because we’re “others”

Professor Naunihal Singh examines Why Oak Creek Isnt Being Treated as a Tragedy for All Americans in The New Yorker.

Sadly, the media has ignored the universal elements of this story, distracted perhaps by the unfamiliar names and thick accents of the victims’ families. They present a narrative more reassuring to their viewers, one which rarely uses the word terrorism and which makes it clear that you have little to worry about if you’re not Sikh or Muslim. As a Sikh teaching at a Catholic university in the Midwest, I was both confused and offended by this framing.

I was offended, too. Read the piece. His conclusion is grim.

 

fight or flight

According to physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon, “animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. This response was later recognized as the first stage of a general adaptation syndrome that regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms.” (thanks Wikipedia)

I’m fortunate to have had only one physical encounter that might count as a threat, about 17 years ago. I was walking along with friends one Saturday night, in the heart of Adams Morgan (a neighborhood in Washington DC). The sidewalk was crowded and I ended up a few paces behind my two friends as we approached an intersection. Some guy, stoned out of his mind, tried to grab the gold necklace right off my neck. I yelled “Get off!” and pushed him away. I got away from him so fast, my friends could barely believe it had happened at all. I remember that feeling so clearly.

This was me then.

And it was me last night, in the safety of my own home, sitting on the couch next to my husband as we watched the series finale of “The Closer.” Except I wasn’t “safe.” I was on facebook.

Remember my neighbor, who shares some of my political views? Yesterday she shared an article I had posted about Romney’s and Ryan’s awkwardly positioned views on the capital gains tax.

Another neighbor and friend (with whom I do not share political views nor political articles on facebook) responded rather quickly, calling the article “slander” and reminding the posting neighbor (or the world?) not to “canonize” the “Teleprompter” President. He responds to most political things in this manner, and I’ve learned to accept that. He was respectful, if maybe a little inaccurate and off-topic.

But then another person–the one responsible for most of the rage I described here–posted. She demanded to see the President’s birth certificate, his college papers and records, and said that anybody who is offended about not seeing more of Romney’s tax returns is buying into class warfare and has a compromised “sense of discernment and reasoning.”

I thought for a split second that she was trying to be funny, but then, minutes later, she directed her next post at me. She said, “@MYNAMEINALLCAPS! Wisconsin Weeps? LOL!” and then went on about why Wisconsin really should be weeping, given how much money Romney and Ryan had raised in just a couple of days and how the President had barely anybody come to his recent event.

She had clicked on my name from my friend’s original article share. Not being my facebook “friend,” she could only see things I’ve made public on my page, which includes timeline cover photos. One was an image of mourners of victims of the Sikh temple shooting. You may have seen one on the news: people held illuminated letters spelling “Wisconsin Weeps.”

I am embarrassed even to describe how I felt. Suffice it to say that my husband I were watching our favorite show and I literally could not hear what was going on, I could not think, and I could not move, except to put the iPad under a throw pillow.

I looked at my husband as he sipped from his glass of wine and munched on popcorn. I felt so off-kilter I was afraid if he looked at me he’d think I needed an ambulance. But he did look at me, and apparently I looked fine.

So I took a deep breath, and posted.  ‎”@Name, you don’t know me and do not have access to my profile, so I’ll forgive you for your statement above. That photo was taken of mourners in the aftermath of the mass murder at a Sikh temple 20 miles from where I grew up, at a temple some of my friends attend.”

She deleted her post, and posted “My apologies, [my name, not in all caps].”

She sent me a private message too: “I’m not on your fb page. True. However, when [my neighbor/friend] forwards things from your fb page, those who read or click on what she posts can see certain things on your page. It wasn’t my intention to offend you personally, however when she posted the info about Paul Ryan from your fb page and I clicked on it, I saw the “Wisconsin Weeps” which looked like something you posted about Paul Ryan. Thus the comment. My apologies for your loss.”

Now, I wanted desperately to respond again, to “engage,” as my husband (after I showed him all this stuff) warns me not to do. I wanted to say, “The photo is clearly dated August 6 and Ryan was named VP pick August 11, and what you should apologize for is not my loss, but for jumping to conclusions to suit your purposes.”

I typed it all in the message window. I was soooo close to clicking “send.”

My husband shook his head, waved his hand, smiled at me.

I deleted it all.

My neighbor later sent me a message, apologizing on her cousin’s behalf. Apparently this cousin does this to her a lot, and it drives her crazy. My poor neighbor. I responded to her immediately: “It’s okay. Don’t give it a second thought.”

And then I asked her if she wanted to meet for coffee or lunch.

i want to make a new friend…

But we may be moving.

Back story: she’s a neighbor, who I don’t know very well, but we’ve always been cordial. She’s not tight with the other neighbors, but she and her family seem to have her own circle, so that’s not too surprising. I recall several years ago her husband talked with mine about the bank bailouts, and how unfair they were. I recall hearing from some other neighbor that she was really into her church. That, along with the fact that many in our neighborhood at the time expressed initial fascination with Sarah Palin, I jumped to a conclusion: Tea Party.

I got skittish.

My skittishness: it shames me now. And that fact that now it shames me, shames me. Because:

This neighbor? She posted on her facebook page a link to barackobama.com’s run-down of why the Affordable Care Act (ooooooh “Obamacare!”) is good for women. Several of her friends, one in particular, unleashed a torrent of vitriolic posts about it. It was scary. My neighbor didn’t respond to any of it. She did however, later shares a link that I posted on my facebook page, from The Daily Beast, about Paul Ryan’s extreme abortion views. More vitriolic, unhinged posts on her wall. She remained calm, didn’t really respond to it. I read all of it last night, as it happened, and I became incredibly anxious.

“Oh crap,” I thought. “I’ve turned her into somebody her facebook friends won’t like… somebody like me!”

So this morning, I posted numerous dry analyses and articles about Paul Ryan’s and Mitt Romney’s budget and tax plans, trying to give her fuel for her own facebook wall, in case she wanted to share with her vitriolic friends. I took a news quiz by Pew, about the candidates. (I scored 11/11. 🙂 ). I posted it on facebook. And within MINUTES, this neighbor shared it on her wall. I also noticed that she shared her own disagreement with another of her friends on her friend’s wall; her friend took it in stride, and my neighbor said, “I appreciate your humor. I expressed my opinion on my wall and it unleashed a firestorm.”

She was not obsessing, not taking it personally. Perhaps even finding it funny. I could learn from her!

I want to invite this neighbor out for coffee, or a beer. I want to hang out with her and get to know her better, because I’ve wasted four years thinking she was nothing like me, but she actually is at least a little bit like me.

What more does anybody need, really?

What’s to become of me in another country if I get skittish anytime anybody seems like they may not dig my views? What’s to become of me if somebody does express disagreement, and I get all bent out of shape? I’ll be so unhappy.

I need to get over this. I need to make a new friend. I don’t have much time.

And I need to stop rejoicing in the fact that she may in fact dig my views.

Because I should have just reached out anyway. She’s my neighbor. She’s nice.

What more does anybody need, really?

I have time to learn.