Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Of A Feather

Muslim shooter = terrorist
Black shooter = thug
White shooter = just a tiff about a parking spot
I first heard about this Tweet while listening to an interview with Himanshu Suri, a.k.a. the rapper "Heems."

I was reminded of it while reading about the case of one Ryan Giroux, an ex-convict who was recently arrested after shooting a number of people in Mesa, Arizona.
Photos of Giroux provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections show tattoos covering his face, including the number 88 on his left temple and a Celtic design on his chin. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "88" is "neo-Nazi code for Heil Hitler (because H is the 8th letter of the alphabet)." The group also said that, for white supremacists, a Celtic cross represents the white race.
However, Mesa police spokesman Det. Steve Berry said investigators had "nothing to indicate [Wednesday's rampage] has anything to do with white supremacy at all."
Gunman in Mesa, Ariz., rampage has long criminal history, police say
Now, I'm not going to give the Detective any grief about his statement - innocent until proven guilty, after all, and there's no reason to think that I know Giroux's motives better than any other random person on the street.

But that kind of forbearance from judgement seems to be rarer than perhaps it should be. Ms. Kohn's Tweet is a generalization, and perhaps one born more of simplistic media narratives than public reactions at that, but if the media tends to give its audience fare that jives with their biases and desires we can guess that there is a market for simplistic narratives that pigeonhole people into neat stereotypes. This habit, of seeking straightforward patterns to explain the actions of people different than ourselves, is dangerous because, like most habits, it feeds on itself. Generalizations beget generalizations.

As long as we live in what we understand to be a culture of scarcity, negative generalizations about one another will have a life of their own, whether they're about religious extremism, propensity to violence or selectivity about giving people the benefit of the doubt, because those generalizations also serve to elevate the person making them (and those they understand as like themselves) at the expense of the competition. We'll make them, repeat them and defend them as a way of reminding ourselves that we're the most deserving.

We don't lose anything in allowing people to be individuals until we know enough about them to understand what group they may belong to. Whether we gain anything is debatable, but it's worth a shot.

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