It is painful to watch as this nation mourns the loss of 49 young lives that were stolen after a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando this past weekend. However, it is also equally painful to watch is this country’s racist and anti-Muslim response to the attack, that has since been called “an act of terrorism” (some even branding it an act of “radical” islamic terrorism) and “the worst mass shooting in American history.” In truth, the motivation for this attack may be far less simple than originally anticipated and this is not actually the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history and employing this language to describe the attack or the motivations behind it reveals America’s deep seated contempt of and disregard for minority people.
Immediately after initial reports that the gunman, Omar Muteen, was shot dead during a gunfight with police, the young man was branded a terrorist and news began to circulate that he had connections to ISIS and other terrorist organizations. This claim worsens political and social tensions that are already sky-high in a country where all Muslims are branded terrorists. Only recently, GOP forerunner for president, Donald Trump, argued his very popular sentiment that all muslims should be deported since they pose a threat to America’s national security.
Yet, news has recently surfaced about the young man that complicates this narrative: not only did the mass shooter frequent Pulse, a LGBT establishment, and likely have a profile on a gay dating app, as well as frequent gay chatrooms online but multiple sources insists he may have been gay himself. One such source, Jim Van Horn, told the Associated Press, “I think it’s possible that he was trying to deal with his inner demons, of trying to get rid of his anger of homosexuality.”
As you read this, the FBI is investigating whether or not the Orlando shooter led a secret gay life. Not that this investigation will really mean anything, even if it turns up hard facts that the shooter was, indeed, a gay man battling demons– not simply an evil Muslim out to destroy America. The damage has already been done by the media when the published glaring headlines declaring the man a terrorist, before even having adequate information to do so and in spite of the fact that the president gave a speech and declared there was no direct evidence that the gunman was directed by a terrorist group. With certain, a brand new wave of islamophobia will grip this nation, likely to be fueled by more blatantly racist rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump.
The way this news was reported by the media was also not only troublesome in the context of the Muslim community to the rest of the American populous, but also displayed the sheer disregard of black lives in the country’s history. After all, when a young white man entered– adorned in an apartheid band and other symbols of white supremacy– entered a church in South Carolina and shot and killed 9 people, the media or government took no interest in labelling the crime an act of terrorism. He was merely insane; a lone psychotic wolf. In truth, both of these men likely had mental health issues. So why can only a man of color be a terrorist? Considering this country’s long history of White terrorism against Black folk, it is laughable that the refusal still exists to simply call it just that. And when we consider the fact that, according to eyewitness Patience Carter, the Orlando gunman “didn’t have a problem with Black people”, which is just ironic. She described this conversation that ensued between the gunman and some of his victims who were hiding in the bathroom:
“I don’t have a problem with black people. This is about my country. You guys suffered enough.” He made a statement saying it wasn’t about black people. This isn’t the reason why he’s doing this, but through the conversation with 911, he said the reason why he’s doing this is because he wanted America to stop bombing his country.”
Thus, the deep inner workings of White supremacy, which protects the sanctity of whiteness to the detriment of Blacks. A man who openly despised and wanted to rid the world of Black people was not a terrorist, while one who sympathized with the Black struggle was.
While we remain uncertain what motivated this shooter to act as he did, we must be careful not to fall prey to this very predatory, racist propaganda system. Yes, ISIS exists. As do Muslim extremist and terrorists. However, this does not excuse the media or government in its demonization of an entire demographic for the actions of a man whose motive has yet to be clearly understood. We must demand more accountability in the reporting of stories of mass shootings (especially, where someone of color is the attacker or people of color are harmed) and not fall prey to such propagandized rhetoric. Terrorism is real and we must protect ourselves from it in all forms and from all groups. And that includes Whites.