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George on Georgia – In search of breathing room

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George on Georgia – In search of breathing room

George Chidi. Photo by Dean Hesse

I wrote a piece about murder. And then I burned it.

The single most useful thing about whatever passes for “traditional journalism” today is the value of having an editor around who can tell you that you’re wrong, and maybe to rethink things and to remind you how to be helpful.

We’re all journalists today, in a sense. We have access to powerful publishing tools that will let us reach virtually everyone in the world. Many of us keep Facebook and Twitter like diaries of our lives, writing about what we experience with no time spent between the thought and the word. And we live in a world that rewards the hot take, and focused outrage, and provoking arguments.

And none of that does the first thing to help grieving families devastated by mass shootings, or a community in justifiable fear for its safety.

There are practical things we can do, of course. Multiple fundraisers have been established to support the families of people who died in the Atlanta spa shootings. State Rep. Josh McLaurin filed legislation to impose a five-day waiting period on gun sales in Georgia. “As we saw from the horrific events last week, it shouldn’t be easy for a person to obtain and use a firearm immediately during their worst moment,” he said.

But what we need most is a reckoning.

The American public needs to contend with the highly-nuanced problem of anti-Asian bias, something we traditionally ignore. We gloss over it, comparing discrimination in the Asian-American community to the travails of other racial minorities, deeming it inconsequential.

Plainly, as news reports pile up of street attacks on Asian-Americans across the country, it is not inconsequential. We have a problem. But, we’ve always had a problem.

Much of the early discussion about the spree killings at Atlanta-area spas danced around the hypersexualization of Asian women that fuels violence and discrimination, in ways that have been at times profoundly harmful.

Under the best conditions, even among people with the best intentions, a public conversation about racist Asian stereotypes can be fraught. These are not the best conditions.

But rather than wait a beat – say, until after all the bodies have been buried, at least – people are trying anyway, leaving the recipients of racism to disentangle and educate while still recovering from harm.

When the Black community loses someone to violence, we have rituals that have become far too familiar. We elevate the name of a victim, to ensure that it is not lost in a gray sea of statistics. We see murals, and t-shirts and grief and rage made conspicuously public to raise the political costs for the government if it fails to act.

At the risk of generalizing, the reaction of the families of the slain differs here. Lisa Hagen, WABE’s reporter working on this story, noted that the families have asked for people to refrain from similar public displays.

B.J. Pak, former U.S. attorney for Georgia’s northern district and one of the most prominent political figures of Korean descent in America, represents the family of one of the victims. He recently called out a news team from NBC for aggressively pursuing an interview with the family, despite a public statement asking for distance.

I wish we would allow ourselves the luxury of time to process these horrors. I know that’s unrealistic with a social media pipeline pumping fear and hate directly into our limbic system 16 hours a day.

Instead, we move on to the next tragedy in Colorado Springs, or the next crisis averted like a man arrested with half a dozen guns in a Publix bathroom at Atlantic Station. It doesn’t make for thoughtful conversation or effective policy.

All I’m asking for is a quiet week where Atlanta isn’t the center of the universe. Just one week without a lurid murder or subversion of democracy or a plague of frogs. We need a little breathing room.

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