Slamming a door. Throwing a dish, a book, a vase. Yelling at a spouse, or a pet. These all are examples, perhaps, of reactions to a bad day. Buying a gun and murdering eight people is not. It’s a heinous crime spree, one that exposed the fragility of our society in multiple ways — weak gun laws, latent racism and hate, lack of mental and behavioral health treatment opportunities and, perhaps, misunderstanding the power of words. The youngest person killed by the 21-year-old assailant was 33, the oldest was 74. The Georgia lawman who tried to classify Aaron Long’s motive as “having had a bad day” has been pilloried, rightfully so, in the media. His awkward comment drew gasps, as it appeared to downplay the tragedy that played out in Georgia, and rippled across the nation.
At nearly 20 percent, Asian-Americans are the second largest demographic in Fairfax County’s population, so the slaughter of six Asian-Americans, including four Korean-American women, in Georgia has significant repercussions locally. America has long been a melting pot, with people from around the world, who come to America seeking a better life for their families, not just in the 21st century, but for centuries prior.
The 2020 federal census form contained questions about race and national origin (2020 data is expected to be released later this year). For many, it probably was easy to check one box and think nothing about the racial and sociocultural foundation behind family relationships. By the third, fourth, or fifth generation, those connections may be pretty tenuous. Today’s adult grandson may know about his father’s and grandfather’s background, but the history may get foggy when you get to great-granddad, who emigrated from Ukraine in the 1890s, and no one in the family still speaks Yiddish. Grandson may not even realize that his family tree was rooted, originally, in another country. For more recent immigrants, the history of family in this country may be much clearer. That older generation may not have moved here with their children and grandchildren; birth language still is spoken at home, and sociocultural practices may be focused on the country left behind.
Global diversity is fascinating to some, upsetting to others. It seems to have been that way for a very long time. Can someone be fascinated by distant and unfamiliar art, design, and food, and, at the same time, have an aversion to those responsible for those same exotic creations? Apparently so. Incidents of anti-Asian American violence have increased since the beginning of the global pandemic, and a recent Pew Research Center poll found that one-third of Asian-Americans nationwide report being the target of racial slurs and scapegoating. Similar racial and ethnic violence against Muslim-Americans was reported after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and, sadly, continues to this day. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution that condemns all bigotry, harassment, and hate violence directed at Asian-Americans in our community. The resolution seeks to reassure residents feeling more vulnerable as a consequence of the Georgia shootings.
When coupled with another horrific shooting in Colorado that killed 10 people at a supermarket, it’s not surprising that we all are vulnerable — from hate, from terrorism, from intolerance, from violence. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine to counter it.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]