A Few Words on the Orlando Massacre

One of the difficulties in talking about a tragedy like the Orlando shooting is that you feel like you want to say the same things which you and others have already said thousands of times over: The U.S. has a gun problem that is beyond desperate, the conversation surrounding the incident would look very different if the shooter had been a white man, hate crimes deserve to be acknowledged as such, and so on. But the fact that we’re still saying the exact same things after so many years is itself indicative of another problem.

It says that despite these issues of hate and violence being beyond widespread, and despite people worldwide calling them out for year after year on end, the U.S. government, media, and a certain portion of its citizens still fail to properly acknowledge them. When such a large portion of a country’s citizenry can highlight rampant bigotry and the endangerment of their lives, and the government can respond to that so little, it speaks to a failure of that country to protect its own people. When people can constantly highlight the role that faulty gun laws and discrimination play in violence within a country, and the media don’t highlight alongside them, that’s a failure of that country’s media to properly inform people.

It’s easy to feel hopeless in these situations, not just because there are a lot of cultural and political sicknesses in the U.S. at the moment, but also because these sicknesses can seem impossible to cure. People who want to take the steps to wipe out bigotry and violence in the country face crippling resistance from the underinformed, those who fail to do their job at informing, and a variety of political roadblocks. We know exactly how this is going to play out: The media will talk about this shooting as coincidental to America’s societal issues, instead of symptomatic of any of them, and the right will use this tragedy to make some kind of absurd statement about supposed inherent dangers surrounding Muslims and middle-easterners. All the while, diligent effort will be put into avoiding thinking about such simple and essential concepts as the methods by which this attack was carried out and the victims of the attack.

This was an attack of bigotry, and in a world that made more sense that would make it a wake-up call to stand against bigotry in the future, but the status quo has become so skilled at handling these incidents without rationality, that in many cases this attack will be used to continue and even intensify bigotry. Too little will be done to acknowledge and protect these victims of homophobia, while the ethnic heritage of the shooter will be used to stoke the coals of racism. At the same time, nothing will be done to stop the tools for such disgusting bloodshed falling into the hands of the wrong people again. The fact that this is all so predictable is reflective of the way that U.S. media and politics have become so stuck in their negative patterns. This is why we end up repeating the same words over, and over, and over, because political and social institutions fail in the same ways over, and over, and over.

There is, however, something very important that is being implicitly admitted in the way that this attack is being discussed, even among right-wingers. Many bigots are saying that the heritage or religion of the attacker was reflective of wider societal problems. This is of course, corrosive nonsense because it over-generalises, but there is an important secondary statement buried in here: “We can observe the nature of tragedies as being reflective of wider societal problems”, and once you have admitted that, you have admitted so many key things about the nature of discrimination and violence in the U.S., even if you did not mean to.

If we can take the details of attacks to be indicative of societal issues, then there are inevitable conclusions that must be drawn. It means that when these attacks constantly involve the use of widely available firearms, there is a societal problem with the wide availability of firearms. It means that when these attacks constantly target minorities, there is a problem with discrimination against minorities. But these things are of course, too rarely explicitly admitted. There is a selective application of logic and it’s not a mistake where it’s applied. It’s not simply that U.S. media and politics have a spotty track record at using tools of rationalism, it’s that rationalism’s tools are only seen as valid to apply when they protect the status quo.

This is why when one man with Afghan heritage commits a mass shooting, he is taken to be a representative for his race and supposed religion, but that when hundreds of police across America shoot black people to death, we’re not meant to identify any issues with bigotry or violence in the U.S. police system. This is why people will go so far as to make up Islamic motivations for this homophobic attack, but that when there were clearly Christian motivations for the sexist Colorado Springs attack, they were swept under the rug.

The race of the suspect in this case is being used as a distancing tactic to declare this attack something entirely to do with a non-American, non-white culture. Make no mistake, even if this suspect turns out to be from some extremist pocket of Islam, he is still facilitated by various right-wing elements of American politics and culture: The availability of firearms, the permissiveness of hate towards LGBTQIA peoples in the country, the failure of the larger population to stand by minorities.

What’s more, even if it was an extremist homophobic Muslim this time, the next time it could easily be someone from America’s large and commonplace contingent of homophobic Christians. The attitude of too many people right now is that they will act generally sad about this incident, but fail to actually take any of the necessary steps to wipe out gun violence or homophobia in the U.S. It’s the idea that posting a “Praying for the victims” status on Facebook is an equivalent for stopping the tools of murder getting into the hands of murderers, or that saying “What a tragedy” over the dinner table is a substitute for standing by the LGBTQIA community against bigotry and outside aggressors. This is a slap in the face of both LGBTQIA peoples and victims of gun violence. Do better.