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Is this our American identity?

August 6, 2012

It’s been hard to articulate all of the thoughts and emotions that I’ve had about Gurdwara shooting in the past 24 hours.  Besides the sheer horror of it, I think the dialogue around the shooting has once again revealed disturbing facets of the American identity.  Is our country be more accepting of violence and intolerance than we’re willing to admit?

I’m saddened that one of the overarching narratives is about Sikh Americans being misidentified as Muslim.  First, it continues to reveal deep society gaps about anything that is remotely different from Christinity and our general acceptance of that ignorance as an appropriate excuse to do horrific things to people.  Secondly, it reveals how much prejudice we’ve been willing to swallow against those who are Muslim. What is conveyed when we say that we misidentified the group?  Would this shooting be okay if the folks inside of that gathering place were Muslim? Or as I’ve heard many people vocalize, have we become comfortable generalzing Muslims as extemist?

I also can’t quite comprehend the violence.  It is senseless and systemic, and so unfortunately engrained in our culture.  As someone that regularly covers her eyes when watching violent movies, I admit that I don’t have a good threshold for guns, knives, physical abuse and often the accompanying injustice that comes with them.   I embrace this as a good thing, though it sometimes makes excellent movies about equally excellent subject matter, like the Hurricane and Amistad, impossible to watch the second time around.

It also feels as if we’ve reached a point in our national dialogue where we only discuss violence in the context of mass murder and the vividly outrageous.  Don’t get me wrong.  As someone who just noted certain disappointment in our level of committment to get to know Sikh Americans and Muslims, I believe that we need to dedicate time to understand why we find ourselves so often on the course to these tragic events.  One prays that  the shootings in Oak Creek and Aurora will actually be an opening to discuss gun control in this country…doubtful.

Yet, there are also guns deaths happening on a regular basis that are equally unacceptable and incomprehensible. Chicago, IL had a reported 260 homicides by July 4th, and continues the trend of violent summers.  Part of me believes that much of this stems from the same problems — we fail to humanize and deem important the lives of those who seem different from us.  We live in our increasingly  segregated neighborhoods where we don’t even have to acknowledge what is happening to people day-to-day to those who are separate.  In the Windy City, most of the deaths are isolated to the south side where the black and brown kids live. Out of sight, out of mind.

The challenges behind our American identiy, what has happened, and solutions to come are more nuanced what I can write here.  That said, I feel there’s ample evidence of the need for a counter culture, at least a discussion provoked, on our relationship with violence — and more broadly intolerance of other people.

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