Monday, April 22, 2013

My Face Was in Boston

I can't get over how similar the captured Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and I look. Oh, there are certainly differences, I'm something of a European mutt, but it's easy to envision him as an ancestor of mine at a young age. Someone that grew up in the area could probably visually distinguish my ambiguously defined Russian ancestry's bone structure and what-have-you from Chechnyan if such a distinction exists, but we're both Caucasian with ancestry from roughly the same region and I see my face in his face.

We're similar in a lot of ways. In addition to sharing a roughly similar appearance we're also fairly close to the same age. We've both lived most of our lives in the United States. We've both been subject to an indifferent or hostile system and felt alienated. According to mainstream society we both hold extremely radical views (though in very different directions). While there is no way I can sufficiently condemn his decision, and that of his brother, to murder innocents in pursuit of whatever goals he had, I recognize that if I had been raised in different circumstances I could easily have been Dzhokhar. His path isn't mine and I have no interest in becoming a killer for my ideology, which will forever create a gulf between us, but as I look at his picture I still see in his face a face not unlike my own.

Society doesn't see my face in his face. In fact, society, mainstream media sources, and politicians do not see his face at all, because his face is problematic. His face, like my face, is a white face. He is quite literally Caucasian. His face is disruptive to all of the carefully laid propaganda about brown faces and brown bodies being the source of terrorism in the United States and throughout the world. That's why it's being ignored in favor of his religion which fits into that messaging more easily and is more easily recoded back to a hatred of brown faces and bodies.

Despite having a similar face to one of the actual Boston bombers I will never be tackled and have my apartment raided due to the color of my skin. My ancestry won't be called on to question my patriotism, and in fact my utter lack of patriotism won't be connected to my ethnicity at all. I won't be accused of sympathizing with the bombers by people that see me on the street just because of my ethnicity or perceived ethnicity. I do not have to fear a sudden wave of anti-Russian violence. Russians, as well as most groups that make up my ethnic background, became generically recognized as White when it was convenient for the United States to incorporate us into a coalition to stand against civil rights for African Americans. Now I'm immune to the level of racism that has swept the media and Boston itself since the bombing.

White people aren't profiled. We aren't even acknowledged as a group until we're placed in some sort of conflict with People of Color. We make up the majority of reported rapists, are responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks in the history of the United States, are more likely to use illegal drugs than any other racial group, and are more likely to be serial killers. In fact, while the casualties of the Boston bombing are by no means insignificant and each of them deserves justice, more people in the United States have been killed by White Christian terrorists within the last year than died in Boston. None of this is used as evidence of a deficit in the morality of Whites, or for that matter Christians, as a whole. White school shooters aren't even discussed as being White. They're "mentally unstable". Racism can't touch us, because it's a system we've invented to elevate ourselves.

Instead of targeting me and others that look like me in the wake of an act of terrorism, or really any tragedy deemed newsworthy, people across the United States are looking for other scapegoats. When a shooter is a White male from the United States he suddenly becomes subject to mental instability. Gun control debates after shootings by White men are based around keeping guns out of the hands of those with mental illness, even though they are more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators. Gun violence in major cities is addressed as a deficit in the stability of families of color. White Christain bombers like Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph have their religious identities debated, invisiblized, and denied. Muslim bombers regardless of race are seen as representing all Muslims and a deep current of violence inseparable from Islam. Immigrants are stigmatized while terrorists born and raised in the United States are not grouped on that basis.

These ideas are playing out across a national stage once again in the wake of the Boston bombing. Politicians are feeding into Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, media outlets like CNN are playing on racial fears to stir up anti-Arab violence, and gun control debates will again be sidelined to pass laws increasing the size of the police state. To quote a news monitor on drones on Twitter, somewhere someone is certainly whispering in ears the question, "Could drones have found the Boston suspects faster?" Immigrant communities will be targeted broadly enough to blanket as many brown bodies as possible under the label of "terrorist threat."

There will be no attempts to address the ways in which American culture radicalizes people. No mainstream voice will speak up about the ways anti-immigrant sentiment fostered this violence. No source of this violence outside of the bombing suspect himself will be sought. No one will ask if this violence is characteristic of White men. No one will look at me twice because of my resemblance to a terrorist.

We won't come to see why the construction of this debate is itself breeding hatred, desperation, and future acts of terror. 

1 comment:

  1. The first two paragraphs of this were In the face of so much dehumanization, it is good to see such empathy.