In the wake of Sunday’s shooting in Wisconsin, I have to ask: Why?
Not why did it happen; that story will emerge over the next weeks and months. I have to ask, why was the shooting in Aurora, Colo., reported as the main event in the news cycle for weeks, headlines and features on every outlet, and the shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara of Wisconsin has been quietly and minimally reported?
Is this news cycle fickle because of the competing headlines: the Olympics, the other-worldly NASA landing on Mars? Or is it perhaps due to crisis fatigue so soon on the heels of the Aurora shooting?
My suspicion is that coverage of the Sikh temple murders is weaker because it is a hate crime against a group relatively unknown by mainstream American audiences. In a country that has belatedly begun to recognize some of its citizens from Middle Eastern and Asian ethnicities and religions, Sikhs may still be just a bit too “other.”
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A few years ago I lived in a small community in the East Bay of San Francisco. I ran along the bay in the mornings, often just before sunrise. Frequently, I would see one lone runner, a Sikh man maybe 35 years old. We often crossed paths just as the sun started to cast color on the dark skyline. He was fast and unplugged – and he was always happy. He would smile, I would smile, and that was all that was exchanged.
I often set my gaze into the distance, hoping to see his red turban emerging out of the fog. Although I knew (and still know) little about the Sikh religion and culture, I knew he was a committed runner and, like me, he seemed to be incredibly joyful to be moving through the early morning air. It was a different kind of fellowship.
On Monday, a Muslim mosque in Joplin, Mo., was burned to the ground. I tried to imagine what kind of coverage a similar set of events might have received if a madman had burst into, say, a Pentecostal church, killing six, then a Baptist church was burned a day later.
What would the mainstream news coverage have been like? Would it be different if the shocked and grief-stricken families were white and Midwestern or Southern?
I am ashamed of the way that this tragedy has somehow been less newsworthy, as if a white supremacist committing an inexplicable hate crime is not nearly as interesting as a would-be Joker selecting victims at random.
Despite our cultural diversity, we are xenophobic. And we are too often silent when some Americans most need us to speak. The Sikh community in Oak Creek and those across the United States need to know we are devastated by this crime. As a peace-loving community among us, they deserve that and more.
Ingrid Walker is an associate professor or arts, media and culture at the University of Washington Tacoma.