What We Talk About When We Talk About Wisconsin

The reactions to the shooting that took place at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sunday all have one thing in common: expressions of tragedy. Beyond that? There is a lot of disagreement about what needs to be said, what isn’t being said and what it all means. While some would have us focus on gun control, others would highlight American ignorance over the differences between Muslims and Sikhs. Others still focus on the linguistic choices made in coverage of the recent shootings, questioning when to say “terrorist” and when to say “hate crime.”

I don’t pretend to know everything, or really anything, but I do think it’s important to consider the questions raised by the shooting in Wisconsin, particularly as seen side by side with the Aurora shooting.

  • Sikh vs. Muslim: Should we really be focusing so much on the differences between Sikhs and Muslims? While the event serves as an important teaching opportunity, the focus on differentiating Sikhs from Muslims seems to insinuate that a “revenge shooting” against the “correct”group (Muslims) would be okay. Is there a way to make this distinction and teach people the difference between the two groups without making underhanded digs at the Muslim population?
  • Islamophobia: Related to the above question, at what point will the coverage acknowledge the issue of Islamophobia? Shooting a Sikh place of worship because you think it is a Muslim place of worship points to the deep and lingering Islamophobia within our country. The shooter’s links to 9/11 make this question all that much more pronounced. At some point our country does have to acknowledge the serious problems its white population faces with Islamophobia following 9/11.
  • Gun Control: As a blogger on Femeniste asked, “Is it time to talk about guns yet?” In the aftermath of the Aurora shooting many claimed that it was an inappropriate moment to discuss gun control. When is the right moment then? If our society is so scared to talk about gun control surrounding two horrific shootings, when will we talk about it? I’m not advocating the complete illegality of guns, or suggesting that with more stringent gun control laws all shootings would disappear. I am, however, questioning our unwillingness to have frank discussions about the issue. If the only potential comment is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” we are never going to reach any sort of point of discussion.
  • Race: From the first articles on the shooting that noted that the shooter’s race had not been identified, race was a factor. What role will race play in the coverage of the shooting? Already it has been determined that the shooter has white supremacist links, a factor which makes it that much more inevitable that this will become a racial discussion. My fear is that it will become a shouting match, with people unwilling to have a serious discussion.
  • Terrorism: People have been quick to note that the phrase terrorism was never used with James Holmes, so was it an act of terrorism? Many speculated about the differences between his case and that of the shooter in Wisconsin because the phrase terrorism was used only in the case of the Sikh shooting.
  • Mental Illness: At what point does potential mental illness free either of the shooters of their responsibility? Additionally, with the high number of shootings that turn out to be in people previously determined to be mentally ill, what does that say about our mental healthcare system? Since the shooter in Wisconsin was identified as a Vet, will we able to talk about issues of mental illness in the armed forces, or will the issue be dismissed as it so frequently is?

This shooting alongside the Aurora shooting clearly raises important issues and forces some uncomfortable topics onto the table. Having multiple shootings in such a short window committed by white men in small cities in “the Heart of America,” whatever that means, challenges the notion that crime is an urban issue, endured and committed by minority populations. While the Aurora shooting brought the issues of gun control and mental illness to the foreground, the Oak Creek shooting raises even more uncomfortable issues. With all of these phrases and topics floating around, my hope is that at least a few of them get the attention and consideration they deserve.

(Image: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/06/2935863/after-mass-shooting-in-wisconsin.html)



  1. zouarvehat · · Reply

    Attention and consideration are all well and good but no one can ever suggest a workable solution. And until that day, attend and consider is the best we can do. .

    1. It’s hard to suggest a workable solution before something is even discussed (e.g. gun control). Glad you stopped by to attend and consider

  2. I think you wrote this beautifully and have great questions (which I obviously won’t pretend to have answers to).

    1. Thanks so much! Glad you were interested and stopped by to at least consider the complicated questions (which I won’t pretend to have answers to either).

  3. You pose some really insightful points here…thanks for such a powerful article!

    Courtney Hosny

    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading! Just glad to see it’s something people are interested in considering

  4. I live in Colorado and am from Wisconsin. My brother was one of the first on the scene as a free-lance audio technician. Both were shocking and profoundly sad tragedies.
    I think you raise some very good questions.
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. Wow that much have been crazy being on the scene early.

      Thanks for taking the time to read!

