While the media discusses the details of the shooting and whether or not it was a hate crime, or mental illness, or if he was a “lone wolf.” Other media – or “alternative” media – discusses how not calling it terrorism is a double standard, calling it mental illness belies the racism that the US is built on and calling him a lone wolf goes back to the terrorism argument.
While this is all true, retreading this ground over and over again risks lending more importance to these ideas than they deserve. Again, while these ideas are true and worth noting we must understand the assumptions that these ideas are built on. The first big one is whether or not we call this terrorism. To be blunt, who cares?
The idea here is that this term still has a chance of meaning something and the people who are pointing out that this shooting falls within the “definition” of terrorism risks seeming naïve.
Hopefully, we have long ago reached a point of understanding that the term “terrorism” is merely a tool in the state’s arsenal of fear. In other words, lets think of it this way – what difference would it make if tomorrow the state did come out and call it terrorism? Would it change the nature of the act or the nature of the state? Both of which are racist. Admittedly, it could open the investigation to different departments and bring in more money because of the technical reclassification as an “act of terrorism,” but in this case that would, most likely, have little effect.
So while it seems like making this argument is an attack against the status quo or the state, in essence, it is giving the state too much credit and possibly legitimizing it. Its like saying “we know deep down you’re a good state – if you would only straighten up and fly right.”
As mentioned above, the lone wolf argument is essentially the same thing. The media might say he is a lone wolf while the alternative media jumps to point out the history of these sorts of acts and the fascist white supremacists groups in the world which are seldom talked about.
Again this is true – and needs to be talked about. For it is part of the problem that these groups are bigger than people might think. One is reminded of Golden Dawn. However, it seems that this two sided debate risks falling in the same hole as the terrorism debate. This is at best a technicality. What I mean by that is that most people agree this was a racist act, and most people know this guy is not the only racist in the world, so we can go ahead and say he is part of a larger trend. While it is important to recognize this lets not over emphasize it, because there are bigger issues at stake.
Lastly, in the media, people are talking about the issue of mental illness. Out of these three issues that are being discussed in the media this one is the most important. We don’t want this to be written off as a mental disorder. Here are two reasons why: 1. As with the above mentioned ideas: this act was not an isolated incident and was part of a larger picture. 2. And more importantly – This was a political act. And it is scary to think of political acts as mental disorders. This guy is our enemy, not some sick person who should be pitied. I shutter to think of my own political ideals being called a mental or social disorder.
As a side note this is what the state fears the most about this kind of act. The very fact that it is political.
Ok, this brings me to the 2nd part of this essay. I have said that these three ideas that are being discussed in the media have differing degrees of importance but on the whole they are not that important and miss the mark of the real issues.
The real issue is institutional racism vs. individual racism. While events like this are extremely tragic and happen way too often, they are minor when compared to the effects of institutional racism. Here is an excerpt that explains these two types of racism better than I can.
“Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism. The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury or the violent destruction of property. This type can be recorded by television cameras… The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts… [it] originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than the first type.
When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city – Birmingham, Alabama – five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism. When a Black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which many people will condemn – at least in words. But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”
– From “Black Power” by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton
In closing, lets realize that the real issue here is changing the deep social issues of race relations in this country and not whether or not we take down a flag.