Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Racial tensions a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I'd mentioned earlier that I worried the press might exaggerate the racial/cultural aspect of the shooting deaths of six hunters by a hunter who is Hmong. Indeed, I fear that's already been happening. This shooting has been water-cooler talk all over the region, but not once have I heard anyone make a disparaging comment about the Hmong people. In fact, in all my years living here, I can't recall hearing any racist remarks about the Hmong. (Maybe my experience is unique.) But the idea of racial tensions surrounding the incident seems to excite the press, and may end up being a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: by claiming racial tensions in the region, the press may actually create racial tensions.

Also, upon further reflection, I think Joe Bee Xiong's advice to Hmong hunters to skip the rest of the deer hunting season was exactly the wrong message. In giving this advice, Xiong plays into the stereotype of Wisconsin hunters as bigoted rednecks. Instead, Xiong should have told the Hmong community that they had nothing to fear from their fellow hunters. That although this was a tragic incident, it was still an isolated incident. But Xiong's remarks could create a wariness and a sense of suspicion between the Hmong and the white community. (Xiong's remarks perhaps also reveal his own suspicions about his non-Hmong neighbors.)

This morning at the Kwik Trip for my morning coffee, I encountered a group of students on their way to school. It was a mixed group of Hmong and non-Hmong students, all joking around, entirely comfortable with each other. These young Hmong students were born and raised here. They have no memory of Laos. They are as American as their classmates. The Hmong have strong ties by which they keep their culture and language alive. But they are also a vital part of our communities and have been for more than two decades.

Are there racial tensions in the region? Yeah, maybe. I'll give the press the benefit of the doubt, but I've never witnessed any. I just wonder how much of this talk about tension that's supposedly bubbling under the surface is just an attempt to put some sort of label on it, to help people understand an incident that has many asking "why?". It may be easier for people to accept a racially-motivated shooting than a random multiple homicide for which there seems to be no explanation.

UPDATE: I was going to link to Jib's post on this subject as soon as I got the chance, but he went and put a lot of it in the comments below. Go read it anyway. I think he makes a good point in this post as well (a point he also makes in the comments). Although the press may focus on racial tensions because they like the sensationalism of it, I agree with Jib that there is more likely to be trouble if the defense lawyers focus on the race aspects. We'd have the press and the lawyers feeding off each other in support of the questionable premise of widespread anti-Hmong sentiment.

The Hmong community has been entirely supportive of the hunters' families. As far as I know, no one in the Hmong community has attempted to excuse or diminsh Vang's actions as an understandable response to being subjected to racial slurs. It remains to be seen whether Vang's lawyers will see it that way.

Jib also links to this article that provides some history about U.S. relations with the Hmong. Please read it. As Jib states, the Hmong may be the most loyal allies the United States has ever had and are still paying the price for that. Screw France. We've got some true allies living right here with us. We should be thanking them for their service and loyalty.

UPDATE II: Yep. Here we go.

Guns don't kill people. Ignorance, fear and stupidity kill people, and we seem to have a lot of that in the Wisconsin deer woods these days.

So says Randolph Brandt who goes on to relate a racist comment from the Journal-Times message board that is no longer available. But trust him on that. This one isolated comment proves we have "a lot of that" in Wisconsin.

By Vang's telling, he was set upon by a group of armed hunters, who cursed him, called him racist names and then shot at him while he was trying to leave peacefully. Given those circumstances, he very well may have thought it was either kill or be killed.

That's really not all that hard to imagine either, and doesn't differ all that much from other survivors' accounts.

The only real questions seem to be who fired first or whether Vang was so mad or scared he felt he needed to empty a couple of clips at everybody.

You see? It wasn't Vang's fault that he ran into a bunch of racist gun nuts.

Randolph Brandt is sorely mistaken when he says that Vang's account "doesn't differ all that much" from the surviving hunters' accounts. It differs in very significant ways.


At 10:41 AM, Blogger Jib said...

I think that when it comes to the race card on this issue, any disparaging comments are made in private. My experience on this is a little moldy, as I haven't lived in the area full time for ten years, but I do know people that have made disparaging remarks about the Homong community to close friends, family, in discrete settings. I cannot remember anyone ever doing that in public, though. It's really no diferent than any other immigrant group. The established community doesn't undertand them, and they mutter things under there breath about them.

Most communities with large Hmong populations have had 20 plus years of experience with the Hmong by now. It has been an immigrant group that has largely been a well behaved part of the community, so I think the larger community can clearly see that this is an isolated incident that has no strong relation to race. It helps that Vang was from Minnesota. It also helps that this occured in the lessor populated Sawyer County. If this had happened to well known Eau Claire business leaders, and Vang had been from Eau Claire, that may have changed the formula a bit.

The only thing that concerns me is Vang's lawyers. I fully expect them to play every race card they can, and things like that, in my experience, really get under the skin of Wisconsinites in the Northern & Central parts of the state. If we get a torrent of "it wasn't his fault because of his race," then I can see a small backlash developing. The media has overplayed the racial tension story line so far, though.

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