  5. Madame Penelope · · Reply

    I agree with what you have so succinctly outlined, though I have to admit, as a pessimist, I don’t see any of these questions being talked about freely in a public forum any time soon. I think smaller groups can be successful and make some break throughs in understanding, but in the media? Right now the media doesn’t really seem to like listening to the people it tries to inform, and until they start listening, I don’t think they’ll start having the discussions (calmly and productively) that we so desperately need.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. I totally agree, and was shocked at how little the shooting was brought up in the media considering the extent of the Aurora coverage. I actually heard something interesting recently about how when suicides in an area hit a certain level they stop reporting on them because they know there will be an increase and/or it will lead to copycats. We were wondering whether something similar might be happening here. Either way, however, it’s pretty strange how this has been swept to the side under coverage of the Olympics and elections.

  6. “What does that say about our mental healthcare system?”

    Hit the nail on the head. And shockingly, you’re the first person I’ve seen bring that up.

    1. I’m constantly astonished at how little discussion their is of mental healthcare, even when the opportunity presents itself.

  7. Sebastian March · · Reply

    All excellent points. I especially like your first bullet point. As Sona Rai said, “We don’t know if he thought we were Muslims or not. But my point is, it doesn’t matter. This was a hate crime.”

    Related to this is the question of whether the distinction makes a difference to people like Page. His agenda seemed to be to kill as many dark skinned people with non-Western religious beliefs as possible. In addition to mental illness in the military, can we talk about racism in the military?

    As for gun control: apparently, to gun rights advocates, the appropriate time to speak about gun control is never.


    1. I 100% agree, the unwillingness to talk about racism is such a strange, albeit more understandable, phenomenon in this country. Much in the way that people would like to pretend female issues are gone and we can move on from that, people don’t want to acknowledge that the country still struggles with an incredible amount of racism.

  8. I’ve written similar things on my own blog. I’m glad to see we agree on almost everything here.

    1. Glad to see other people are concerned with considering issues as well

      1. and not letting their politcal views get in the way.

  9. I 100% agree honestly!!

    Do you mind checking out my site http://www.candelacouture.com, its new and your feedback would mean the world to me!!
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  10. I thought the same thing when I heard commentators distinguishing between Sikh and Muslim – that it’s okay to target the “right’ group. I’m glad you point that out. Also, the conversation on gun control does happen between average Americans. But the lackeys of the NRA who rush to be interviewed after a shooting that make it seem as though it doesn’t. The NRA is the largest and most influential lobby in Washington. Our President’s hands are tied because of the irrational paranoia on the right that he will take away their guns (that has existed since his election and not diminished a bit). That is, unless the average American cries out loud enough to drown out the NRA and the paranoia they feed into and off of. Anyway, thanks for sparking informed discussion!

    1. Yeah I was just having this conversation the other day. As my wonderful mother pointed out, the NRA has such a stronghold on the political conversation that no one ever gets a chance to address the issue.

      1. Yet they claim to be protecting freedom – ironic, no?

  11. I went to a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the victims including the police officer at Union Square, New York City organized by the Manhattan Sikh Association yesterday. On one side of the area where this was held, they had a space reserved where Muslim attendants could break their fast because it’s the month of Ramadan. I think they emphasized the point of solidarity rather than divisiveness very well.

    1. That’s such a beautiful message to send in a time of grief. The peaceful and appropriate response from the Sikh community has been a reminder of the need for more moments of solidarity and thoughtfulness. Thanks for sharing!

  12. The current knowledge base of mental health is in the Neanderthal stages. There is no way in hell one can get into the realm of thoughts inside a person’s head and discerne the difference between a Stephen King story idea, and a real life nut job who is plotting a historic event.
    Thanks for a good thought provoking post.

    1. True, but I do think that beyond prevention there needs to be a conversation around the issues of mental health and about treatment that goes MUCH farther than “He’s pleading insanity.” Too often that’s where the conversation stops.

      1. It is certain that these shootings will be discussed from the mental health aspect forward and backwards, but will it really make a difference in identifying, diagnosing, and curing?

  13. I explored the issue of gun control a bit on my blog (http://stumbledownunder.com/2012/07/23/my-right-to-own-an-arsenal/) following the Colorado shootings. I had no words after the Wisconsin shooting. I couldn’t believe we were faced with this issue again and still people will not seriously consider gun violence. The worst part is that this will happen again and again and again.

