I turn 30 today. Happy birthday to me! I took a swig of whiskey before eating breakfast this morning because a) I officially can end my moratorium on alcohol with success accomplished; and b) a bunch of high-profile American violence took place while I was sleeping and much of the Boston area is in lockdown. Yaaaaaay.
This morning I was reading through what went on with my Twitter timeline overnight. I figured there’s no point making sense in it because a lot of it was up-to-the-second retweets and amateur reporting on what the police scanner was saying (which isn’t solid information that can explain things after the fact). I don’t get television so I didn’t turn on a 24 hour news network upon waking up. I don’t listen to the radio. I try not to get news from the sites that are the extension of 24 hour news networks because they’re generally filled with scrambled nonsense and the gun is jumped just as much with rushed headlines as it is by John King anywhere all the time. (I don’t get CNN but I do watch The Daily Show online, and that’s all I really need to see.)
I still haven’t gone into enough depth in consulting more quality, thorough news sources to get a full picture of what happened last night and everything about the suspects. I know they’re brothers. I know one of them is dead. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the one who is still alive. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two, died in a shootout with police in the wee hours last night. I don’t know how old Tamerlan was, but Dzhokhar is reported to be 19.
The names sound foreign – oooh, troublemakers. This makes for a GREAT news story. It turns out they’re Chechens. AHA! We get to racialize this issue to rile up the mob. Except, as my second favourite Western media personality of Iranian origin Reza Aslan tweeted: “Chechens are LITERALLY Caucasians. What a Fox News dilemma!”
The word “Caucasian” as referring to white people in attempt to remove “colour” out of the racial nomenclature because it refers to the Caucasus, which is an area that includes part of Russia, several other former soviet socialist republics, and even parts of Turkey and Iran. It’s not “white” as we see it today, and people from the Caucasus are easily racialized into a people of colour, ready for the broad brush to be applied in ways that hinder accessibility and acceptance. Chechens already have a terrorist reputation from their own violent history within modern Russia. It’s easy to take Caucasian names like Tsarnaev, rooted in the grey area between “Europe” and “Asia”, and make them seem sinister. This breeds xenophobia. This breeds racism.
We’ve already seen the racist knee-jerk that assumed it would be a Muslim person – like the man of Saudi origin who was accused right off the bat. When the first pictures were released they were so fuzzy, with hats shading the faces of the suspects, and a lot of talk going on was still about race – “SEE, THEY’RE WHITE” or “THEY LOOK [insert other racial category here]”. You can racialize Chechnya as being just like other predominantly Muslim regions or countries (as so many people think they’re ALL Arab – even though some of the most populous Muslim countries are non-Arab like Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia), but from the blurry photos so far, I doubt that the average person would see any difference if their last names were English, or French, or German. If you gave an Italian name a lot of people would say “Oh yeah, that guy looks Italian” and the same goes for anything Greek, Spanish, or Portugese.
Even further – it’s reported that these young men moved to the United States 10 years ago. That would’ve been when Dzhokhar was nine years old, and I’m sure we’ve all met people who moved to a Western country at that age and lost a lot of the immigrant “profile”. English would’ve been fluently adopted and the accent would probably have toned down. These men didn’t appear foreign in dress – hoodies and baseball caps. They were put through the American education system in their formative adolescence. Their immigrant status doesn’t make this terrorism any less home-grown. If they had anglicized their names in Ellis Island style to be Chuck and Tom Turner, 24 hour news networks would’ve had to do some research to come up with time filler. It wouldn’t be so easy as learning the names and then speculating like an idiot on live television. But then again, even if there was a need and opportunity to do some real journalism and come up with better information, would CNN bother? It seems so unlike their style.