What happens when the shooter looks like us?
Pain can be like an ocean – consuming and unpredictable in its symptoms. Collective grief is like an ocean if a cloud of fog suddenly descends upon it: deep and violent but obscured, somehow not fully accessible.
Over the past few days, I’ve felt the cloud of collective grief that has consumed many others across the diaspora after two separate shootings in California left 19 people dead, most of them Asian. It feels like the grief we experienced after the Atlanta shootings in 2021, when six Asian women were murdered at three spas. And yet, this time, there is something fundamentally distinct that has complicated our grief. In both cases, the alleged shooters were Asian.
This information causes a kind of double loss – a loss of innocent lives and a much more abstract one. “For the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] people withdrawn proximally and relationally [from the shootings]it could be an ideological waste — the disruption of the idea that we could feel safe from shootings in our own AAPI enclaves,” Josiah Teng, a New York-based psychotherapist, tells me.
On the face of it, the identity of an assailant shouldn’t diminish our feelings about what he did — his background doesn’t change the outcome of the shootings themselves. But what it does is send many of us into a state of emotional paralysis. What do we do with the knowledge of what feels like unfathomable betrayal, that in both cases the alleged killers were people who were woven into the fabric of the communities they destroyed?
White supremacy is horrible but predictable. This is also why, for many of us, these recent massacres escape coherence.
Most Asians I know feel that these were indeed hate crimes, in the sense that it made existing in an Asian American body more precarious. But all over the internet, I’ve seen other people, well-meaning or not, pointing fingers at the identity of the shooter to ease the distress many of us feel. “But the shooter was Asian himself.”
What they’re really saying is that the shooter was like usso it couldn’t be against we. But what they don’t understand is how much it deepens our fear. Violence, especially that of American white supremacy, is easy for anyone who is marginalized to understand. We have all experienced versions of it and are aware of its ability to metastasize into something greater. Making fun of the smell of our school lunch would naturally lead to accusations that COVID-19 was a product of our filth. Being fetishized would lead a man to kill Asian women for their perceived “sexual deviance”.
Again, white supremacy is gruesome but predictable. This is also why, for many of us, these recent massacres escape coherence. I’m sad because I know people who look like the shooter. I’m sad because we’re not supposed to do this to anyone, let alone each other.
And then there’s the moment of the shooting, which added another layer to our grief and made it harder for us to process it together.
“The fact that these traumatic events happened during the Lunar New Year, a time of celebration and coming together, makes dealing with grief even more difficult, as it is often a time when traditionally we are taught not to have feelings. bad thoughts or not talking about any bad things,” William Chum, a therapist based in Queens, New York, tells me. “This conflict further perpetuates the stoicism that many AAPI communities have learned to portray at events Not feeling able to discuss fear and grief is extremely damaging to our mental health and our sense of connection and community.
This is not the first time that a hate crime of this magnitude against a minority community appears to have been orchestrated by other members of that community. Besides being Asian, I’m also a queer person who remembers those discussions vividly. People have speculated that the Pulse nightclub shooter’s rage spread to his own closet, and the Colorado shooter last year claimed to identify as non-binary. And although the truth about the identity of the two shooters was questioned, in both cases we understood that their supposed homosexuality did not take away our grief or our fear because these identities did not make us safer. .
So, in the face of the debate over hate crimes, we must not forget to center our own grieving process — and the opinions of those who try to dictate how we should feel. “We are allowed to reflect, process and give space to how we feel without having to show it to the public or speak on behalf of the community,” Jazmine Alcon, New York-based mental health advocate and founder of Mental Health API, tell me. “Our humanity and our community come before anything else.” Alcon also recommends getting involved with mental health organizations that work specifically with the AAPI community, such as the Asian Mental Health Collective.
Also keep in mind the power of our mind-body connection and the different ways your grief can manifest.
“Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Grief can manifest as body aches, muscle aches, tightness in certain areas, insomnia, or increased restlessness,” Teng tells me. “Be aware of these sensations and take action to treat your physiology.”
As Chum noted, the Asian American experience is often defined by an instinct to diminish our own feelings of grief and rage, to take up as little space as possible. But our feelings are real, relevant and nuanced. We know that no matter who holds the gun, our lives seem grimly dispensable in this country. And until that changes, we are allowed to mourn.
The Huffington Gt