I recently encountered an excellent CBC article written by Neil MacDonald, about the shooting of an unarmed man in a Virginia suburb. The unarmed man was not of an ethnic minority, was innocent of any crime at that moment, had his hands upraised, was complying with the police, and was shot by a trigger-happy cop with anger management issues.
The crux of the matter is that we are starting to use race as the pivot for just about every social injustice that we can muster with our imaginations, without really thinking through whether that description is an accurate one or not. In the example above, the poor schlepp was killed because of bad policing, not because of the colour of his skin.
Without going into the subtle nuances of race issues in the States, could it not be that some of the shootings of innocent people are not because of overt racism against ethnic minorities, but rather because the police force in the States needs to be trained up to be more professional? The issue does not seem to be relegated to small towns either, as large cities are having their fair share of the trigger and taser happy.
The issue is just larger than just bad policing (and please let me emphasize that I do believe that most police officers are excellent at their jobs. It is a few errant police officers that are causing these terrible tragedies, who spoil the reputation of the whole profession).
I’ve noticed an increase in the raising of the racism card in many incidents across the West. The Chapel Hill shootings of three Muslims, apparently over parking, has rallied people to denounce the act as Islamophobic, but it seems that the tragedy had very little to do with racism and much to do with parking rage….like road rage but parking spots. Without intending to sound trite, surely many of us have seen seemingly rational people lose their tempers in a parking lot because they think someone stole their parking spot (it’s an absurdity like something out of a modern King Lear):
On Feb. 10 a man in Chapel Hill gunned down three of his Muslim neighbors, two of them women wearing the head-covering. Authorities initially pegged Craig Stephen Hicks’ rampage to a dispute over a parking space, but many Muslims fear a darker motive: hate.
Hicks’ Facebook page was filled with anti-religious statements. But his ire appeared directed toward all religions, not just one. His obsession with parking spots in the apartment complex was well-known, with one neighbor stating that he showed “equal-opportunity anger.” (from the Huffington Post)
I am not denying that hate was involved as an impetus behind the crime of the Chapel Hill murders, but did that hate stem from race? What if this fellow is a pathetic candidate for an episode of Jerry Springer that went terribly awry?
Another example of this, and I can’t find the reference on BBC anymore, was of a French Muslim woman saying that everyone in her workplace was looking at her suspiciously, the day after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It’s akin to something similar that a French bus driver shared:
“In 24 hours it changed. I’m a bus driver. People used to come on to the bus and smile, especially old Parisians. People would say what a nice beard.
“Now the same beard – they look at me strangely. Now, for them, even saying hello is difficult.” (from the BBC)
I wonder about these kinds of statements. What if that person is just an unpleasant person and nothing has actually changed in the way that people treat them except that they’ve all of a sudden developed a hypersensitivity to the way that people treat them, due to a charged media-induced atmosphere. All of a sudden, they start to think that they’re being treated differently because they are of a particular faith or cultural background? Maybe that woman has a huge chip on her shoulder and is mean, and people have always not liked her. Perhaps bus driver is actually being treated the same as he always has been, and some people are smiling when they get on the bus, some not, but he only notices the blank faces now.
I wonder if the reverse is true, whether Westerners living in the Middle East feel that all Middle Easterners look at them strangely after every Chapel Hill-type incident?
This puts me to mind of a sketch of Russel Peter’s stand-up routine relating to the portrayal of Middle Easterners by Western media (it’s about at the 3 minute mark). His comedy is culture-based, and he makes fun of all cultures with equal zest:
The short and long of the skit is that the West is portraying the Middle East by only ever showing the rednecks of the Middle East on television, and the Middle East is doing the same in reverse. Due to media manipulation, we hyperbolize negative stereotypes; however, these stereotypes only apply to the minutest minority of cultures.
I suppose it is a bit of a case that we, as social creatures, tend to only remember the worst of something, not the best. Just like the policing incidents in the States make us think that there is rampant country-wide police brutality against African-Americans, rather than remembering that most policing is sensitive and respectful. We don’t remember that Sunday dinner was great, we just remember that mom forgot to take out the dinner rolls out of the oven and ended up burning them.
Either way, we seem to be overly sensitive to racism, and the social media mob gets on the bandwagon before taking a critical look at a situation. Something terrible occurred. There are proper, unbiased, channels to investigate such incidents. Then, let us determine what solution is most appropriate.
We’re living in the twenty-first century, not the twentieth, and I think we need to take more of the example of Australia, where, during the December terror hostage taking in Sydney prompted a hyper-sensitivity reaction of a woman removing her hijab when embarking on the bus, to which a nobler society spoke and said, “I’ll ride with you.”
Racism exists. Islamophobia exists. There are many people who subscribe to these ignorant and backwards modes of thinking. However, not all incidents are cases of racism or Islamophobia, and we should be a bit more thoughtful before handing out those labels.