If in another country, a citizen opened fire on citizens of that same country, and booby trapped his home to kill law enforcement, the action would be viewed as “political” and it most certainly would be called a terrorist action. This exact action occurred in America. It can’t be called terrorism here (unless the assailant is the “appropriate” race for that label) but change the latitude and longitude (and ahem…race) and then it is? When something awful like this occurs abroad by someone domestic (or foreign) to that place, it is called terrorism.
Some (mainly Whites) argue that an action has to be “political” to be terrorism. (One even suggested to me that since James Holmes didn’t shoot up a federal building, it isn’t terrorism. What? By that definition, neither are roadside bombs.) But politics is more than just “voting” and “elections.”
I like how Melissa Harris-Perry approaches the word “politics” in her book Sister Citizen. She makes the claim that internal, psychological, emotional and personal experiences can be political.
If you ask most people what they think of when they hear the word politics, they are likely to give a definition that includes voters, parties, elections, public policy; and process of contestation and representation. But formal participation in the government is only one part of a more encompassing effort to be recognized within the nation. The struggle for recognition is the nexus of human identity and national identity, where much of the most important work of politics occurs.
The idea that politics is something seperate from personal lives and choices is a false one. If it were, LGBT people wouldn’t be fighting for marriage, a personal and political institution. The Loving v. Virginia case wouldn’t have had to exist. The personal is political. And personal motives (say the motives of James Holmes) can have inherent politicization.
Even so, was not Gabby Giffords an elected official when she was shot? At a political event? Arizona District Court Judge John Roll died. Wasn’t he in political office? And weren’t others there actively participating in “politics” under the rigid definition that some Whites (at least the ones who tweeted/talked to me) and the media want to allow? Yet the media, the government and the much public at large still do not fully associate that action by Jared Lee Loughner as terrorism. Thus, I know it is not about what “terrorism” means or what “politics” mean. White privilege makes White people feel compelled to play semantic warfare with me. Question my intelligence. Redefine words. (This makes me think of what William C. Rhoden calls The Jockey Syndrome.) Determine that nothing I say is valid without their approval. Anything to make sure that the harsh labeling and monolithic application of labels associated with crime remains among minorities only. Using White privilege…to debate White privilege?
(A common example of semantic warfare occurs in conversations about undocumented immigrants. Many Whites claim that they’re only upset about their “legal” status, not race. Interesting…since my father is a legal immigrant from Jamaica, yet encountered racism all of his adult life here. He’s 69. I know better than to assume a legal status that other people can’t see on sight is what their anger is about, versus the bigotry that it really is.)
A woman (somewhat jokingly…it later seemed) tweeted me that she hates being White. I replied to her that she shouldn’t hate being White, (that’s not the answer, it is self-destructive, and solves nothing) but hate White privilege, White supremacy, and racism, stay educated on it and speak out against it. There’s White people who do this. Some of them, I follow on Twitter. There’s no point in hating yourself. Speaking out against what is individually, systemically or institutionally racist (or any other “ism”) is possible for everyone, including Whites.
Some people think that discussing race is “more racist” than racism itself, which is so ridiculous that I genuinely have a hard time mentally processing it. They think discussing how White privilege permeates every facet of society means that those who discuss it hate White people. (I LOVE individuals, I hate oppressive systems and ideologies.) This is the result of ignorance or sometimes maliciousness (people who know how important these conversations for are change, but conflate them with hatred for Whites as a silencing tactic.)
I don’t hate anyone. I don’t want this violence and suffering for anyone. I can’t be silent or apathetic though. The notion that if I never speak about race, challenge racism, and engage in varying levels of awareness, advocacy and activism, somehow racism won’t affect me, is false. It’s the one of the worst lies that both Whites and many minority people believe.
Media labeling and images impact us. It is beyond naive to assume that it does not. Media affects perception. Perception affects action. Action affect legislation. Legislation affects culture. Culture affects media.
Call the event what it is. Terrorism. Or, don’t use the word at all, for anyone. (Language can be a tool of freedom or one used to oppress. Thus, some will never admit that this word can include the action of Whites.) But the idea that terrorists can only be a race that isn’t White, is pointless labeling and in fact just a slur then, not a social or “political” term.
I worry for the families of victims and wish them peace. You never really get over the loss of someone you love. You do learn to live with the pain and remember the joy…in time. These victims did not deserve the act of domestic terrorism that they suffered that night.
Related Post: White Privilege and Criminal Justice