past couple days on this topic: When you see yourself as the default, it’s easy to compartmentalize others. When you see yourself on a spectrum, you see the relation.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581282094 Christopher Stevenson

    “When you extend your argument to damn the whole system as a secret
    kaball of white supremacists at every level of society, government,
    business and military – your argument loses strength.”

    I think this is true. I think Lefties have a really hard time explaining white supremacy. The easiest target is to pick out are members of the Tea Party or Nazis. They are tools of white supremacy, but let’s be clear, they are not the embodiment of white supremacy. The embodiment of white supremacy is wrapped in capitalism, and thus class. A new term might be necessary, because when people think white supremacy, they immediately think of working class/poor white people who feel scared and threatened by multiculturalism or what have you. White supremacy is power. The most powerful get to decide who is white and how much power is to be allotted. Sometimes that’s difficult, because the arbiters of white power/supremacy are often Leftist/liberal entities hellbent on progress and forms of enlightenment. That’s a really tough pill to swallow. But “white supremacists,” per those who commit violent acts of racism, are under the guise of a larger narrative called, “white supremacy.” The very same white supremacy I previously mentioned. Instead of structural supremacy, these persons who commit acts of racism defend the culture of fear power, often tricked into thinking they can have power, or believe in a historical narrative that says they are bless with power. Usually, white supremacy looks on these people as “white trash,” rarely as “white” or “full white,” Unfortunately, white supremacy is an academic term, and so it’s very easy for people to get confused. There is an inherent system, less so an explicit and unpopular ideology that is organized, to create conditions like the Sikh attack. Also, it’s cabal, not kaball. Sorry.

  • rc

    thank you, for putting so eloquently into words, what has been gnawing at me for some time.

  • Mia

    This particular story has struck a deep chord in me. I’m a South Asian female and my boyfriend is in the US infantry. Any time I read about the connection between the army as an institution and racism I want to dismiss it in my mind because I love my boyfriend and I can’t see him harboring any of those racist feelings that caused this shooting. However, (shocker) it does exist and it is disturbing. A particular incident that stands out in my mind is when another soldier commented that I looked like a suicide bomber in my boyfriend’s gear. At first, I laughed it off but as I began to think about the ramifications of that comment I got angry. My boyfriend demanded an apology but I still haven’t received a genuine one. I don’t know how, as a peace and conflict studies major, I became wrapped up in this society of hate and how I came to defend it but I’m tired of watching what I say and laughing off ignorance. My boyfriend is proud of me for standing up against racism but the truth remains that in the army, he is one in a million. The issue of dismantling the foundations of hate in the army is a gargantuan task but it needs to be done. But to get rid of it all would rob my boyfriend and thousands of families of their livelihoods. My love of peace and my dependency on war is a war in itself that’s been haunting me.

  • Mia

    This particular story has struck a deep chord in me. I’m a South Asian female and my boyfriend is in the US infantry. Any time I read about the connection between the army as an institution and racism I want to dismiss it in my mind because I love my boyfriend and I can’t see him harboring any of those racist feelings that caused this shooting. However, (shocker) it does exist and it is disturbing. A particular incident that stands out in my mind is when another soldier commented that I looked like a suicide bomber in my boyfriend’s gear. At first, I laughed it off but as I began to think about the ramifications of that comment I got angry. My boyfriend demanded an apology but I still haven’t received a genuine one. I don’t know how, as a peace and conflict studies major, I became wrapped up in this society of hate and how I came to defend it but I’m tired of watching what I say and laughing off ignorance. My boyfriend is proud of me for standing up against racism but the truth remains that in the army, he is one in a million. The issue of dismantling the foundations of hate in the army is a gargantuan task but it needs to be done. But to get rid of it all would rob my boyfriend and thousands of families of their livelihoods. My love of peace and my dependency on war is a war in itself that’s been haunting me.

  • Mia

    This particular story has struck a deep chord in me. I’m a South Asian female and my boyfriend is in the US infantry. Any time I read about the connection between the army as an institution and racism I want to dismiss it in my mind because I love my boyfriend and I can’t see him harboring any of those racist feelings that caused this shooting. However, (shocker) it does exist and it is disturbing. A particular incident that stands out in my mind is when another soldier commented that I looked like a suicide bomber in my boyfriend’s gear. At first, I laughed it off but as I began to think about the ramifications of that comment I got angry. My boyfriend demanded an apology but I still haven’t received a genuine one. I don’t know how, as a peace and conflict studies major, I became wrapped up in this society of hate and how I came to defend it but I’m tired of watching what I say and laughing off ignorance. My boyfriend is proud of me for standing up against racism but the truth remains that in the army, he is one in a million. The issue of dismantling the foundations of hate in the army is a gargantuan task but it needs to be done. But to get rid of it all would rob my boyfriend and thousands of families of their livelihoods. My love of peace and my dependency on war is a war in itself that’s been haunting me.

  • PomoSapien

    Excellent piece. Sadly, most white Americans who read this will say “WTF, I didn’t kill anybody, murder is wrong and sad,” and feel that that is the end of their obligation/involvement in such crimes.

