On the night of October 1st, Las Vegas witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, as 64-year- old Stephen Paddock from Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, resulting in at least 59 fatalities and over 500 injuries. Nevada state law asserts that an “Act of terrorism” means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to because great bodily harm or death to the general population’. Paddock’s actions undeniably fit this definition, so why is there such hesitation to label him a terrorist? Racial bias within the media is thus brought to light.
Paddock’s whiteness acts as a shield, a protective bubble from the ‘terrorist’ label that would be so hastily assigned had he been from a non-white community, particularly a Muslim. Truthfully, the colour of his skin allows for an undeniable lenience of the consequences, an evidently less hostile and less outraged media and national discourse. White privilege means that race and ethnicity somehow become irrelevant and overlooked. The media make little or no attempt to make his race known. Paddock is, in a sense, invisible. Had this attack been carried out by a person of ethnic minority, such factors would undoubtedly be the central focus point and the entire ethnic group would thus become the victim of degradation and criminalization from all angles of racist society.
Why, when an attacker belongs to a non-white community, are we so quick to expose and dehumanize, yet when the attacker is white we offer what seems to be some form of justification by assigning personal traits which ‘normalize’ and personify their character? A headline from an online article by the Birmingham Mail labels Paddock a ‘“grandfather who lived in remote desert home”’, whilst the International Business Times (Online) write that the attacker ‘was a millionaire’. The relevance of applying such attributes at a time of evil are confusing. Does the simple fact of having grandchildren or the amount of money in your bank account dictate which labels are applicable to you?
An interesting point to note is the dissimilarity between Trump’s responses to Muslim and white attacks. Almost instantly following the recent London underground attack, Trump was quick to brand the attackers ‘loser terrorists’. Such hostility was absent in his first address of the Las Vegas massacre, in which he focused his attention on the wishing well of the victims and made no mention of the gunman. He later branded the attacker a ‘demented shooter’, offering Paddock the excuse of poor mental health that is increasingly being used as a distraction from the severity of white terror.
A Mosque shooting in Quebec earlier this year was instantly reported to have been carried out by a ‘man of Moroccan origin’. When it was later discovered that this was actually an attack carried out by a white supremacist, media sources did little to expose this, simply changing their wording to brand the attacker a ‘lone wolf’.
It is becoming all the more transparent that if the gunman is white, excuses such as unstable mental state or loneliness are considered the only possible conclusion.
(Image courtesy of Fox News)