The past week carried a heavy tone that continues to add to the incremental accumulation of collective psychological trauma. As news seeped into my digital media feeds, I prepared myself for that cyclical pattern that many of us undergo when we encounter repeated instances of violence. We are made aware of our otherness and, in turn, feel the paranoia that follows.
These instances feel all too familiar, and as much as I brace myself each time, I still feel simultaneously stunned, furious and fatigued. This, of course, is my own reaction as a social worker and as an educator. I cannot even begin to imagine how many folks I work with feel as they have even fewer buffers between them and direct toxic stress from witnessing yet another mass shooting that afflicts a non-white community.
As word filtered in about the events that transpired in the metro Atlanta area, I felt this same unspoken malaise. It made me think back as well on other similar events in recent memory, such as the 2015 murder of nine church members at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the 2018 murder of 11 members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the 2019 murder of 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Each incident reflects this larger tension that has bubbled to the surface.
One common theme among these occurrences is that the perpetrator is a white-identified male, and those afflicted are people of color or people who are not deemed a part of this larger conservative nationalistic imagination. These actions are often the tangible manifestation of systemic discrimination, dehumanization and exclusion. Rhetoric and chauvinistic vitriol from the highest U.S. offices make these conditions inevitable as they help perpetuate a long history of gendered and racialized violence.
The Atlanta and local hate crimes go beyond individual action and posit yet more of an omnipresent pattern of structural violence. It is quite easy to fixate on the individual actor without making note of the context in which the event emanated from. The massacres in these five or so years brewed in the context of racist fearmongering from a former president and his enablers, scapegoating China and people of Chinese descent over the pandemic. The subsequent wave of xenophobia targeting the Asian American community is no coincidence.
We must address the racist, sexist and xenophobic systemic roots that allow this violence to occur and actively hold bigoted public figures accountable. Historically marginalized peoples are in a state of emergency, and we need to stand in solidarity with the Asian American community. We are not free if others in our community are under attack.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and studies social work at the University of Washington.
Read more in the Mar. 24-30, 2021 issue.