It has been exactly a year since the horrific mass shooting took place in Charleston, North Carolina. As soon as I heard about this extreme act of terrorism against black bodies, I was quick to rush to the internet (Twitter) to denounce it. Tears flooded my face with every tweet I sent – I felt deeply hurt, targeted and wounded, understanding that it could have very well been me sitting in the same predicament of the victims and their families. Rather than be silent in a time of my greatest pain, I needed to speak up – no shout – so that the world around me could know that this was not okay.
This week, things have been a little different for me. Rather than speak in light of the Orlando mass shooting, I have been quick to listen, process, lament, and repent. You see, I am not a member of the LGBTQ community neither am I Latina. Since these are two communities that I do not belong to, I have tried to intentionally make space to hear and receive from people in our society who feel especially vulnerable and hurt at this particular time. In silence, here are a few things I am thinking about:
My Own Biases:
Since the shooter was a Afghani male who expressed allegiance to ISIS,* it would be so easy to denounce his hatred and distance myself from any sort of blame. In fact, I tried to do that when I first learned about the shooting Sunday morning. But over the course of the week, I have had a lot of time to reflect on how my own religious biases hold me just as culpable as the shooter. Though my sin does not have such a violent consequence, the reality is that the inner workings of my heart are just as dangerous especially when my verbiage is clocked in a veil of religiosity that laments the actions without naming the cause of those actions. They are dangerous because even in the absence of such vile actions, darkness is present in every word, deed, or thought that suggests that heterosexual people are better than LGBTQs. And it is these inner sentiments that often lead to actions that negatively impact people.
This is why Jesus cautioned us against harboring such negative thoughts toward each other: he intimately understood the ways in which our thoughts and words later dictate our actions:
21-22 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill (Matthew 5.21, 22; the Message).”
Understanding my own bias here is one thing; checking those biases and adopting a different worldview is another. It is a process, but again, one of the things that I have been doing is intentionally surrounding myself with other voices who hold different perspectives than mine. Through listening to the wisdom and convictions of others, I know that my own perspective will be changed. Why? So that I can be free of guilt and wrongdoing? No, but so that I will be free to fully love and extend hospitality to others.
My Own Privilege:
In addition to reflecting on my own biases, I have been equally reflecting on my own privilege. Even though I sit at the intersection of multiple oppressions as a black woman in America, I also sit at the intersections of multiple privileges. And in this instance, one of those privileges is that I am a cis-gendered heterosexual in a marriage that is held up as normative. As a result of those privileges, I never have to wonder whether someone is targeting me or my family because of our sexual identity or structure. Neither do I worry about being discriminated against because of who I choose to love.
However, I am targeted and discriminated against in other ways. But because my own identity is not being attacked at this time, it is not appropriate – at least in my opinion – to center that. At all. It is important to specifically name and address the fact that the 49 people whose lives were cut short were mainly LatinX LGBTQ community members. My paying attention to and centering their humanity in this moment does not take away from my own, neither does it minimize my own historical experience of trauma and terror. Instead, centering the experience of others humanizes them at a time when they are being de-humanized
I feel this needs to be said because one of the things that I believe oppression does is blind us to the oppression of others. Because we are so consumed with our own pain, we sometimes lack the ability to empathize with others. As a result, we end up competing with one another instead of standing in solidarity with each other. We can equally go hard for own issues while supporting the issues of others.
Black Lives Matter. My experience as a black woman matters. And today, I am thinking about LatinX LGBTQ lives. They matter to God, and they matter to me, too!
Our Culture of Violence and Hyper-Masculinity
Do you know what the common denominator is in the majority of the cases of police brutality, mass shootings, suicides, homicides, domestic violence cases, rapes and other forms of sexual harassment?
Men. Hyper-masculinized men.
And these men cut across various demographics. Black. White. Asian. Latino. Middle Eastern.
They are so-called Christians, Muslims, Jews and Atheists.
They are rich and poor, and every class distinction in between.
Educated and non.
And they are men.
And those who are not physically violent create the conditions so that others will be violent on their behalf i.e. politicians.
What this tells me is that we cannot blame terrorism or our nation’s crazy obsession with guns for what happened in Orlando. Instead, we should take a deeper look at the ways in which patriarchy governs the ways in which we do life, not only in our nation but across the globe.
In her astute essay on this issue, bell hooks says this:
“Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation…It is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”
So you see, patriarchy is about exerting and maintaining control over others through force. This is what I see happening in Orlando and what I also see happening in our presidential election. It makes no difference whether the abuser is a gun-wielding cop who thinks they have rights over the black body, a group of teenage boys who feel they have the right to lynch the body of one of their female peers, or an affluent, privileged college student who thinks they have the right to rape another student. The results are all the same. Death. Dehumanization. Loss of community. Absence of love.
But of course, the consequences of each are determined by race, class, and power so that the repercussions of the Orlando shooter’s actions on the Muslim community will be more severe than the repercussions on white men over the Charleston shooter’s actions. White police officers are seldom held accountable for assaulting black bodies while the intraracial violence that occurs within our communities are pathologized. The actions of the poor are more highly scrutinized than those of the 1% – all of which suggests that white supremacy and capitalism only intensify the despotic reality of patriarchy. A statement released from the national chapter of Black Lives Matter connects these dots:
“The enemy is now and has always been the four threats of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism. These forces and not Islam create terrorism. These forces, and not queerness, create homophobia. These forces unleash destruction primarily on those who are Trans, and queer, and brown and Black, and we are the first to experience its’ violence. These forces create the conditions for our dehumanization and our death, and we will hold them to account, no matter whose face they may wear.”
If patriarchy is the cause, actions directed at quelling terrorism, gun control, and even dare I say, white supremacy, fall short of producing change. If these things are only a symptom of our patriarchal society, solutions that center these maladies are only partially effective, though necessary. We will have to go way upstream to tackle this if we want to have a chance of reducing the destruction that is so commonplace among us.
These are just a few of the things I am thinking about in the context of the Orlando shooting that took 49 precious LatinX LGBTQ souls. I am sure that in the days and weeks and years to come I will have many more. My hope and prayer is that we all, myself included, give ourselves the space to reflect more deeply on how we are complicit in the this tragedy as a result of our own bias, privilege, and the way we support patriarchal norms among us. That we would give ourselves the permission to be challenged and grow through events like this, so that it doesn’t take another tragedy to wake us up from our stupor.