The Broader Repercussions of the Kansas Shooting: An Indian-American’s Perspective

The victims of the Kansas shooting, from left to right: Srinivas Kuchibhotla (who died), Alok Madasani (injured), and Ian Grillot (injured)

Last week’s racially-motivated shooting at a bar in Olathe, Kansas that left one man dead and two others injured was an awful, senseless event — not many would dispute that. The reactions to this tragedy — some seen, some unseen, and some to be seen — are what will ultimately define its broader implications.

I’m an Indian-American who immigrated to the United States with my parents in 1999, when I was 7 years old. In the 18 years we’ve lived here, this past weekend was the first time I can remember my mom telling me to be cautious in public primarily due to concerns about racism. As a mother, she incessantly tells me to be careful (and as a son, I sometimes listen). But this time was different because of the tone in her voice and the reason behind it. My mother is a public school teacher in California who has faced discrimination in her career because of her race, yet she’s now more concerned than before.

I told her the Kansas shooting was a one-off incident and assured her that she needn’t worry about safety. Yet her concern made me think a lot about how the two countries that define my existence have reacted to this event, and what those reactions mean for all brown-skinned people in Trump’s America.

The White House’s silence

The silence from Trump and his White House on the Kansas shooting speaks volumes on its own. The President has yet to comment on this hate crime — not even 140 characters on his favorite mode of communication. Meanwhile, Sean Spicer only commented on the event to say it’s “absurd” to link Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric to this violence against immigrants.

[UPDATE, Tuesday, Feb. 28: White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders condemned the shooting and referred to it as an act of racially motivated hatred. This comes a week after the shooter cried “get out of my country” as he gunned down brown men but better late than never, I guess. We’ve still seen nothing but silence from Trump on this, although that will hopefully change in his address to Congress tonight.]

Let’s examine the absurdity Spicer referred to. Sure, Trump hasn’t tweeted about the shooting; maybe he’s simply busy and truthfully, he doesn’t actually need to tweet about everything (although the fake media, his daughter’s clothing line, and blanket statements about inner cities and bad dudes seem to be consistently worthy of his time). Trump also neglected to mention anything about the shooting at last week’s CPAC, instead sticking to his familiar talking points.

This is consistent with the silence we saw from him after a white, anti-immigrant Trump supporter murdered six people at a Quebec City mosque. Ok, sure, the President of the U.S. doesn’t have to chime in on other nations’ tragedies. But wait, he of course tweeted this just a few days after the mosque attack:

It’s not difficult to see the underpinnings of Trump’s selective tweeting. Any tragedy that fits his fear-mongering, anti-immigrant, or anti-minority agenda is fair game, while racially-motivated acts of violence from homegrown terrorists (which, by the way, are far more frequent) will be ignored.

The real absurdity here is that this administration’s silence in the face of right-wing extremism is just as loud as the Kansas shooter yelling “get out of my country” as he tried to murder brown men. They can’t expect us to believe their actions and inactions haven’t emboldened racists while a white man commits a hate crime against immigrants he thinks are Iranians — people they want to ban.

Indian-Americans’ inconsistent outrage

Most of my family is from Hyderabad, the fourth largest city in India and one that sends more people to the U.S. on visas than any other Indian city. Most immigrants from there arrive here to pursue higher education and/or work in skilled technology jobs. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed in the Olathe, Kansas shooting, was one of those people. Now, many Indian families are rethinking their vision of America as a welcoming land of opportunity.

I have several family members that are concerned and some are canceling planned trips to the U.S. Part of me views this as alarmist, but mostly I can’t help but be embarrassed for this country I call home, the nation whose values I used to extol to relatives .

These reactions make me fear some broader consequences of racial violence. First, a decline in immigration is assured. This means racists who feel empowered by Trump will lead to less immigrants, which is what they want. Moreover, this also means we’ll see even fewer immigrants in the Midwest (and the South) than we already do, which in turn helps the current administration that rose to power in part by feeding off the frustrations of white America in those states.

Another fear, and something I’ve always been uncomfortable with, is that non-Muslim Indians will now distance themselves from Muslims even more than many currently do. We saw this after the 9/11 attacks. When all brown people were treated poorly, it activated an existing anti-Muslim perception in many Hindu Indians. Never mind the fact that Muslims obviously received the worst of the post-9/11 backlash and continue to be attacked in Trump’s America. Anti-Muslim feelings and social conservatism were reasons for the support Trump received from some factions of Indian-Americans.

An unfortunate defense mechanism employed by many non-Muslim South Asians in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was to try and advertise themselves as different from similar-looking Muslims, rather than recognizing that they were all humans who would be best served supporting each other’s freedoms. This sentiment is why I’ve been told several times in my life by various fellow Indians (especially ones from older generations) to shave my beard because it makes me “look more like a Muslim,” and I’ve come across many other examples of similar sentiments.

Due to events like the Olathe shooting, I fear we will once again see separation between minorities instead of empathy for all victims (brown, black, Mexican, Jewish, gay, trans) of this administration.

I’ve heard several Indians say it’s unfortunate the victims in the shooting were mistaken for Iranians. This is a dangerous mindset. The tragedy here isn’t that a hateful racist mistakenly killed Indians. Yes, it’s terrible that people who look like me were attacked. But it’s even more unfortunate that other kinds of brown people (and black, and Mexican, and Jewish, and gay, and trans), who may look a little less like me, have been under a greater and more systemic attack.

That perspective matters. It’s also why it would be foolish for Indian-Americans to distance themselves from other groups of Americans that are more marginalized and have dealt with much more extremism and hate. An unfortunate reality is that if the Olathe shooter had actually succeeded in killing Iranians as he intended to, a large part of the Indian-American community would not have commented on it.

That poses a problem that needs to be addressed with a greater understanding of others and solidarity with them. Selective outrage, especially when it’s a result of ethnocentrism, can be very harmful. Compassion for one’s own compatriots is important, but supporting any group of humans unfairly under attack is what will more consistently lead to long-term solutions.

Remembering the victims’ words

It’s important to remember the victims of this tragedy and to ensure their faces and words are recognized more than the killer.

Remember Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who passed away. Listen to his wife and like her, demand answers from this administration. Here’s his family’s GoFundMe page.

Listen also to Alok Madasani, who survived the shooting. His love for his friend and his continued faith in the Midwest and in the United States are important. Here’s a GoFundMe page for him and Srinivas that a kind stranger set up.

Lastly, read about Ian Grillot, the hero who literally took bullets to defend the victims from the shooter. Here’s his GoFundMe page.