I’ve been a part of so many great, challenging conversations over the last few days because of Susan’s article about the race of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

The conversations have led me to ask some questions that I really don’t know how to answer. Do you?

  • If an individual is the victim of White supremacy in one country and then moves to another country where he is perceived as White, what race is he, exactly? Is he the race he grew up being? Or is he the race he is currently perceived as being? What if it’s not a nation where the racial dynamic is White/non-White, but some other racist pairing?
  • Why are many people so quick to believe that trying to understand the complexities of a person’s past is the same thing as excusing that person’s actions?
  • Why are people so quick to assume that a Muslim who commits violence did so on account of his or her Muslim faith, while a non-Muslim who commits violence did so because of a complex combination of personal history, mental illness, substance abuse, bullying, etc–but never their religion. And never their race.
  • Why is Whiteness never discussed when a White person commits a violent act, unless it is a blatantly racist act? In other words, why do we assume that a White criminal’s race contributes nothing to their bad behavior, even though it seems to make sense that some people with great privilege and great power may also become violent, perhaps because of that privilege and power? And who has the most privilege and power in the USA? White men with money. Shouldn’t we discuss race when discussing the crimes of White men with money?
  • Why is being “colorblind” still considered a laudable interpersonal quality? I understand it as a goal for the future–a world in which a person’s race is unrelated to the hierarchy of society–but why do White people still insist on saying, “I don’t see race”? Is that the statement most indicative of a racially privileged experience–to be able to cling to the idea that race doesn’t exist?
  • Why do people say terrible things about the children of violent criminals? I saw someone online saying that the government needs to watch Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s three-year-old closely because the child is “going to grow into a terrorist, no doubt about it.”
  • Why are some people trying to make the Boston Marathon bombing an issue of failed immigration policy? At an event a few nights ago, I listened to a woman argue that this is evidence of the US immigration policy and insist that the local university is bringing too many international students without screening them first. I don’t have statistics, but I assume that vastly more violent crimes are committed in the United States by citizens than immigrants–not just numerically, but as a percentage. So why are people so quick to conclude that the US should accept fewer people into the country?

These are not rhetorical questions. I suppose the easy answer for many of them would just be “racism.” I think I just want to understand more than that, though. As a White American, I’ve been pretty blind to the situation of non-Whites in America, and it’s difficult to try to transition from not noticing to understanding.