Since the tragic domestic terrorist attack in Las Vegas that claimed the life of 58 innocent victims and left 489 injured, the media has described the shooter in many ways. Except one. “Terrorist”. For some reason, even though Stephen Paddock, the gunman that shot concert goers from his hotel room over looking the event, destroyed and damaged the lives of the victims and their families, no one is calling him what he is. A terrorist.
This devastating event has reopened the discussion of when and why the news labels some individuals as terrorists and not others for very similar crimes. When a white person shoots people, they’re called a “shooter” or a “gunman”. When a Black person shoots people, they’re called a “gangster” or a “thug”. When a Middle-Eastern or South Asian person shoots people, they’re called a “terrorist”. I’ve realized that as a society, we are so pathetically intertwined with racism that even white criminals are respected more that people of color who have committed the same crimes. Terrorism by definition is “the use of violence and threats to intimidate“. How can someone then say that what happened in Las Vegas was not an act of terrorism?
As a society we have the tendency to excuse the crimes of white people by putting labels on them such as “mentally ill” (which further stigmatized mentally ill people who are not violent), or that they were simply a “bad apple”. By singling them out, it removes the act from the rest of the group and prevents stigma from tainting societies views on white individuals. However, the same courtesy is not done for people of color. When one person out of a minority group commits a crime, suddenly, the notion that ALL people from that group are evil becomes prevalent and accepted. Following the terrorist attacks on 911, America’s view on the entire Muslim population changed, even though the terrorists were extremists. In fact, the 911 hijackers were not practicing anything close to Islam. They were part of a militant, extremist cult.
Stigmatizing minority groups over a small set of incidents only leads to more hurt than understanding. Instead of making assumptions, I encourage you to have these hard conversations with someone who may be of a different demographic than yourself to better understand how stigmas work to harm them. If white people were stigmatized for the crimes that have been committed by white criminals, white individuals would be stereotypes as school shooters, racist members of hate groups such as the KKK, and serial killers (just to name a few). That’s not fair, now is it?
Until next post,