The Pulse Shooting and the Intersections of Our Phobic Values
Last Saturday, an armed gunman entered the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and began opening fire on the clubgoers who were in attendance. But, he isn’t the only person responsible for how everything went down according to comedian Hasan Minhaj. And, while I agree, I think there is more complexity to this issue than is commonly understood.
The crowd, which was comprised of mostly Latinx folks, was subjected to hours of horror as the mass murderer killed 49 people and injured 53 others. This shooting has raised so many questions about gun violence, homophobia, mental healthcare, and (the lack of) congressional action in the United States. Perhaps what is most important to remember is that this terrifying event represents the intersections of many of our phobias, biases, and collective animosities as well as our capitalist values, a fact summed up best by Minhaj when he spoke at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner on July 15th.
While Minhaj’s set started off jovial, it quickly turned into a polemic targeted at Congress.
There were some really important points made in the video. At one point, Minhaj blamed “homophobia, xenophobia, lack of access to mental healthcare, and sheer lack of political will.” Later in the speech, he said, “I am sorry I didn’t do more.” Minhaj is completely right here. We are all at least partially to blame for what happened at Pulse last Saturday.
There have always been methods of valorizing some marginalized groups over others or demonizing one group more than another. That is how White heteropatriarchy works. Consider how quickly the Pulse shooting was referred to as “radical Islamism” by Hillary Clinton without consideration of the impacts to Muslim Americans for whom this “radicalism” is the furthest thing from their religion. In this society and culture, there is this commitment to always situating societal ills in the transgressions of the “other” rather than as a result of long-standing structural problems and moral commitments since this country’s founding. This case was no different.
An important aspect of Minhaj’s speech was his direct criticism of Congress and their commitment to a racist, sexist, Islamaphobic neoliberal capitalism which seems to always benefit the wealthy and connected over the poor and excluded. He said, “Ultimately, it comes down to money and influence…since 1998, the NRA has given $3.7 million to Congress. There are 294 sitting members of Congress that have accepted contributions from the NRA and that doesn’t even cover the millions of dollars from outside lobbying.” He went on to say, “Specifically, Congress has blocked legislation for the CDC to study gun-related violence.” These facts shine light on the ways that the objectives and goals of individual congress members have a direct impact on citizens. It also shows us that legislation is not just about “doing the right thing.” It is influenced by a host of other factors, namely money and political interests.
Perhaps the most powerful thing he said during the speech was posed as a simple question: “If $3.7 million can buy political influence to take lives, if we raise $4 million dollars, would you guys take that, to save lives?” This is where I can offer a simple answer: No.
While I truly believe that Congress has been bought and sold to the highest bidder since the dawn of time, I am not naive enough to believe that this is only about money. The systematic deprivation of Black and Brown people, women, the poor, LGTBQIA folks, and anyone else who deviates from the “norm” (meaning White heterosexual men) is not just about money. It is about values.
Some say that money corrupts but I think it just helps already corrupt people accomplish their goals. The people in Congress who have been bought off by the NRA were already comfortable with a nation committed to the annihilation of marginal group members. This isn’t a new phenomenon and it won’t be solved by simply matching funds. Unlike Minhaj’s question implies, giving Congress more money won’t make them develop progressive or egalitarian values. It just won’t.
In the end, these types of simplistic solutions to the inaction and problems in Congress, especially where topics of homophobia and gun rights are concerned, suggest that this country’s commitment to a violent, exploitative capitalism is just about dollars and cents. It isn’t. It is also wrapped up in racial hatred, gender-based aggression, queer-antagonism, body shaming, ableism, and host of other core values that have come to be synonymous with being “American.”
Let’s hold Congress accountable. But, let’s also be honest that this is so much more complex than who has the biggest wallet. We need perspective on the ways that all of our phobias web together in this country. I’m glad we have at least started to have the conversation.
Watch the clip of the Minhaj’s speech below:
Photo: Flickr/ Ted Eytan
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