Op-ed: Ending the cycle
Like we do after every other tragedy, every other mass shooting (this past Saturday’s being the 176th mass shooting this year alone, and the most fatal in American history save the mass slaughters of Native Americans), we will first mourn. We’re told by news outlets that 50 people died and even more were injured in a shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, and that 26 kindergarten students and faculty were shot dead in Newtown. People will reprimand those who are angered in Facebook threads on news articles, telling them to be human and mourn first before making it a political issue. Your Facebook friends and Twitter followers will share articles about the tragedy and post heartfelt prayers, and these depressing posts will dominate your news feed.
Next, it’s time for the outrage. We are told who the shooter is, their history and relationships are revealed and their face is plastered on articles and television reports from The New York Times and CNN. People will get in fights on the Internet over what went wrong. If the perpetrator is revealed to have had ties to ISIS or another extremist group, there’s chatter about Islam being poison and all Muslims being terrorists, and people will either vehemently agree or disagree. Some people will bring up mental health, while others will discuss gun control. Invariably, there will be unbridled anger on the Internet. Other than the occasional peacemaker, mourning will have been forgotten by now. Instead of remembering the victims, we will have given attention to the perpetrator — exactly what this person wanted.
Then, it’s time to make a move in the game of politics. Most politicians will release messages that express sentiments of sadness and immense human loss, some will be outraged and swear to improve the gun control laws in our country, some will angrily talk about finally getting rid of radical groups and terrorism and some will pat themselves on the back even when the situation calls for grief. If it’s an election year, everyone has to be on their best, most political and, dare I say it, presidential behavior. Most of the statements they make are supposed to represent our best interests, our own personal desires for a call for action, whatever this action may be. The optimistic parts of us all hope that maybe this time there will be a huge change that stops a tragedy like this from happening again. The anger turns into petitions and opinion pieces — much like this one.
That’s the problem. It stops there. Too soon, these precious lives lost will be forgotten. Too soon, we’ll be back to life as we know it, wrapped up in our own little worlds. Too soon, the same politicians who expressed outrage and sadness and a need for action will stop talking about the tragedy, let alone doing something about it. But it’s not just the politicians who don’t remain accountable — none of us do. We are the ones electing these people. We are the ones exuding racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia and every other phobia out there. We are the ones who embrace freedom but only ascribe it to people selectively. Going back to the status quo of hypocrisy and hidden malice toward the “other” sends a message to those looking to harm innocents that they have an opening and that they can easily get away with it because we’re distracted by our fears, our prejudices and our melodrama of a presidential campaign. Is that the way we want to live?
I’ve been impacted enough by my own hidden prejudices, even if only marginally, due to my many privileged identities; I’ve been called names because of my Indian origin — including one several years ago that was said with the mistaken assumption that I’m Muslim — and I’ve been told overtly that I can’t code well just because I’m a woman. My acquaintances and friends in the LGBTQ community are afraid that our country is taking a step back from same-sex marriage legality due to one person’s hateful crime, and they are terrified of copycat attacks and other repercussions. My Muslim-American acquaintances and friends are afraid that they will be even less welcome in their homes than before, maybe even dangerously so. When we make our own residents feel unsafe and discriminated against based on their own identities, how can we move on to actually take action when people do disgusting, sad things like this?
Talk is cheap. If we want to actually be progressive, we need to actually make a move. Let’s live up to the emotions we’re feeling about this horrific tragedy. Let’s start by educating ourselves on social justice and making this a truly equal playing field for all. Let’s start by getting rid of the “phobias” mentioned earlier that fester in our cities and towns. Let’s start by taking charge of the ideas and attitudes we spew, intentionally or not, to those who have different identities than we do. And let’s hold not only the perpetrators but also ourselves and others accountable when tragedies like Saturday night happen, at all levels — interpersonal, community, state, national and international. I’m absolutely fed up with this. And I hope you’re all just as fed up as I am, and that you will consider this a desperate plea for action and accountability.
Anisha Sudarshan is an LSA senior.