  • PomoSapien

    Excellent piece. Sadly, most white Americans who read this will say “WTF, I didn’t kill anybody, murder is wrong and sad,” and feel that that is the end of their obligation/involvement in such crimes.

  • Umm Abdullah

    Amazing how the media is going out of its way to give this killer the benefit of the doubt. In this article, they repeat several times that they don’t know, and may never know, whether his white supremacist views have anything to do with him walking into a Sikh temple and shooting at people:

    http://news.yahoo.com/gunman-opened-fire-wisconsin-sikh-temple-exhorted-other-080012688.html

  • Umm Abdullah

    Amazing how the media is going out of its way to give this killer the benefit of the doubt. In this article, they repeat several times that they don’t know, and may never know, whether his white supremacist views have anything to do with him walking into a Sikh temple and shooting at people:

    http://news.yahoo.com/gunman-opened-fire-wisconsin-sikh-temple-exhorted-other-080012688.html

  • Amy M

    I really like this piece but am puzzled by this line: ”
    The occupation of Afghanistan has been justified on the racist idea of liberating Muslim women from Muslim men.” How exactly is that a racist idea? I can see it as a form of intolerance of religious practices but is it not also a form of feminism? Or should we turn a blind eye to oppression of women because the religion that enslaves them is off limits somehow? Either way, whether you believe that anti-colonialism includes standing back and allowing theocracies to abuse and mistreat women or not, I don’t equate that with racism.

    • Anonymous

      Feminism, unfortunately, can and has been racist. Demonizing brown men in order to “rescue” brown women erases the agency of women in other countries. See here:

      http://www.racialicious.com/2011/04/07/quoted-houria-bouteldja-on-white-women-and-the-privilege-of-solidarity/

    • jvansteppes

      Make no mistake, they didn’t go into Afghanistan to liberate women. It’s interesting that the American military claims to care about the women of Afghanistan etc, while consciously ignoring the rape culture in their very own ranks. If gender equality were that important to them you’d think the safety of their women employees would be a priority.
      We’ve reached this really creepy point at which occupiers use women’s issues as grist to justify military occupations and unfortunately too many white feminists (who have always had this problem) are along for that ride. Talking to Muslim feminists about their needs is the only way to offer solidarity to women in their communities who are mistreated and abused (and no one is pretending this isn’t an issue).

  • Anonymous

    What a great article. I can barely type for wanting to re-tweet this. My hope out this disgusting tragedy is that POC are able to see beyond our internalized racism and become brothers and sisters in the struggle for equality.

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  • hansra

    Thak you so much for this powerful piece! At this time of grief, we must realize our vulnerability and racialized identity and as you suggested we must build an alliance with other racialized and oppressed population to stand against racism and oppression. Nanak nna chadi kala, Tere bhane sarbatt da bhala !!!

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  • David

    As a middle-aged white male I can only hope that all my fellow white males get a chance to read this piece and understand it in the context I’m afraid none of us have personal experience with.

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  • Digital Coyote

    That last paragraph is truth. I only hope that we can turn it in to power.

    “Whites might actually have to start distancing themselves from white supremacy.”

    This will never happen so long as they can keep making white supremacist crimes the actions of isolated individuals while they all benefit from the attitudes and structures that allow those crimes to happen in the first place.

    • Walrine

      As a White person reading this, I have seen annals of white supremacy growing up-perhaps even unconsciously partook in them. White supremacy is a sickness found within my government and larger Culture. We have to realize we are sick and start fighting the impulses that exist in us. We have to look for narratives within our culture that do not condone racism, colonization or imperialism. It’s starting with me. It’s starting now.

  • Imran

    powerful piece, thank you

  • http://www.facebook.com/ChristinaLombardi Chris Lombardi

    Quite eloquent – though only in asides do you mention the other half of the damning equation of what Gloria Steinem has so brilliantly named “supremacy crimes” : that w/o exception all the perps are male. Does it go without saying?

    • Lila

      I do see your point, however they are predominantly WHITE men. Again, do not miss addressing the general issues of WHITE male supremacy. Do not push these crimes off on all men in American culture, iregardless of ethnicity or race..this is clealry a part of white culture I believe….a disease of white supremacy and dominance, something of which white women are also a part of.

    • http://twitter.com/christ_sux Jebus Christo

      Men, yes. And mostly white. That doesn’t absolve the rest of us from responsibility. Like a time-traveling vampire, White Supremacy gets some of its power from its future victims. As the piece describes, hiding out as the “model minority” will only work for so long. As soon as White Supremacy decides to “out” you, all those years of accepting, ignoring, and fomenting hatred of non-whites is going to catch up with you. Similarly, the people in these racist white mens’ lives who allow them to create and maintain this lifestyle – their mothers, wives, daughters; the people who sell them guns, the people who sell them swastika flags and tattoo spider webs on their flabby arms – all of these people are supporting these antisocial white male agents. Horrible crimes like this are not just the result of some lone white racist guy. If you know that guy and don’t actively try to stop him, its on you too.

  • Susan K

    Thank you for this eloquent response.