So I was thinking about the recent shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and the reaction from the media thus far, and I gotta say – it’s time for some race-baiting.
A country can reveal it’s racism and racial bias in many ways. Not just in the obvious ways, such as the existence or prevalence of neo-Nazis or Klansmen, etc. But also in the collective reaction of its media and the talking points that are generated after a violent incident, depending on the race of the shooter.
I have noticed a stark contrast in the conversation which happens, depending on whether the shooter is white or black, Latino or Muslim. In general, if the perpetrator of a violent crime is a minority, the perceived threat that they and their actions pose become something external, to be kept at bay or controlled with more policing or security measures. If he’s a Muslim, it’s terrorism – and it brings up the issue of immigrant vetting, not to mention discussion (criticism) of Islam. If he’s a black person, the issue which makes the media rounds, in particular on state media like Fox News, becomes about “broken homes” and “thugs.” A Mexican guy would bring up a similar conversation about immigrants and gangs.
Which brings me to the Scalise shooter, a white man named James Hodgkinson. The discussion thus far, and the issue of what to blame for the violence, has been concerning “political rhetoric,” as well as possible mental illness. Conservative outlets like Fox have even had the nerve to try to blame “the political Left,” but other mainstream media sources have also raised the question – is our lack of civil discourse to blame? Is the issue one of the mentally ill having access to firearms? Are prescription medications making us crazy? The problem becomes one that reflects an internal societal dysfunction, rather than an externalized threat. The blame shifts from the shooter himself to a more generalized “have we become too hostile” or “is something making us violent” scenario.
It brings to mind the differences in approach between drug epidemics, depending on the communities that are affected. The recent problems with opiate addiction and overdose deaths from prescription painkillers are viewed and talked about in terms of a health “crisis.” Which is not to say that it isn’t. But look at the difference between that and the way the crack epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s and other drug problems that plague inner cities (black people) are talked about and handled. In the case of opiates, the issue is seen as one of public health, whereas with the latter, it is a dangerous scourge, and for years has been dealt with by harsh criminal penalties.
One of the problems with talking about race and racism is that far too often, the very idea of it becomes a sort of taboo that is linked with overt and obvious perpetrators. Nobody wants to be considered racist, and what frequently comes to mind when racism is mentioned are extreme examples, such as the aforementioned Neo-Nazis or white supremacists. What we often forget is that racism and racial bias can be more subtle and nuanced, and reflected in not only the beliefs and words of racist people themselves, but also in our general, more indirect characterizations of people’s words and actions and how they fit into our view of the way society should function. Any honest discussion of race should include the latter. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this issue, and we need to be aware of how media can and often does shape our thinking and perceptions.
Photo credit: Pixabay.com/IIIBlackhartIII