by Lina Schmidt, ’15
This article originally discussed only the Boston Marathon bombing. Because it is being posted now, it has been revised to include some events of the past few weeks that are also important to conversations about prejudice and privilege.
A lot of my friends, family, and fellow students at Stanford have been watching the news over the past few months. A lot has occurred: the Boston Marathon bombings, the trial of George Zimmerman and, recently, two Supreme Court decisions with grave implications for the Voting Rights Act and Native tribal sovereignty. These events all have something to do with the way US culture views race and ethnicity or, to its peril, attempts to ignore them.
During April, you may have watched the capture of one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. You may also have witnessed community acts of kindness in the aftermath. You may have seen that Carlos Arredondo, who rescued several injured people, came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant. You may even have seen that missing student Sunil Tripathi, who was incorrectly linked to the bombing, was found dead after the bombing. If – overwhelmed by the twenty-four-hour news cycle – you did not see these headlines, this is a reminder.
It is important to remember these things. These headlines mattered because they said something about how we respond to tragedy: whether we respond with solidarity or with fear. The answer seems to be both, because the past few months have seen both acts of generosity and acts of intolerance. However, the events of the Boston Marathon bombing were complicated by the fact that the search for the bombing suspect was highly racialized. For example, a Saudi student was tackled for “acting suspiciously” near the finish line of the marathon. He was quickly ruled out as a suspect.
In pointing out what is problematic about a baseless search for a “dark-skinned man” (a direct quote from police), I do not mean to imply that catching the perpetrators of the bombing was not important. Public safety is important. It is seldom wanted more than when safety seems threatened from “within” (the bombing suspects were university students). However, too often threats are blamed on what is perceived to be external and unfamiliar. In practice, this targets non-white people: for an example, the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy. In practice, profiling does not just cause inconvenience and insult. It can be fatal, as in the case of Trayvon Martin, whose death was ascribed to the fact that he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
On April 16 I posted the article about Carlos Arredondo on Facebook without any commentary of my own. Despite the article’s focus on his heroic efforts both at the Boston Marathon and as a peace activist, the first comment on the post was “illegal immigration is still wrong.” This response is another example of the divisive attitude that delegitimizes people of color and negates their contributions to the country. On an individual level, I was offended. But what is important is that on a national level, it is dangerous. Akiba Solomon wrote about media coverage of the Boston attack, saying that “the media have a collective power to help diffuse or fuel the fear and tension that so often triggers racial violence in this country.” The sum of such responses, especially when fueled by media speculation, creates a world that is dangerous for people of color.
Before anyone asks, no, I cannot provide evidence that Sunil Tripathi’s death was directly linked to the Boston Marathon bombing. The trial of George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, has not yet concluded. What I ask is that readers acknowledge that the world is unsafe for people like Sunil Tripathi, Trayvon Martin, and countless others. I ask that readers acknowledge that mourning has a color, as the deaths and disappearances of people of color go unreported by mainstream media. It is an insult to those individuals – as well as victims of the Boston Marathon bombing – to use deaths as an excuse for racism and white supremacy. It is a further insult to pretend that not acknowledging race will solve these problems.
I wrote this poem several months ago. As the title suggests, it is a reminder of how I too am implicated in racialized oppression.
Come here, come
into this certainty
that what will happen
has happened before:
hurried footsteps, protestations,
gunshots on the street
a block away from the sandwich shop
or the crumbling park
where you dragged your toes in the dirt
thinking about your life: always
one block away.
You do not read
the intentions in others’ faces,
or translate the news.
The ink on your fingers
is just poetry, even when you are caught
in the act of second-guessing.
Hold this knowledge. Pass it
along like a flame, move
closer so there is just enough light
to fill the hollows of your face,
trace the bones of the skull,
leaving the eyes in shadow.
You are lucky. In the end
your body is a secret.
Your secrets are still your own.
Lina Schmidt is a rising junior from the Pacific Northwest. After much exploration, she has decided to major in Feminist Studies and CSRE. She likes to write poetry, to varying degrees of success. She has previously been voted “most into vegetables.”