Let’s review: Any honest observer should be able to admit that if the gunmen in these mass shootings mostly had, say, Muslim names or were mostly, say, African-American men, the country right now wouldn’t be confused about the causes of the violence, and wouldn’t be asking broad questions. There would probably be few queries or calls for reflection, and mostly definitive declarations blaming the bloodshed squarely on Islamic fundamentalism or black nationalism, respectively. Additionally, we would almost certainly hear demands that the government intensify the extantprofiling systems already aimed at those groups.
Yet, because the the perpetrators in question in these shootings are white men and not ethnic or religious minorities, nobody is talking about demographic profiling them as a group. The discussion, instead, revolves around everything from gun control, to mental health services, to violence in entertainment — everything, that is, except trying to understanding why the composite of these killers is so similar across so many different massacres. This, even though there areplenty of reasons for that topic to be at least a part of the conversation.
Recounting the truth of these double standards is, of course, boringly mundane, which means my comment on television summarizing them is an equally boring and mundane statement of the obvious. However, as evidenced by the aggressive attempt to turn those comments into controversial headline-grabbing news over the weekend, the conservative movement has exposed its desperation — specifically, its desperation to preserve its White Victimization Mythology.
–From “Time to profile white men?” by David Sirota, Salon
Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests–Scripture tells us, “’Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day. For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town, full of good and decent people, that could be any town in America.
Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.
I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief–that our world, too, has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.
And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.
As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch. They did not hesitate.
Dawn Hocksprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy–they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances: with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.
We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms and kept steady through it all and reassured their students by saying, “Wait for the good guys, they are coming. Show me your smile.”
And we know that good guys came, the first responders who raced to the scene helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and their own trauma because they had a job to do and others needed them more.
And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do. One child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, “I know karate, so it’s OK. I’ll lead the way out.”
As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered and, with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.
But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.
With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world–to possible mishap or malice–and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t–that we can’t always be there for them.
They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.
It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself–that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.
And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours–that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.
This is our first task: caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?
Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children–all of them–safe from harm?
Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?
Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days and, if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.
And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims–many of them children–in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose…much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.
We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law–no set of laws–can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.
If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens–from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators–in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.
Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?
Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children, year after year after year, is somehow the price of our freedom?
You know, all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question: why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?
We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal–whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort–we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.
We’ll make mistakes; we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing; we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.
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. Continue reading →
If Arundhati Roy was a rock star and I was at her concert, I’d be that fool who’d shout, “I LOVE YOOOUUU!” from the cheap seats while she was doing her between-song banter.
Well, Roy is a literary rock star. I fell for her writerly riffs when I caught up with her 1997 semi-autobiographical debut novel, The God Of Small Things, a couple of years ago:
May in Ayemenen is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The rivers shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.
The nights are clear , but suffused with sloth and sullen expectations.
But by early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn mossgreen. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads. Boats ply in the baazars. And small fish appear in the puddles that fill PWD potholes on the highways.
I enroll at Jackson State University in the Spring semester, where my mother teaches Political Science. Even though, I’m not really living at home, everyday Mama and I fight over my job at Cutco and her staying with her boyfriend and her not letting me use the car to get to my second job at an HIV hospice since my license is suspended. Really, we’re fighting because she raised me to never ever forget I was on parole, which means no black hoodies in wrong neighborhoods, no jogging at night, hands in plain sight at all times in public, no intimate relationships with white women, never driving over the speed limit or doing those rolling stops at stop signs, always speaking the king’s English in the presence of white folks, never being outperformed in school or in public by white students and most importantly, always remembering that no matter what, white folks will do anything to get you.
Mama’s antidote to being born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi is not for us to seek freedom; it’s to insist on excellence at all times. Mama takes it personal when she realizes that I realize she is wrong. There ain’t no antidote to life, I tell her. How free can you be if you really accept that white folks are the traffic cops of your life? Mama tells me that she is not talking about freedom. She says that she is talking about survival.
One blue night my mother tells me that I need to type the rest of my application to Oberlin College after I’ve already hand-written the personal essay. I tell her that it doesn’t matter whether I type it or not since Millsaps is sending a Dean’s report attached to my transcript. I say some other truthful things I should never say to my mother. Mama goes into her room, lifts up her pillow and comes out with her gun.
It’s raggedy, small, heavy and black. I always imagine the gun as an old dead crow. I’d held it a few times before with Mama hiding behind me.
Mama points the gun at me and tells me to get the fuck out of her house. I look right at the muzzle pointed at my face and smile the same way I did at the library camera at Millsaps. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
“You gonna pull a gun on me over some college application?” I ask her.
“You don’t listen until it’s too late,” she tells me. “Get out of my house and don’t ever come back.”
I leave the house, chuckling, shaking my head, cussing under my breath. I go sit in a shallow ditch. Outside, I wander in the topsy turvy understanding that Mama’s life does not revolve around me and I’m not doing anything to make her life more joyful, spacious or happy. I’m an ungrateful burden, an obese weight on her already terrifying life. I sit there in the ditch, knowing that other things are happening in my mother’s life but I also know that Mama never imagined needing to pull a gun on the child she carried on her back as a sophomore at Jackson State University. I’m playing with pine needles, wishing I had headphones—but I’m mostly regretting throwing my gun into the reservoir.
When Mama leaves for work in the morning, I break back in her house, go under her pillow and get her gun. Mama and I haven’t paid the phone or the light bill so it’s dark, hot and lonely in that house, even in the morning. I lie in a bathtub of cold water, still sweating and singing love songs to myself. I put the gun to my head and cock it.
Mother Jones’ assertion that Wednesday’s Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin and the Occupy Wall Street movement are “linked” will need to be reassessed in the days ahead. Though Occupation members like @OccupyTheHood were credited by some with helping the two groups find solidarity leading into the event, by Wednesday evening, allegations were made online accusing members of OWS of moving to co-opt it. (A compilation of some of the tweets in the debate can be found here.)
But one more thing should be reevaluated from that video, too: the notion that “hundreds” took part. People on the ground, as well as some online outlets, reported that thousands lined the streets, among them Martin’s parents. Continue reading →
While I applaud Savage for responding to the increasing number of gay and lesbian suicides that often follow bullying and violence, the framing of this campaign gives me pause. The campaign was developed in response to a culmination of the heartrending stories of gay and lesbian youth suicides (some of whom were youth of color-many of which have historically been unable to get national or even local media attention) within the media that reached its apex with the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, a white gay male.
Indeed, when we think of victims of homophobia-induced violence, many US citizens can easily recall the names of white gay males Tyler Clementi and Matthew Shepard but not Sakia Gunn, a black working class lesbian or Brandon White, a black gay youth. Why is that? Because many of the news stories prioritized within gay media outlets are framed by folk who seem to have a limited platform that favors particular persons, namely, middle-class white gay males, over some others. Savage and other middle-upper class gay white men benefit from this form of commodification. It is a hard truth that I, too, have to confront.
It is important, then, that we challenge Savage and his politics. He fails to recognize that the popularity of the campaign and its legitimacy depend on the very subtle exclusion of non-white and non-bourgeois bodies. Moreover, the movement has garnered international endorsement by politicians and celebrities because being gay in America, in the West, somehow speaks to the democratization of what was once considered radical, namely, gay identity. So, yeah, it gets better for queer folk in the US context, but which queer folk?
There is no national campaign for the indeterminable number of Black queer and transgender men and women that have been killed or gone missing across the country. This is not because many have not tried to create such, but because the media, and liberal gays who shape it, like Savage, don’t seem to care.