Dear American Reporters,
I recently read an article from The New Yorker about the tragedies in Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin - the two massacres that occurred within weeks of each other - entitled “An American Tragedy.” I find it to be both very interesting and very telling that the author chose to use the singular in the title rather than plural. After all, it was two tragedies of equal caliber, right? So, why not mention both of them?
I begrudgingly think the real reason only one is referenced in the title of this article, which points out a lot of the flaws I will be pointing out here, is that most of us in America don’t actually see them as two equally significant events. In fact, I’d be willing to be that a lot of people don’t even know what happened in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. (If you didn’t catch the news within a couple days of the tragedy happening, you probably didn’t hear about it.) In both of these cities there were several people shot and killed out of pure, cold-blooded hate. As the author of this article points out, though, there were a few key differences to the two shootings. Those differences pretty much boil down to three things: race, religion, and location. The Aurora shooter - a mentally unstable, skinny, white male - came into a crowded, dark movie theater at the premier of a blockbuster film dressed as a super villain. On the other hand, the Oak Creek shooter - a walking stereotype of a testosterone-pumped white supremacist - walked up to a Sikh temple and opened fire on the worshipers, most (if not all) of whom are of South Asian descent. The Aurora shooting was a spectacle that made seemingly little sense, whereas the Oak Creek massacre was all too quickly dismissed as every-day run of the mill racism and religious intolerance, and was soon forgotten. But, why?
What I see when I look at these two incidents is not the differences between the crime scenes, but the similarities. What I see is Americans in vulnerable situations (darkened movie theaters and houses of worship are, after all, generally safe locations for people to go and let down their guard). I see a sense of security shattering to bits. I see people mourning the loss of their children, parents, siblings, cousins, best friends, teachers, next door neighbors, favorite baristas, that-guy-who-lives-in-my-building, their community members. I see agonizing pain and suffering (both physical and emotional). And most of all, I see an act of heinous violence committed by someone who had every intent of hurting innocent people because they were somehow different from them. Whether that difference was one of class, race, happiness, mental-stability, religion…. it really doesn’t matter - you only lash out at people like that because of differences. After all, wars aren’t started because two countries agree on everything. These attackers were at war with their communities on an emotional level long before they pulled the triggers.
Now I begin to wonder: am I the only one who thinks this way? Why is it that I heard about the Colorado shooting for weeks after it was over, but had to ask several different people for clarification on what exactly happened at Oak Creek before I gave up and went to the internet? And, speaking of the internet, why is it that when you type the word “aurora” into the Google search bar, it comes up with options such as “aurora shooting” and “aurora tragedy,” but typing “oak creek” into the same search bar only gets you advertisements for booking a cabin at camping grounds? Further, why is it that when you type “victims of” into Google, it comes up with two different suggestions for the Colorado shooting, but none for Wisconsin’s recent tragedy? Surely Aurora, Colorado was not a place that was bustling with business worthy of global recognition before this shooting occurred, so why is it on the map now? And, more importantly, why isn’t Oak Creek?
Honestly, I feel that a big part of the problem is that the media has kind of failed us. American news reporters are far too invested in finding a sensational story that will sell papers and headliner segments. (This is only my opinion, of course; it is certainly not something with which I expect everyone to agree.) America is very much a culture that prides itself on creating opportunity for everyone - but many times that comes with the side-effect of creating a space where it’s all too easy to have heightened expectations and feelings of entitlement. Simply put, Americans can be really self-centered and spoiled. We like to understand everything that goes on around us, and because of this we generally surround ourselves with things to which we can relate. Most of us don’t go out searching for things that will really shake our core beliefs, for instance. We don’t step outside our comfort zones too often. And for many Americans it was far easier to relate to the (exclusively white) victims sitting inside a movie theater than it was to relate to those in a Sikh temple - a foreign religion of which many Americans have probably never heard.
By catering to the spoiled “typical” (white, upper-middle class) American ego, and running with the sensational news story about Aurora, while almost casually brushing the Oak Creek tragedy aside in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind fashion, the media in America has failed us. They’ve failed us as a nation, they’ve failed us as a community, and they’ve certainly failed all the victims of the Oak Creek tragedy who have not gotten the attention they deserve for their brave, horrific, final moments. By failing to shed equal light on such similar events, American reporters have once again fallen into the trap of telling people what they want to hear, instead of what they should be hearing. What Americans want to hear is “we’re a forward-thinking nation that needs to band together to stop crazy murders.” But what we need to hear is, “we’re a more-forward-thinking nation than many that needs to band together to stop the hate that is fueling these crazy murderers.”
In closing, all I would ask is that American news reporters wake up and realize that they’re the ones we’re looking to for our source of what needs changed in America. If we don’t know that there’s a problem, how can we begin making a plan to fix it? Please stop covering up America’s flaws simply because you want your ratings to stay higher than your competitors’. Instead of worrying about selling papers, why don’t you try selling positive change instead?