The faces behind terror

White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber turns out to be white, his or her identity will not result in white folks generally being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA, or the FBI.

White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for whites to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation.

Tim Wise, Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the Power of Whiteness

I am of a minority population in the country in which I’ve chosen to live. Unlike a black teen in suburban Florida, or an Hispanic in Arizona, or an Afghani just about anywhere, in my chosen society I am not suspected of being a thug, a terrorist, a spy, an illegal immigrant, or as being shiftless, lazy, a leech, or any of the other categories used to stereotype or pigeon-hole or denigrate a person of color – which can also include “cute, adorable, trustworthy, etc.” when used as atypical descriptors. If anything, I might be thought to be a cash cow, to be milked as long as necessary – but even my supposition is a denigration and stereotypical, isn’t it?

In recent years many have written of white privilege, but I think the concept does not have wide understanding – among white people. Tim Wise has written an excellent piece tying white privilege to our perceptions of terrorists. In addition to the quote above, Wise also wrote:

White privilege is knowing that if you are a white student from Nebraska — as opposed to, say, a student from Saudi Arabia — that no one, and I mean no one would think it important to detain and question you in the wake of a bombing such as the one at the Boston Marathon.

Mother Jones cited initial reactions to the aftermath of the bombing and The New Yorker has an excellent article detailing how the media – especially the wingnut press – jumped to erroneous conclusions based on – prejudice. The Atlantic has covered the misinformation wildfire that is the internet where “be first, not right” and “I have only my hunches to guide me, but they”re always spot-on correct” are rules to write by.

  • The New York Post reported that a Saudi national was in custody when, in fact, he had been hospitalized. According to The New Yorker, the Saudi student was the only victim who
    • While being treated for his wounds at the hospital, had his apartment searched (according to the the Boston Herald) in “a startling show of force”
    • Had his belongings carried out in paper bags while his neighbors watched
    • Had a roommate questioned for five hours by authorities and then trailed by a Fox News producer who asked him repeatedly if he was sure he hadn’t been living with a killer
  • The Atlas Shrugs web site had a note claiming that the Saudi victim’s name meant “sword” in Arabic
  • Fox and Friends claimed “there must be enough evidence to keep him there,” [there being a hospital].  Another commentator said

If he was clearly innocent, would they have been able to search his house?

[Note to Fox: “clearly innocent”?  Probable cause is all that’s necessary for a search warrant in most jurisdictions – “guilt” or “innocence” is usually decided in a courtroom with a judge and/or jury present.]  The commentators threw further suspicion without proof onto the victim by suggesting that his student visa was a front and that he was lawyering up.

  • BuzzFeed, Reddit and others suggested the person responsible was a missing Indian-American Brown University student

The color of the skin of the men authorities came to believe responsible were – not brown, tan, olive, or black – but white, as in:

In his column Wise names more than 80 white terrorists, some of whom used bombs, others fire, and others guns to commit their acts. Below are some of the faces of the arsonists and bombers. I didn’t include those who used handguns, shotguns, or other weapons with a trigger:  they seemed more like assassins than terrorists.


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