It's become common for people who find themselves caught up in or near situations like the UCLA shooting to post real-time updates on social media.
As the situation progressed, many students used social media to let others know that they were OK. Others posted pictures of themselves barricaded in classrooms.
But after it was revealed that the shooter was Mainak Sarkar, a former doctoral student from India, one amateur web commentator tweeted this:
This concern — that when violent tragedy strikes, an entire ethnic or racial group will be implicated in the crime — isn't new.
Take Two explored this concept with two guests:
- Jeff Yang, social commentator and writer for the CNN Opinion section
- Tyree Boyd-Pates, professor of Africana studies at Cal State Dominguez Hills
(Written answers have been edited for clarity.)
Can I just start by asking if this is a response that either of you had when you heard about the attack at UCLA? This initial, “Oh man, I hope this guy isn't Asian or Black.”
Jeff: Yeah, it was that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach. The way that people subsequently start spreading rumors or making conjectures about who this person is or why they did it instantly becomes more of a touchpoint because the person has a cultural identity, a faith: a racial or ethnic presence that is overtly associated with another community. Because it’s UCLA and because he’s a grad student and frankly because the initial conversation was about a dispute over grades — you know — load on the stereotypes, but instantly I felt so afraid that this person was Asian or an immigrant.
This is a dynamic that we explored in the wake of the San Bernardino terror attacks in December. The perpetrators of that attack were husband and wife. They were Muslim. After the attack, we spoke with one young woman, Marwa Abdelghani, about what it was like to go out in public after that attack:
Tyree, how can so many racial groups and ethnic groups have the same fear after an attack like this?
I think it's because they’re often the ones who are described to be the implications of such an event. For instance, if you happen to be a Muslim-American or an African-American, there are caricatures and stereotypes about your hostility against the dominant group. Often, those stereotypes are never fulfilled, but those stereotypes are so pervasive that they’re almost imagined and executed in people’s minds.
Jeff, you wrote on social media about the difference in the responses we see — in the media particularly — when a violent act is committed by a person of color, versus when it's a white person. Talk to me about that.
I think that part of the job that the media has is to try to divine some kind of meaning, some understanding as to what occurred. When you have somebody who’s seen as more of a generic killer — they typical FBI profile of a white male loner — then, more often than not, the conversation turns to his social network, his political beliefs, and his mental health issues. Those conversations have their own issues. The problem is when people see somebody who is more obviously part of a particular group; it becomes less about the individual and more about the group. It doesn't even have to be a group that is directly related to that individual. You mention Muslims. If you look on social media right now, you’ll see that a lot of people are implying or even stating outright that Mainak Sarkar was Muslim, and he was not.
Press the blue play button above to hear the full conversation.