Racist Non-Reaction

Ken AshfordRightwing Extremism/Violence, War On ChristmasLeave a Comment

Ok.  I'll say it.

Last weekend, there was a terrorist attack.  The shooter was white; the victims were Sikh.

There was, of course, a negative reaction — but now, a few days later, all seems to have normalized.

Thought experiment: Suppose the same thing had happened, except that the shooter was of Arab descent, and the victims were white?  Would reaction be muted by now?

I think not.

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic asks the same question:

Hold the victims constant and give the perpetrator the last name Mohammed. Does anyone think for a moment that such an attack wouldn't still be the most discussed story at Fox News andNational Review? And at various network news shows and unaffiliated newspapers for that matter?

Instead Wade Michael Page was the gunman.


It ought to be self-evident that non-Muslims perpetrate terrorist attacks, and that a vanishingly small percentage of Muslims are terrorists, but those two truths aren't widely appreciated in America. That doesn't mean they won't reassert themselves, for terrorist attacks have always been with us; the tactic has never been exclusive to a single ideology for very long; and the power the state marshals against one sort of terrorist is sure to be first to hand when another sort strikes. 

Anxiety over this possibility was evident early in President Obama's term, when a Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism was roundly denounced by conservative bloggers, who know as well as anyone that you don't want to wind up in a class of people whose rights are determined by the Office of Legal Counsel. Spencer Ackerman just did a followup with that report's author. Whatever you think of the document, its warning against the possibility of a disgruntled military veteran perpetrating right-wing extremist violence seems vindicated by initial reports from Wisconsin.


[T]he American majority is naturally loath to focus its attention on a terrorist who looks, talks, and dresses as they do. It is particularly uncomfortable for those in the country who feel most reflexively safe when "an American" is beside them on a plane, instead of a bearded man with a turban. Watching Oak Creek, that subset of Americans was put in a position to realize that a day prior they'd have identified with the terrorist more than his victims. 

And so they quickly looked away.