Solidarity vigil in Orlando for victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre.
(Image by Fibonacci Blue) Permission Details DMCA
Sadness marks this day after the horrific massacre in Orlando, Florida. at the PULSE nightclub (Sunday, June 11,2016). As a lesbian and a sociologist, my thoughts grapple with "Why?" Omar Mateen and James Howell are both Americans born and raised in the United States. While there are protestations that these two men have nothing connecting their activities, that is flatly wrong for they share not only deep seated homophobia, but the belief that they have the right to act on it, and likely that they would be "heroes" for doing so. Homophobia runs though the veins of U.S. culture, and it is woven into the fabric of our society by misogyny, and socialization into sex roles as they are constructed in mainstream culture. These biases are legitimated in the arguments about "political correctness" and the persistent and deliberate misunderstanding about "protected classes" and "hate crimes." This article attempts to draw these arguments and issues together in a critique that illuminates the reality of inequality and bias in U.S. society, and how it gets legitimated and even fanned, into the rhetoric that is commonly used.Omar Mateen and James Howell - Homophobes or Terrorists? Losing the Truth Through Misdirection.
Omar Mateen, the homophobic beserker who went on a killing spree in Orlando, Florida, was a "security guard" for G4S (a global security firm formerly known as Wachenhut, and the 3rd largest publicly traded company in the world).1 It took awhile for the media to acknowledge that Omar Mateen was a homophobe, but that was hardly out of their mouths before they were off speculating that he was an Islamic terrorist under orders from ISIS. This shift in the story line is important from the perspective of not addressing homophobia, and trying to link it to a presumed "larger threat" to the country. This morphing of the story is consistent across various disasters and incidents. The media creates a world of hypotheticals pointing every direction except for those that would allow some progress on addressing very serious issues.
Donald Trump, in his usual uninformed spouting, blasts that the massacre is because of " lax" immigration laws and accused President Obama of "political correctness" in not targeting "radical Islam." (The Wrap) Never mind that Mateen was NOT an immigrant. Further, neither was James Howell (arrested yesterday), the other homophobe arrested in LA with guns and bomb making materials in his van heading for the LA Gay Pride march.
Of course, you have to feel a little bit of sympathetic (not) for the sticky position that the Trumpster is in. After all, most of his "fifth column" are homophobes too. They are just way right, and Christian evangelical right, homophobes. So poor Donald can't say anything too sympathetic for the victims of Mr. Mateen or he risks offending his base.
However, the corporate media is not doing much better than Trump, and with relief they are jumping from the uncomfortable issue of homosexuals as victims of this atrocity, to Islamic "terrorism" or even "home grown, Islamic terrorism." For nobody wants to confront two very nasty facts. First, that Mateen and Howell and all the other U.S. homophobes are products of U.S. culture, and their homophobia is the homophobia embedded deeply in this culture. And second, that hate crimes ARE terrorism; that is what makes them hate crimes. The constant media and governmental protestations that Mateen and Howell have no connection to each other is a lie on the face of such a statement. Mateen and Howell share two very important things. 1) their homophobia ran deep enough, and 2) they felt that they had some right or permission to violently attack the targets of their hatred. I am sure that no one wants to go there, but Trump bears some responsibility for creating an atmosphere that fans this hatred at the same time that he encourages people to act out that hatred violently.Rationalizing Hatred and Hiding It In Plain Sight
People do not want to address the unfortunate reality that there really are deep veins of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and classism that run through US society. They always have, and looking the other way, or attributing to the biases held by some people (not "us" of course) does not make them any less real nor less devastating. These biases are deeply engrained in the culture and reinforced thousands of times in images and references that most of us hear every day. We hear and see them so often that we rarely even notice as they traipse across our consciousness.
This lack of awareness of the systemic nature of these cultural biases (that become writ large in devastating ways at times, as with the massacre in Orlando), also reinforces the persistent misrepresentation of hate crimes. The distinguishing characteristic of hate crimes is that the message sent by the perpetrators is to the whole target GROUP. Hate crimes are perpetrated upon an individual (or sometimes a small group or property), but the message is to the group. For example, the torching of black churches or mosques or synagogues, are not aimed at that specific place of worship. The message is to all people who worship in that way. Likewise when a person of perceived "hispanic"2 descent is beaten up at a bus stop. The message is to everyone who "looks like" that person that they should not be there, or sometimes anywhere.
