Let’s talk about racism. Let’s talk about nationalism. Let’s talk about patriotism. Let’s talk about Boston.
What happened in Boston was terrible. I was at work when it happened, blissfully unaware of the turmoil that was happening not so far away. It wasn’t until I checked my phone before starting my other job and saw “Praying for Boston” variations repeated over and over on my Facebook Newsfeed that I even knew something was wrong. (I’m a child of the information age, sue me.) Can we all just agree here and now that when we post something like that we should include a little blurb about why we are praying for Boston? I had to scroll down for a while to find out any details, meanwhile “Thinking of all my family and friends in Boston” and “what is this world coming to?” statuses had me fearing the worst. Two of my good friends live in the Boston area, thank God they are both safe, but I can’t imagine if I found out through Facebook that they’d been hurt or killed. So from now on, in a crisis, for those people who post stuff like “Keeping Boston in my thoughts and in my heart” can you please attach a news story or something?
I didn’t have much time to gather the facts of what happened before I had to start my shift, but during my break a couple hours later I was glued to CNN’s footage of the explosions and the aftermath. I was astounded that at that point, five to six hours TOPS after the bombs went off, reporters were already able to give a description of the suspect – a dark-skinned male possibly of foreign nationality. I think one reporter even said, in these types of situations it’s rare to have such a clear idea of who was behind such a terrible event, but they did have a description. Later on we were told an arrest was made.
The next day I was talking with a coworker about the bombings. I mentioned that I was surprised law enforcement had identified a suspect so quickly, and was about to say that it seemed too convenient that they were so easily able to confirm it was a dark-skinned male with an accent. To me it seemed like exactly the type of thing people would want to hear. Yes, it was a tragedy, but look, we caught the guy and he was a person of color from a different country whom we can easily scapegoat and make an example of. I stopped short though, because she said it was wonderful that the families of those injured or killed in the bombings had something to hold on to, now that they’d caught the bomber.
Obviously that information ended up not being true. Now, that could’ve all been blown way out of proportion from something someone said off the record and news stations just picked it up and ran with it. But to me it seems like a plausible lie told to the general public to placate them, to give us something to hold on to, as my coworker said. And it worked. Because they knew we would believe it. It was no big stretch of the imagination for the American public, rocked by yet another tragedy, to pin all their grief and anger on a foreigner, a person of color who could be the personification of the evil they witnessed in Boston. Well that’s not patriotism. That’s racism, and nationalism. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be angry or sad or frustrated by the feeling of helplessness Boston brought to light. But does it bother anyone else that news stations fed us a lie because they knew we’d believe it? Our mistrust of non-Americans, especially if they are dark-skinned, is to me, just as terrifying as bombings in Boston and shootings in Connecticut. Maybe even more so, since our racism and nationalism is so deeply-rooted. With every shooting and bombing we are edging farther in the wrong direction, becoming mistrustful of anyone who isn’t “American” enough and clutching our guns until our knuckles turn white. There are always going to be unhinged individuals who do terrible things, but completely rational people with irrational beliefs are the ones who keep me up at night.
So it turns out that the bombers were of foreign ethnicity. But hey, they weren’t necessarily dark-skinned. The first photos they released were so grainy that it was hard to tell, but if I had passed them on the street, I wouldn’t have even pegged them as being foreign-born. And of course politicians are going to use this as an excuse for harsher immigration laws. This will only perpetuate our country’s growing elitism when it comes to letting people into the Great American Melting Pot. Newsflash: we were all immigrants once, or at least our ancestors were. Immigrants made this country what it is today, let’s not get stingy with citizenship now.
What bothers me the most were all the “I love Boston and the terrors can go to hell” posts I saw. Can’t we just leave it at “I love Boston”? I saw a picture of a US Marines billboard declaring “It’s God’s job to judge the terrorists. It’s our mission to arrange the meeting.” Okay, so maybe it is their job, but bringing God into the mix makes the whole thing feel icky. It’s like when we caught Osama Bin Laden and people were celebrating all over the country. Yes, I get that he did terrible things, although maybe I am too young to truly understand what his death meant, but he was still a human being. Even though something obviously went terribly wrong in the lives of the Boston bombers, whether it’s mental illness or cult associations or misguided religious beliefs, I have trouble celebrating the death of a human being. Maybe I’m a passivist or maybe I’m just naïve, but I’d like to think I’m just a decent person for feeling this way.