The Dangerous Mind of the Unemployed

Two weeks ago, my job ended. It didn’t come as a complete surprise. I was hired in August for a specific project, and eight months later, that project was completed. Despite unemployment obviously being an inconvenience, it had definitely been time for me to move on. I wasn’t finding the work stimulating, and my project team had dwindled down from four to two, leaving me nostalgic and lonesome every time I came to the office. I spent the next two weeks job searching at coffee shops, exercising (i.e. dancing in the apartment while blasting strange music), and exploring the city during the weekday, which I haven’t been able to do since summer. It was like being on a surprise spring break.

My first week of unemployment turned out to be the week of the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt. When I first heard about the bombings, I was on my laptop, applying to jobs at Gregory’s Coffee. My first reaction, of course, was utter horror. Boston is one of my favorite cities, and three of my best friends currently live there. After frantically texting each of them, I spent the rest of the day refreshing my news feed instead of applying to more jobs, consumed by the drama like a bored housewife.

On Thursday, when the suspects’ photos were released, I felt a wave of relief that they looked like a couple of white college students, knowing that they’d probably receive reasonable punishment from our justice system and fair treatment from the media. However, my relief quickly dissipated when word spread that the two suspects were Muslim and had difficult-to-pronounce (i.e ethnic) names. The ensuing reactions of the public became both predictable and disappointing.

After perusing articles and live stream videos relating to the event, I decided that my next blog post needed to cover this — it’s too compelling a topic not to discuss. However, everything I’ve felt has already been expressed [better] elsewhere, and I doubt I can convey my feelings in a more articulate way. Thus, I’m going to do what I try to avoid doing on this blog: quote outside writings.

An article entitled The Wrong Kind of Caucasian from Aljazeera discusses how our treatment of the two suspects reflects their identity. Just as I had expected, when the photos were first released, and they resembled “all-American frat boys, speculation turned away from foreign terror and toward the excuses routinely made for white men who kill: mental illness, anti-government grudges, frustrations at home.” Recent terrorists, Adam Lanza and James Holmes – both white Christians born in the U.S. — slaughtered many more people, but were immediately justified in their actions due to their “mental illness.”

Once we found out that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were Muslim, their religion (non-Christian) canceled out their whiteness, and they were then treated as Muslims. There was no longer any possibility that they may have been bullied at school or had experienced other forms of personal traumatic events that could explain their actions. As foreigners and Muslims, they are not entitled to those excuses. Although both had spent a large portion of their lives living in Cambridge, they were “stripped of their 21st century American life and became symbols of a distant land, forever frozen in time.” Their ethnicity and religion became the most important things about them, the root of their evil.

The article also mentions the fluidity of race, a concept that I have always found fascinating. Polish-Americans, who were once considered minorities, have “become ‘white’ — which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.” Of course, the concept of “whiteness” is only relative; no matter how many new groups become “white”, there must always be a nonwhite category for them to exist. Terms are only created to make distinctions, and distinctions are only made to maintain a hierarchy upon which our society so viciously thrives.

I found an article in The Guardian entitled The Boston bombing produces familiar and revealing reactions that attempts to remind us of all the horrific attacks that the U.S. does to Muslim countries (e.g. our use of drones, our invasion and destruction of Iraq), but these constant attacks cause little to no empathy from most Americans. “The rush, one might say the eagerness, to conclude that the attackers were Muslim… is seen… over and over with such events.” When the 2011 Oslo massacre and 1995 Oklahoma city bombing occurred, headlines suggested that an Islamic extremist group was responsible, when, in fact, the terrorists were conservative racists. “Even when it turns out not to have been Muslims who perpetrated the attack but rather right-wing, white Christians, the damage from this relentless and reflexive blame-pinning endures.” Arabs and Muslims must constantly fear that their religious or ethnic group will be blamed and hated for the next act of terror.

A piece called Hapless, Disorganized, and Irrational by the Cato Institute reminded me of the fact that in most cases, “the overwhelming driving force was not… ideology, but rather a simmering, a more commonly boiling, outrage at U.S. foreign policy — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… and the country’s support for Israel in the Palestinian conflict.” With the Boston Marathon bombings, the attempt at derailing a Canadian train headed to New York, and the ricin letters to government officials, all within the same week, one can sense an anger, a pot about to boil over. One of the reasons why we continue to demonize Islam and Arabs is because not to do so would force us to dig deeper — to ask ourselves why someone would want to hurt innocent Americans. Because then, we would see that there is a lot to be angry about. 

I then came across quite a provocative blog post from Black Girl Dangerous, called Hey, White Liberals: A Word on the Boston Bombings, The Suffering of White Children, and the Erosion of Empathy. Just like The Guardian article, the post mentions the hypocrisy of Americans’ empathy and horror. When we learn of the thousands of nonwhite youth who are murdered both overseas and on our own soil, we don’t see everyone dedicating facebook statuses to them. She takes it even further by questioning why we seem to so easily disregard their deaths. Since “all our lives we are told white people’s stories… our ability to see white people as people has been pretty solid. (This is also probably due to the fact that we have never needed an excuse to kidnap, enslave or mass murder you, which is always easier to do to a race of people when you can deny their humanity)… When [people of color’s] children go missing, there’s barely a teardrop in the news cycle. When white children go missing, it’s a national event.”

My obsession with both this event and our nation’s reaction to it stems from more than free time and unlimited access to the news. It hits close to home. As a woman of color whose mother is an immigrant, I am affected by the ignorance, hypocrisy, and white privilege that have become glaringly evident by witnessing the side effects of a heinous crime. I shudder to think what would happen to my dad, my brother, or my boyfriend if someone Filipino, Southeast Asian, or just happened to look like them was convicted as a terrorist in this country.

To somehow tie this all back to my state of unemployment and too many trips to Argo Tea Cafe, I definitely know what I need to do for my dream career, whether it’ll be at the next job or later on in life: I need to research, write, and analyze society in some way. I’m just having way too much fun with this not to get paid for it.

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