The U.S. media perpetuates Islamaphobia by not telling the truth
Why was Omar Mateen initially described as a “29 year old Islamic Radical” by a number of reputable media outlets and not a “29 year old radical American homophobe with a history of domestic abuse, who likely found some fertile ground for his American homophobia, misogyny and abusiveness in Isis propaganda?”
When the largest mass murder in its American history happens on “Latin Night” at a gay Orlando club during Pride Month, a country so proficient at disciplining, erasing and fetishizing its queer citizens of color now has an opportunity to really reckon with its layered relationship to homophobia, heteropatriarchy and toxic masculinity.
American media could step up, urge us to confront our complicity in all forms of American violence, all forms of American homophobia, all forms of American Islamophobia, all forms of American gendered and racial terror, and invest in the hard work of personal and collective spiritual transformation. American media could admit that a country so dependent and boastful of big guns has no moral authority to educate and chastise its citizens on how it uses its small guns.
Or, American media could waste more ink and more breath and more money convincing us that the greatest threat to safety and peace and equality in this country is ISIS, a cowardly, homophobic, misogynist, well-organized, death-centered, toxically masculine Islamic group possibly responsible for three of the hundreds of mass American shootings in 2016.
Of course, they will choose what’s easiest. I’m sure we will watch Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly ask a rich, white, morally mediocre, American man deploying Islamophobia and nativism as his campaign strategy what he thinks of Islamic terrorism. I’m sure we will watch MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow ask a rich, white, morally mediocre, American woman who recently came around on gay marriage and “institutional racism” what she thinks of gun control.
Neither liberal, nor conservative media, will push presidential candidates to admit that as radical American Christian extremists with zero capacity for self critique, they are responsible for a great deal of American and global terror.
Most of us will be okay with our candidate’s mediated lies.
Some of us will point out what could be considered transphobic, homophobic, racist and misogynist or anti-American in the responses to candidates we don’t like without ever reckoning with our own investment in transphobia, homophobia, anti-black racism, and misogyny.
These investments don’t lend themselves to the flimsy, easy digestible notions of privilege; they imbue us with the power to make abuse, neglect, and mass murder of vulnerable groups possible.
This has never been about privilege; it’s always been about abuses of power and the failure of the news media to honestly assess that abuse.
The United States can be better at confronting homophobia and Islamophobia only when our media encourages us to honestly reckon with our roles in terror and abuse. Churches won’t do it. Schools won’t do it. Politicians will never do it. With every attack carried out by someone with too many vowels in their name, mass media repeats the cycle of investigating the killer’s relationship with an Islamic group, neglecting the ways that many American families, American schools, American churches, American states, American politics, the American presidency and American citizens are complicit in the perpetual death, disciplining and destruction. The United States of America is exceptional at growing terrorists, exceptional at proliferating terrorism and exceptional at claiming innocence when our hands are covered in blood.
We need the American media to tell its citizens the truth. Omar Mateen was a 29 year old radical American homophobe with a history of domestic abuse, who likely found some fertile ground for his American homophobia, misogyny and abusiveness in Isis propaganda.
Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA in Fiction from Indiana University and is currently a Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi. Laymon is the award-winning author of the novel, Long Division and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, the UK edition released in 2016. Laymon has written essays, stories and reviews for numerous publications including Esquire, ESPN the Magazine, Colorlines, NPR, LitHub, The Los Angeles Times, PEN Journal, Oxford American, The Best American Series, and Guernica. His forthcoming memoir, Heavy, is due to be released by Scribner in 2017.