Open Thread: The Boston Marathon Bombings, The Boston Manhunt, And The Race To Racism

By Andrea Plaid

Boston Bruins Dennis Seidenberg observes a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings before the start of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts April 17, 2013. This is the first sporting event to be held in Boston after the explosions that killed three and injured more than one hundred at the Boston Marathon. Image via Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi/Landov
Boston Bruins Dennis Seidenberg observes a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings before the start of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts April 17, 2013. This is the first sporting event to be held in Boston after the explosions that killed three and injured more than one hundred at the Boston Marathon. Image via Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi/Landov

Different city, same racism.

Boston, as you may know, suffered from two bomb blasts during its marathon bearing its name this past Monday. As the city struggles to recover from this recent tragedy, we’re getting reports that the alleged bombers got into a shootout with law enforcement overnight–including throwing explosives–that moved through Cambridge and Watertown. According to reports, one of the suspects died in the shootout, and the police are waging a large manhunt for the other one. All of this has locked down the city, the reports continue, with MIT, Harvard, and public schools  shut down, public transportation suspended,  air space restricted, and advisories to the residents to stay indoors.

What we’re also finding out is about the suspects themselves: the police killed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the shootout and are looking for his brother Dzhokar. The siblings come from the Russian Federation country of Chechnya, in the Caucus region. The brothers are, literally, Caucasians–which, in the US, is the (inaccurate) synonym for white people in general.

But, if you’ve been following this breaking story, you know this is not how the news media initially described the suspects. No, the reporters went for their grab bag of racist descriptions they associated with bombings: CNN’s John King described the bomber as a “dark-skinned male.” The news station also reported that the suspect had a “foreign accent.” New York Post said that “Saudi Arabian national” was a suspect. Next thing 17-year-old Salah Barhoun knew he was fingered as one of the suspects–and had to go to the police station to clear his name. And the family of missing Sunil Tripathi has to deal with the traumatizing agony of an online lynch-mob mentality that named their child as one of the suspects. And politicians are using the tragedy to grandstand regarding the new immigration bill.

The National Association of Black Journalist checked this racist reflex, according to Huffington Post. And Colorlines just reported that Twitter did a Racism 101 with King regarding his comment.

In the meantime, a city, especially its dark-skinned non-Muslim and Muslim dwellers, live in fear–real fear of a real person taking his violence into the streets and an imagined fear produced by Islamophobia and perpetuated by the press. The R’s collective heart goes out to everyone in the Boston area during this time of loss and confusion.

Since this is an open thread, where are your heads and hearts on this situation, Racializens?


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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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  • Vera Viner

    I’m REALLY starting to think that the media is just FULL of uneducated, racist, useless a%#@oles !

  • Vera Viner

    The most ridiculous thing is that the 19-year-old terrorist lived in the United States longer than in any other country! And the media is still portraying him as Chechen! He’s as American as anybody else…. other than Native Americans, everyone here had family come from overseas.

  • Nathan

    I am an American of Circassian heritage. My ancestors came to the states from the North Caucasus to avoid Russian persecution, so I’ll elaborate a little on the ridiculousness of this continued use of the word “Caucasian” as a means of describing all people of European descent. Here’s the gist of it:

    In 1795, a German eugenics “scientist” named Johann Friedrich Blumenbach referred to all Europeans as “Caucasians” because he believed them to be the first people on Earth. It is often speculated by some that Noah’s Ark landed in Turkey, but some go even further by saying that Noah ran aground in an area of what its now Southern Russia. Essentially, Blumenbach called all Europeans “Caucasians” because he was certain that Noah ran aground in the Caucasus isthmus between the Caspian and Black seas and that he had sired the white race.

    In short, it is because of a racist and white supremacist theory that we persist in using this bogus term today. Caucasians are a real people. They are the Armenians, the Chechens, the Ingush and others. But Scandinavians, Celts, Basques, Slavs and others are not “Caucasians” by default. It’s like calling all Asians “Indonesian”.

  • SuperHyugaYoshichan

    Wow, that’s horrible. I feel bad for your students, and I hope that they’re okay.

  • Neville Ross

    For myself, I won’t be watching the news media that much for a while; I’m afraid that my blood pressure will shoot through the roof if I have to see any more crap from the media about this (I should also be avoiding the ‘Net as well; just the comments alone on CNN make me want to throttle somebody.)

  • Medusa

    Ugh. I totally agree with you. But America will never learn because there are way, way too many people who benefit from general bigotry, and in particular sexism, racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, etc. Cosigning you and cosigning SK as well.

  • Jane Laplain

    Now that we’ve identified the ethnicity of the Boston bombing suspects as Chechnyan, news media seem to be working diligently to dissect their caucasianness from their muslim immigrant-ness in order to better focus on their terrorist-ness. It’s like watching live neurosurgery. Except the scalpel is Racist Ideology.

  • skilletblonde

    Oh not so fast! Just because these two are from countries that are located in the Caucus region, does not indicate American media will not find a racist angle. The Uncle stated that they were from Kyrgyzstan. Uh-oh that sounds Muslim. Now watch the media make the connection that they use to trade with Arabs in the 7th century. That of course points to doing business with terrorists. Michael Isikoff, the former yellow-back cheerleader for the Bush Administration, alluded about an our ago on MSNBC, that the Chechnyans were admirers of Osama Bin Laden. Andrea Mitchell bought the very incompetent, former Homeland Security Chief, Tom Ridge, on her show.

    Where are these people when schools are being shot up, or, when white supremacists are assassinating law enforcement officials? Where are the wolf criers of terror then?

  • SK

    Why is it that when the perpetrator of a crime is a good ol’ American boy, we get in-depth coverage into his personal psychology but when it’s someone with even the slightest “link” to Islam, we get an immediate probe into the religion? Shameful.

  • Partario Flynn

    without drawing any unfair comparisons to 9/11, i feel similarly paralyzed as i did then watching the world quickly whip itself into this big racist frenzy, propagating rumors that fall along the most despicable and prejudiced tendencies we already get far too much of from news media and white culture at large.

    terrorism works when the victims of it decide they’re all too happy to turn the damned violence crank, ensuring that it keeps that shit going for years to come: attacking innocent people on our streets and convicting innocent children in a court of public opinion with no evidence. it’s so shameful.

    god help us, and stay safe, friends.

  • Mark P

    How disappointing that in a time of mourning, confusion and fear so many turn to worn-out tropes of xenophobia, racism, and other-ing. The need to blame someone is understandable, if not particularly healthy, but the tendency to blame certain people who do not look like “us” is, quite frankly, backwards. Some of these media outlets and commentators ought to be ashamed for the tired stereotypes they are perpetuating, the race-based fear and hatred they are stirring up, and the real people whose lives they have changed forever by being so quick to point the finger.