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. I *just* read an article by Fareed Zakaria on gun control that lays the issue out in such a smart and consise way. You can find the article here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2121660,00.html?hpt=hp_t1

      I totally agree that the unwillingness to consider the issue is just appalling. And when it does happen again and again people will just say that bad people always do bad things. Deep sigh..

  14. Thank you for such a thoughtful, well-written article. I appreciate that you weren’t necessarily proposing solutions, but laying out what could be the underpinnings of a deep discussion. I look forward to reading more!

    Congrats on the freshly pressed!

  15. There’s 90 guns for every 100 people in the US. Yet how many of them are involved in murder of crime? (that goes for either the guns or people) You’d think that because of the “discussions” we have when these things happen that at least half those guns are used in crimes. Despite the enormous amount of guns in this country, the amount of crime committed with them is surprisingly low. We’d be fortunate if cancer, AIDS or any other disease had the mortality rate that can be placed on gun violence. You’re still much more likely to be killed by an unregistered weapon in Detroit or Chicago than by a registered weapon in Wisconsin or Colorado.

    As for terrorism, the reason it can be mentioned in Wisconsin is because the shooter attempted to single out a specific group/type of people. The random chance shooting in Colorado was terrorizing for those there, but they were not selected beforehand to be terrorized.

    As for mental illness, that is an overused excuse in today’s legal society. Insanity is a convenient excuse for those who survive their shooting sprees and can’t face the death penalty. There not insane nor crazy, put as simply as possible their losers who can’t handle life and feel that the only thing they can do is act out. It’s more of a childs mentality that they possess than being crazy in any way.

    As for the veterans specific comment, much like the guns, there are millions of vets in this country, and how many of them are performing actions as this or similar? Surely there are some. Veterans can be crazy or criminals just like any else, but being a veteran is not a precursor to that. On top of that when veterans do commit crimes, it regularly turns out that the criminal in question is not a battle hardened and scarred front line warrior but a motor pool jockey who’s been as close to combat as Mickey Mouse. As in the case of the Wisconsin shooter, he served in that oh so overworked mid 90’s army.

    Just a few things to think about

  16. This is very well thought out. Thank you for sharing.


  17. hardly a week goes by without Christians and other minorities getting butchered and assaulted in countries like Pakistan, Northern Nigeria and Indonesia, so it seems more like a worldwide issue of religious hatred … maybe the question is not US gun laws but rather the phenomena whereby minorities find themselves living among majorities and the vulnerability that can entail … world wide prayer and more effective use of magick I think is the answer … http:darklogics.wordpress.com/

  18. Awesome post thanks for sharing!

    Keep up the great work.

    Have a great day!

  19. Thanks for your thoughtful post. I agree…it seems like their are a lot of issues that need consideration in the Wisconsin shooting.

  20. […] experiences, yet I am not above my using the experiences and opinions of others to form opinions. What We Talk About When We Talk About Wisconsin “The reactions to the shooting that took place at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sunday […]

  21. […] Also, a bit of shameless self-promotion: a post I wrote on a separate blog was Freshly Pressed, so if you’re interested check it out. […]

  22. I find this post very interesting..so firstly,kudos for writing about it. I was shocked to hear about the shooting in Wisconsin. I do find it strange that the media jumped to assume that the shooter must have thought Sikhs=Muslims. Whether the victims were Sikh, Muslim, or Protestant is irrelevant. This crazy man decided he was going to commit this crime and targeted his victims because they represented people different than him.

  23. Well, there’s going to be EVEN MORE TALK about “What We Talk About When We Talk About Wisconsin” with Romney’s choice for a running mate—Paul Ryan. Does Romney think he’ll turn our state ‘red’ instead of ‘blue’ this election cycle with Ryan at his side? He could; WI is so divided much like our nation and much like the rest of the world it seems.

  24. I didn’t knew about the Aurora killings before reading this. You have indeed raised some very valid points which needs to be discussed. I wonder why the discussion on Gun Control have been delayed so much – especially since US is perceived to be extremely vigilant on national security in this part of the world (don’t know if it is only for external threats).
    Any sort of human killing is tragic irrespective of race, religion or nationality. Pretext of mental illness cannot be used to justify killings as it will only encourage other mentally ill people to do the same and get away with it.

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