Thoughts in the wake of Nice

Nice, France is affecting me much differently from the recent events back home. I am saddened by the loss of life, and it hurts to think of the horrific nature of those deaths - especially as a medical professional. In contrast, the events in the U.S. (from Orlando to Dallas) felt quite American; a symptom of the societal and social unrest that we have been unable and unwilling to address. Nice, feels like a more international problem, but is also starting to make me question if the U.S. societal and social problems are part of a global problem.

As I finally start to read the news, I recognize the media’s usual rush to judgment. The name Mohamed, it seems, is often linked to Islam, so he is immediately chained to “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” It is starting to sound like this was a 31-year-old male who was separated from his family and had several other problems. Media rushed to judge that this was “Radical Islamic Terrorism, despite several flags that raise questions, such as he had mostly fake weapons.

I reflect about what the reporting surrounding the Pulse nightclub attacks in Orlando did. The perpetrator made claims that he was from several extremist groups, which fueled the media to begin the false narrative, another act of “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Journalists then uncovered that he had been an abusive husband, raised in a fundamentalist religion, and had relationships with other males. The narrative started with an incredibly harmful stereotype of “Radical Islamic Terrorist” with a need to deport all immigrants and increase attacks on Syria; and then moved to an equally unhelpful story indicating a sort of ‘self-hating, angry, sexual deviant who was lashing out.’ This narrative served to further complicate the mourning of the LGBTQ community, as the discussion could be interpreted as the need to fear members of their own community. And those are just two of the many unhelpful, hurtful, or harmful narratives that took place.

It is a hurtful and harmful road to truth that effected members of immigrant, Muslim, domestically abused, and LGBTQ communities just to name a few. The media bulldozed through every complex intersection of the perpetrator’s identity, the identities of the victims, and the problems in our society that lead to this event. In pursuit of ratings, the media carves a wide path of stereotypes, sensationalism, and blame. In a bid for name recognition, notoriety, or relevance, politicians climb on board making ‘bold’ statements based on incomplete facts. Statements that echo across the world and are clearly heard as the loud reverberations of American bombs falling in the future: capturing innocent and guilty lives alike, as mindlessly as people capturing Pokemon outside the Holocaust Museum.

And now, this series of media events repeats itself. In a different country, with a different language, and a new means. The normalization of a lorry attack may have been inspired by the catastrophic bombing in Baghdad, but it seems there are limited signs of other organization involvement. Carrying fake grenades and imitation weapons seems to be a novel new tactic for an established terrorist organization. Of course here I speculate, but I am also not a paid or trained journalist. And if I am wrong and it was the self-proclaimed Islamic State, does that make mainstream media right?

Yes, it was an act of terror. This latest round of violence has inspired more fear across the world: a fear of our very real vulnerability. A fear of mass congregation becoming a target. But in this global age, I believe that we are more vulnerable as individuals. 

We have developed a globalized world without a globalized community. We dehumanize and vilify. We lack understanding. We fear, stereotype, and blame, instead of using historically unprecedented physical and virtual access to work together and love.  Fear from these acts of terrorism is further dividing the global community, but alone we cannot succeed.

As an American, I see the complexity of the situation at hand from an American perspective. I see an America that cannot stifle hate or eradicate white supremacy in its own country. We then consider ourselves the world power, the arbiter of peace, equality, and justice the world over. We act in our interests and destabilize areas of the world that we do not understand. We have major influence in the United Nations, and like a spoiled child when the United Nations acts against us, we go do what we want in the world any way. 

Right now, I have no solutions. I have no solutions for improving conditions and ending the systems of oppression, suppression, and violence that haunt and hold back America. I have no solutions for increasing peace in the world overall, but I am starting to look for them. I could not even look for them until I reached this phase of ‘seeing’.

Today, I do wonder. I wonder, how influential is the role of mass media, the pursuit of ratings, and the desire for money playing in our world? How harmful is it that different media outlets are unconsciously painting our world view? How many of us are letting media implicitly control or contribute to biases, prejudices, pain, and violence throughout the world? I recently heard Dr. Mahzarin Banaji say:

I no longer believe that I can just let information into my mind as it comes. I believe I must choose and edit. I can’t go home and lie on my couch and turn on the TV and watch the thing that seems interesting because that is going to leave a mark on my mind. And I actually am pleased that the way technology now allows me to craft what I want to watch and listen to allows me greater freedom to say, "This is what I do not want to watch, and this is what I do want to watch. (Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, 2016, OnBing).

You can listen to a fascinating conversation or read the transcript at OnBeing.

Perhaps we can be more discerning and patient in our pursuit of details to protect ourselves from the damage that mass media seems to be inflicting. Perhaps we can stop gaping at the media's offering of a train wreck of sensationalist misinformation that warp the truth before it is known, and ruin the truth we remember.

After all, the nonstop news cycles only exist because we are perpetually ‘tuned’ in, and media outlets can only pursue ratings with half-facts and half-truths if we continue to give them full-ratings as a reward.

Additional Reading with selected Quotes:

"White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism" by Dr. Robin DiAngelo.

Racial Arrogance: Most whites have a very limited understanding of racism because we have not been trained to think in complex ways about it and because it benefits white dominance not to do so. Yet, we have no compunction about debating the knowledge of people who have thought complexly about race. Whites generally feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives rather than have the humility to acknowledge that they are unfamiliar, reflect on them further, or seek more information.
These privileges and the white fragility that results prevent us from listening to or comprehending the perspectives of people of color and bridging cross-racial divides. The antidote to white fragility is on-going and life-long, and includes sustained engagement, humility, and education. We can begin by:
  • Being willing to tolerate the discomfort associated with an honest appraisal and discussion of our internalized superiority and racial privilege.
  • Challenging our own racial reality by acknowledging ourselves as racial beings with a particular and limited perspective on race.
  • Attempting to understand the racial realities of people of color through authentic interaction rather than through the media or unequal relationships.
  • Taking action to address our own racism, the racism of other whites, and the racism embedded in our institutions—e.g., get educated and act.

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