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January 16, 2011

Impenetrable Cloaks, Inconsiderate Language, and Bullying

Recent events in Tucson, Arizona got my attention in a way that was quite disturbing. The wanton murder of six people and wounding of 13 more at the hands of a deranged assailant was hard to ignore, especially when they were gathering to discuss democracy. Undoubtedly, because Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Judge John Roll were two of the shooting victims, it ensured that the visibility of this heinous crime would be more than that given some drug related drive-by shooting in an impoverished neighborhood. However, the tragedy became even greater when one of the victims was a child, a 9 year old, who was only in attendance because of her love for politics and desire to acquire insight into how our democracy works. What would she think of our democracy if she were home watching the aftermath of Tucson instead of becoming one of its victims. After all, no matter how we slice it, the shooting occurred at a political gathering, which makes it some sort of statement about our politics. Whether the shooting occurred because of a crosshairs map, because of heated political rhetoric that disturbingly reflects violence, like “if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” “don’t retreat, reload,” or something as inconsiderate of a economically bereft populace as a politician publicly stating the number one goal is to make sure that a sitting president only serves one term, when/where does it stop?

When President Obama, in his closing remarks at Tucson’s event memorializing the victims, stated that “We should do everything we can to make sure that this country lives up to our children’s expectations,” the film Crash came to mind for me. There are only a handful of films that every time I watch them, they invoke in me emotion. The ending scene of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” saturates my sight, especially when George Bailey realizes that his life had much deeper meaning through his journey of witnessing how the world would have been without his loving, unselfish presence. The scene in “Castaway” when Helen Hunt is responding to the ultimate dilemma, being restrained by her new husband from her first true love, who she has just recently discovered is actually alive after being thought dead for years. And the most powerful one for me, the scene from Crash, where the little Mexican girl is shot trying to save her father because he isn’t wearing the invisible cloak he had recently transferred to her to protect her from the random violence that far too often occurs in their neighborhood. Unfortunately, I must watch the “Crash” scene every semester during the Race theme in our Examining Diversity through Film course. We show it because it symbolizes how pathetically inconsiderate we are of our children when we constantly put them in harm’s way as a result of our actions. Prior to that scene, the little girl’s father, a locksmith, and a Persian store owner have a disagreement that actually is over more than whether the lock on the Persian man’s business can be fixed. What they are actually arguing over is the stereotype in the Persian man’s mind associated with the Mexican man’s trustworthiness, exacerbated by the frustration of the Persian man being stereotyped himself earlier by a gun store owner. It is stereotypes like these and the frustration accompanying them that contributed to the attempted murder of the Mexican father in “Crash,” resulting in his daughter using her body to shield her dad.

How do we avoid/avert the type of hurt inflicted on little Lara in Crash, or ironically, the innocently politically curious Christina Taylor-Green in Tucson? Are their shootings more about the randomness of the universe, or inconsiderate references and disrespect within our language? Is there a cause and effect relationship between our inability to systematically eliminate our propensity towards negativity when we frame those different from us as “the other” and our then somehow justified or rationalized actions?

In schools all across the country educators are working feverishly trying to eliminate bullying and the language that exemplifies it. “Trailer trash,” “retard,” “ the F-word,” “the B-word,” “the G-word,” and “N-word” have all been thoroughly engaged and targeted as problematic in their further perpetuation of dysfunctional attitudes and behavior. Finally we are focused on the bullying that takes place in our society, obviously as a result of school shootings. At what point will we stop to ponder the fact that it may be virtually impossible to end bullying at the adolescent level if we are clueless about our modeling of it at the so-called adult level?