I am a textbook GenXer. The most profound tragedy of my childhood was the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. I was in sixth grade, watching the shuttle launch on TV, and I can recall most details of that day. Obviously many traumatic things happened in the 80’s and 90’s, but they didn’t impact me in the same way, because I was either removed from those moments because I lived in a time when we did not have news reporting 24 hours a day, nor the distraction of the internet where you can find infinite positions on any issue, nor social media that elevated issues within a matter of minutes.
My version of social media included the back of the bathroom stalls, and slam books.
Even though I grew up in a lower income area during my childhood and was bullied through elementary school, I still feel sheltered and deeply privileged.
When I think about our young people today- I cannot imagine what it feels like for their entire childhood to be a constellation of memories of violent incidents locally, nationally and internationally. I carry an anxiety in my heart because I cannot even carry these emotions without them consuming me, and yet coping with this has become our new normal. And I feel the new normal seems more grim than the previous new normals that I have been forced to accept.
The tragedy of the shooting at Pulse nightclub impacted me in a different way. I can’t shake that this happened in my hometown. My first reaction on Sunday morning was pain and sadness. And if I am being really honest, my immediate second reaction was, “please don’t let the shooter be a brown/Muslim man.” While I have not had to endure what Muslims in America and the world have endured, because of my own religious identities as Hindu and Sikh, and the backlash toward all people who ‘present’ as Muslim, I stopped going to my own place of worship after 9/11/2001. That was almost 15 years ago. The first person shot in the US after 9/11 backlash, was a Sikh man.
As misfortune upon misfortune continued to unfold- the shooter’s identity- was revealed to be an Afghan-American man, who was likely a closeted gay man wrestling with the complexities of his identities in a world where we don’t know how to navigate intersection of those identities. In our very viral news world, this incident became an ‘act of terror’ committed by a ‘terrorist’. In a world without codes, I would agree. However, in our coded world, ‘terror’ and ‘terrorist’ seem to be only reserved for Muslim people. I do not recall Dylan Roof being called a ‘terrorist’… nor were any of the other horrid incidents in our country defined in this way- most of which were not committed by Muslim people.
So what are the byproducts of living in our coded world that happens to be full of painfully violent incidents happening so frequently, that we cannot even pause to grieve fully, internalize the emotion, and really process the emotional impact?
Here is what I noticed.
I noticed that I did not notice enough. I did not speak out enough. These past few days have been nothing less than horrendous. During Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, there have been acts of horrific violence in Istanbul,Turkey; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Baghdad, Iraq; and Medina, Saudi Arabia.
I gave myself a free pass because frankly I am overwhelmed, and trying to hold on to some kind of hope. The overwhelm for me on social media is my own stuff. It also happens to be a part of our community- the virtual campus quad of my own college years. Growing up in the 90’s, the lyrics of a George Michael song, Praying for Time, comes to mind:
This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here
So you scream from behind your door
Say “what’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
Because God’s stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can’t come back
Because he has no children to come back for
It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time.
I received some thoughtful feedback from a student who asked the question, “Why are we not raising awareness of these incidents in the same way that we did about Pulse?” My mind immediately went to all of my ‘answers’. I have many of them- good answers. Legitimate answers. Honest and authentic answers. All of my good intentions.
Those answers and intentions don’t matter. Because while the initial question was about why we are not raising awareness- if I sit in silence and meditation- is ‘why is my humanity not honored in the way that others’ humanities are honored?’ The question is actually a request for an acknowledgement of wholeness, particularly in the intersections of identities, and how the intersection of identities situates some of our students, community members, and neighbors differently than others. As an educator, I owe our community and our students my best and most authentic self. And, I am so sorry. I will be better. I promise. I will stay in it.
I, myself, am critical of the ‘statement-prayer-hashtag’ practice that is becoming second nature to me. And, I fully recognize that there is a disproportional impact, especially to Muslim people right now, and to marginalized people in general depending on the incident.
So- you have my commitment to be better. More present. More vulnerable. More. And perhaps we should all be praying for time.