"They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying 'peace, peace' when there is no peace." --Jeremiah 6:14
Now we have the killing of Sikh Americans in suburban Milwaukee as they are gathering for prayers in their house of worship. Just days later, the messaging around the gunman is already starting to go down a familiar path: He was a member of a white supremacist rock band, friends had begun to worry that he was embracing more overtly racist words and networks. The more "fringe" we paint this gentleman, the easier it is to file the heinous murders under "isolated incident." After all, he was different, crazy.
After Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, I wrote a blog entitled "A Lifetime of Isolated Incidents". I referenced Ellis Cose's book "The Rage of a Privileged Class: Why Are Middle-Class Blacks Angry? Why Should America Care?" Cose writes about the many examples of racism that mainstream white communities observe and dismiss as "isolated incidents." He observes that as black Americans, we spend our lives seeing and experiencing "isolated incident" after "isolated incident" after "isolated incident." There comes a point for many black Americans when the "isolated incidents" are no longer isolated, but symptoms of deeper expressions and manifestations of racism. That is how we experienced the killing of Trayvon Martin.
With the incidences of violence against Sikhs rising after 9/11, I cannot even imagine the courage that Sikh males needed just to walk out of their houses. Their turbans made them marked men, symbols of "Islam" and "anti-American Arab."
What we have is a culture of fear.
This tells me is that we have not done enough as a country to tackle issues of racial and religious difference. We have not done enough healing, reconciliation and education since 9/11. Though the shooting in Aurora, Colo., was not racially motivated, we do not have the necessary "checks and balances" when it comes to our national relationship with firearms.
Are we as Americans ready to acknowledge reality and tackle these issues at all levels -- from government to private sector, from faith communities to families? It is important to remember that we are not powerless to respond. In fact, history tells us that we have effectively responded to issues of racism and religious difference in the past. Legislatively, we outlawed slavery. The Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of religion. In the private sector we embraced the principles of affirmative action -- that people of color, women and people who are openly gay and lesbian should have equal opportunities for success. In faith communities, we have worked across racial and theological divides to engage in service and civic engagement together. In our families, many of us have embraced racial and religious difference through our friendship networks as well as our intimate relationships.
This moment in time calls us to both deepen that commitment and create 21st century strategies at all levels -- including government, private sector, faith communities and our families -- that collectively creates a different culture and set of norms. We must work toward a culture in which attitudes of hate and prejudice are disarmed and channeled in different directions earlier, or where we figure out a way that dangerous people do not have access to firearms.
People of Faith, these murders are not isolated incidents. This is what racism looks like. This is what unresolved anger looks like. This is what an irresponsible use of freedom looks like.
We must not dismiss this tragedy as yet another isolated incident, as the shootings in Wisconsin begin to fade from memory.