The message sent by hate violence is to the whole group, and it is intended to "terrorize." So, in effect, hate violence is terrorism even though there is great legal resistance to recognizing it as such. Further, violence against women is also hate violence (and hence a form of terrorism), but legislators really do not want to start down that path. For while (perhaps), acknowledging that hate crime is different from regular crime, to acknowledge that in the case of women would challenge the basic structure and operation of sex roles within the U.S., for they are by their very nature unequal. This fundamental cultural atavism over women, the feminine, and gender roles, lies at the very heart of homophobia.
Whenever the issue of "hate crime" comes up, or there is pressure to have something prosecuted as a hate crime, there are many folks who get up in arms. They argue that it is discriminatory to have "extra" penalties, and "special" prosecution for some crimes simply because they happened to someone who is a person of color, and most particularly for reasons of gender or sexual orientation. "Why should "they" get "special" treatment under the law?" The answer is two fold. One, because the message sent by the perpetrator is to ALL people with that characteristic. It is not a "personal" crime. Two, anyone can be the victim of a hate crime, but people of higher social status (white, male, heterosexual, or middle class or above, Christian, or any combination of the preceding) rarely are the victim of hate crime. They are protected in many ways, not the least being social constraint based on deep socialization. However, it is the STATUS of race, ethnicity, religion, that is "protected," and everyone has those statuses - not just people with lower status in each of these social categories. In other words, everyone has a race, everyone has a sex, everyone has a sexual orientation, everyone has a religious designation (even atheists), and everyone has a social class.
This, unfortunately, takes us back around to the ever popular spout of "political correctness." For at its base, the real anger over political correctness is that people with low (or lower) status should not have the "right" to be treated with equal courtesy and respect. We should not have the "right" (or the social expectation) to name ourselves or expected to be treated as equals. The anger over "political correctness" is that whites, and particularly white males, should not be "burdened" with "having to watch" what they say. They shouldn't have to be "burdened" with having to worry about how some "over sensitive" woman/queer/Black/Asian/Mexican/Indian/ (and most specifically since 9/11/2001) "Arab" f e e l s about how they have been addressed, acted towards, or talked to or about. Nor should they have the "right" to complain about it if they are offended and pull the "race card" or the "sex card." This is the coding and legitimation of deeply seated oppression in the 21st century.
So some may wonder how the hell we got from a massacre of folks in a "gay" night club to the issue of "political correctness." The answer is that the rancor that is evoked about political correctness points directly at the root of the systemic inequality that ends up with folks feeling that they have a moral and social right to harass, beat up, or even kill, people of one of these "lesser" groups. Of course, those with fundamentalist religious association may also feel that they have a religious responsibility and god given authority, to put "those" folks "in their place" (or in the ground). If you do not believe that there is tremendous anger over "political correctness," then listen to one of Trump's stump speeches and the response he gets back from the crowd; or bring up the topic in casual conversation at a family dinner or at work.
This same outrage carries over to deciding to call (and particularly prosecute) something as a "hate crime." Remember the outrage over George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin (also in Florida) being prosecuted as a hate crime? The same is happening with the flight to "terrorism" in the case of Mateen, and the deep relief on the part of corporate commentators to not have to deal with the combination of homosexuality and hate crimes. Instead, they deflect the issue to ISIS and Islamic terrorism where the real issue becomes not these 103 people whose lives have been violently shoved onto a different course because of one person's deep hatred for who they were assumed to be (homosexual). Nor for the millions of homosexuals who are getting not only the message of how very dangerous it is to be an "out" LGBT in this society, but how much the society still does not want to deal with homophobia or structured inequality.
This country is never going to have the conversations it needs to have until it admits and accepts the we are deeply unequal and must address it. That conversation will not happen until we can identify the issue of privilege and confront it in the heart of the structure that we live in every moment of our lives.Footnotes
- Actually Mateen worked for G4S - the global security firm out of London and third largest publicly traded company on the planet. The US branch promotes themselves as "the leading U.S. security company." Their front page trumpets their unmatched excellence with Risk360TM Flexible Incident and Case Management - yes they trade marked their risk response. One might wonder if they are handling the investigation of Mateen.
- "Hispanic" is an ethnic group designation and people of hispanic descent can be of any racial group. I sometimes refer to hispanics as "racialized ethnics" as the racial group assumed is usually whatever racial group dominates in that area. For example, if it is "Mexicans" then people assume mestizo (though few US whites know enough to use that term), while if the area has a predominance of "dark" Puerto Ricans or Dominicans, then that becomes the "hispanic" racial signifier.