What moral standing do you need to have to feel bad about the Sandy Hook shootings?

How much are you allowed to grieve for the kids at Sandy Hook?

There are people who feel the need to police emotions surrounding public events because, they argue, people feeling things aren’t feeling the right things in the right way: people who are having feelings must selectively grieve for white kids and not children of color; people don’t follow the right policy prescriptions that would have could have should have prevented the tragedy over which people are now grieving; and/or you don’t actually know the people involved so your pain must be phoney baloney mass hysteria, like English people after the death of Princess Diana.**

I’ve been thinking about this. Surely, there is a “cheap grace” aspect to public mourning relating to policy failures. But policy is not nearly as deterministic as people like to believe, and I’m less willing to pass judgment on public displays of emotion than I was when I was younger.

Here’s a selection:

Thai Noodle House Restaurant Owner in Hot Water After Racist Sandy Hook Shooting Comments:

I have trouble labeling his comments as racism because the many, many classes I’ve taken discussing the nature of racism (you need more power and privilege in order to be racist), but the fact that I’m willing to quibble about the term ‘racist’ over his comments doesn’t mean he’s not being a jerk. Here’s the quote:

“I don’t care if a bunch of white kids got killed. F**k Post-Racial bullshit. When kids from minority groups get shot, nobody cares. When Israel launched missiles at the school on Gaza, everybody was too busy jerking off. Why should i care about people who dont give a damn about me? Personal responsibility, right?”

1) Not all of the victims at Sandy Hook were white (only in his imagination: it’s Connecticut, they must be white; people are worried, those kids must be white. Yes, most of them were, but that hardly excuses the impulse to erase the children who aren’t white so you can air your grievance),

2) I saw a great deal of concern expressed over children in Gaza, and I’m not entirely sure how schilling noodles qualifies as “leading the revolution to save children in Gaza while others jerked off” and

3) it’s not clear from an ethical standpoint that you’re a bad person if you show people who are closer to you, both geographically and chronologically, more care and concern than people remote to you. See the work of global cosmopolitan ethicists like Kwame Appiah or many of the feminist ethicists who have challenged abstract notions of “future generations” being more worthy of care than children who are in need now.

All of that said, it’s true that white kids get more of everything, including media and social care, from a racist system than children of color. That is despicable. The question becomes: would people be somehow “better” if they showed 100 percent strict alignment with some race-ethic around children in this particular tragedy: since I show little empathy or care about children in black families who face gun violence, I should show little empathy or care about children in white families who fall victim to gun violence. I don’t know them, thus I don’t care. Yay me, let’s celebrate my equality towards the races. Woo!

Empathy and care are not like a cake where, if I give some to you or to an animal, that means there’s less for everybody else. It’s entirely possible that the people sickened by the murders at Sandy Hook are also worried about children in Gaza. It isn’t that nobody cares. It may be the right people who are positions of power don’t care enough to undertake the work of preventing the deaths of children in Gaza, but acting like people don’t care at all is probably wrong.Read More »