Home Headlines Will White America Stop Calling Itself 'Caucasian' After Boston Bombings?

Will White America Stop Calling Itself ‘Caucasian’ After Boston Bombings?


“The most revealing image of Dzhokhar is not the one of him hugging an African-American friend at his high school graduation, but the one of him sitting at a kitchen table with his arm around a guy his age who appears to be of Central Asian descent,” she writes . “In front of them is a dish  plov , a Central Asian dish of rice and meat, and a bottle of Ranch dressing.” Again, it is difficult to imagine a journalist writing with such breathtaking arrogance – why is the Central Asian friend more “revealing” than the African-American one? What, exactly, are they “revealing”? – about the inner life of someone from a more familiar place.

One way to test whether you are reading a reasonable analysis of the Tsarnaev case – and yes, they exist  – is to replace the word “Chechen” with another ethnicity. “I could always spot the Chechens in Vienna,” writes journalist Oliver Bulloughs in the New York Times . “They were darker-haired than the Austrians; they dressed more snappily, like 1950s gangsters; they never had anything to do.” Now substitute the word “Jews” for “Chechens”. Minority-hunting in Vienna never ends well .

Demonising an Ethnicity

It is easy to criticise the media, and after this disastrous week , there is much to criticise. But the consequences of the casual racism launched at Chechens – and by association, all other Muslims from the former Soviet Union, who are rarely distinguished from one another by the public – are serious. By emphasising the Tsarnaevs’ ethnicity over their individual choices, and portraying that ethnicity as barbaric and violent , the media creates a false image of a people destined by their names and their ” culture of terror ” to kill. There are no people in Chechnya, only symbols. There are no Chechen-Americans, only threats.

Ethnicity is often used to justify violent behaviour. But no ethnicity is inherently violent. Even if the Tsarnaevs aligned themselves with violent Chechen movements – and as of now, there is no evidence they did – treating Chechen ethnicity as the cause of the Boston violence is irresponsible.

One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become “White” – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-White routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.

But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Africans, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.

“I respect this country, I love this country,” the suspects’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said in an emotional condemnation of his nephews. “This country which gives chance to everyone else to be treated as a human being.”

Chechens and other Muslim immigrants from the former Soviet Union are human beings. They are not walking symbols of violent conflict. Do not look to a foreign country to explain a domestic crime. Look to the two men who did it – and judge them by what they have done, not from where their ancestors came.


By: Sarah Kendzior


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