anthropology, race & racism III: oops, wrong guy edition

I have three links for you:

  1. The Saudi marathon man:

What made them suspect him? He was running—so was everyone. The police reportedly thought he smelled like explosives; his wounds might have suggested why. He said something about thinking there would be a second bomb—as there was, and often is, to target responders. If that was the reason he gave for running, it was a sensible one. He asked if anyone was dead—a question people were screaming. And he was from Saudi Arabia, which is around where the logic stops. Was it just the way he looked, or did he, in the chaos, maybe call for God with a name that someone found strange?

What happened next didn’t take long. “Investigators have a suspect—a Saudi Arabian national—in the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, The Post has learned.” That’s the New York Post, which went on to cite Fox News. The “Saudi suspect”—still faceless—suddenly gave anxieties a form.

2. Meet the two immigrant runners who were wrongly fingered as “possible suspects” in the Boston Marathon bombing:

Barhoum, a Moroccan immigrant who attends Revere High School outside Boston, apparently became aware yesterday that his photo was being linked to the bomb plot. In a Facebook post he assured his 1776 friends that “u will see guys I’m did not do anything.” Noting that “Shit is real,” Barhoum reported that he was going “to the court rightnow,” adding later that, “I’m just going to tell them that it was not me.”

3. Jezebel: It took two whole days for a random Muslim to get assaulted in Boston:

A Palestinian woman said she was assaulted while taking a late morning stroll with her baby daughter and friend by a man who accused her of being a terrorist. We thought someone would’ve been publicly attacked and berated for secretly planning the Boston Marathon bombings within hours of the explosions, but nope — racists managed to contain themselves for two days. Bravo.

I was in San Diego back in September 2001.  I remember the day of the attacks, and the news reports filled with stories about heroism and “the American spirit.”  Which is great–people really do rise up in these kinds of moments and work to help out their fellow human beings.  At least some do.  But I also remember the reports about assaults on people who “looked like terrorists” (like this case, for example), and I remember how, in the following days, many people seemed to be overtaken by fear.  Fear of terrorists and terrorism.  Fear of anyone who looked “suspicious.”  Fear of anyone who “looked different.”  The moments of coming together quickly gave way to a sort of mass paranoia.  And that reminds me of that old quote about the only thing we really have to fear is fear itself.  It consumes people in a deep, irrational way.  And there’s absolutely no excuse for the kinds of things that are done in the name of fear. 

Ok, one last link.  Check out this piece by Tim Wise: On White Privilege and the Boston Marathon Bombing.

*Hat tip to Paul Manning for posting some of these great links on FB. 


Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

2 thoughts on “anthropology, race & racism III: oops, wrong guy edition

  1. I have two comments. First, I keep seeing posts from seemingly normal, usually rational people who report seeing their specific bogeyman in the face of the terrorist or terrorists. Today after the FBI released their pictures of the suspects I kept seeing post describing why these guys must be “right wing nut jobs” or “jihadists.” With someone going as far as posting close-ups of the guy’s nose to show that it couldn’t be a homegrown plot, as if their “race” suddenly tells you everything about their motivation. I got so disgusted by these bigoted conversations that I had to stop reading.

    Which leads me into my second comment, I went onto Reddit to look at their crowd sourcing efforts. Because I am just like everyone else, I’m curious as to what kind of person would do this, and seeing the face of the person who did this takes some of the fear out of it. I’ve always thought this when I see a horror movie, once they show the bad guy/or monster it’s never as scary. Why? Because I know what it is I’ve been afraid of and I can start dealing with it logically. I think it’s the same with this disgraceful media coverage, but it’s at the same time reflecting the mood of people in the nation. We seem to have this privilege of knowledge, which seems to stem from the aftermath of September 11th where we knew within a day.

    Back to Reddit, it was mostly an unorganized mess, a lot of their speculation was based on what the FBI was showing (mostly the pressure cooker and a bit of black backpack with some grey) and so many posts were just regurgitations of things that were already posted. That being said most of the ideas were exceedingly fair. Their suspects didn’t seem to be based on any preconception of identity, but instead the ones that came up over and over again were two guys later identified as undercover law enforcement, the two guys that the NY Post eventually posted, and a “white” guy with a blue fleece on and all of them were carrying black backpacks. The two NY Post guys were suspicious because at a point before the bomb went off they are seen in the same picture as Krystle, one of the women that died in the attack, and the black backpack is no longer visible. And sometime before that they were photographed on top of the spot where the bomb went off. Couple that information with the FBI’s release last night about a having two POI’s and one was wearing a white hat (which the man with the disappearing black backpack was wearing) and you have the perfect storm ready to feed anyone willing to jump the gun to be first. In comes the NY Post, and suddenly the monster role is filled.

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