For the past four years, the number of hate crimes has climbed steadily, increasing by 12.5 percent in 2017 alone. During the week of October 21, two hate crimes, one targeting African-Americans and the other targeting Jews, occurred within the span of 72 hours, resulting in 13 deaths. Just two weeks later, 12 were shot dead at a bar in California. Without a doubt, these statistics are sobering. Why does it feel as though we aren’t upset?
Head of School Jennifer Price addressed the shootings during the subsequent Monday morning assembly with remarks that encouraged the Upper School (US) community to find strength and hope. Later that day, a few US teachers tried to provoke discussion about the hate crimes during classes. But while Dr. Price’s remarks were appropriate and the teachers’ efforts appreciated, there was a problem: they didn’t resonate with how we students were feeling. Most of us students were not overcome with anger or sadness. We students say we refuse to normalize hateful violence, but in reality, that normalization has not only begun—it has set in.
How have we allowed this to happen? Why are we not overcome by emotion? And why do our community’s adults seem more distraught than we are? Unfortunately, with 297 mass shootings in 2018 (so far), a shooting doesn’t surprise us anymore. On Valentine’s Day this year 17 students were gunned down in Parkland. While we were preparing for our finals in May, 10 students were killed at Santa Fe High School. Last year between Halloween and Thanksgiving, 26 churchgoers were shot dead in Sutherland Springs, Texas. We have become numb to tragic news. When there have been almost as many shootings as days in 2018, how could we not? There aren’t enough hours in a day for the moments of silence necessary to honor all the victims this year. Perhaps some of us are numb to these occurrences because they now feel common, but others may numb themselves on purpose, as a means of escape. Our phones and screens are constant providers of tragic news stories—there is nowhere to hide—and apathy can be a solid coat of armor.
But we must become vulnerable again. In her speech at assembly, Dr. Price shared information that seemed to make every person in the gym lean in: her mother and stepfather were killed in the September 11 attacks. She said that when she heard about the Pittsburgh shooting, she was reminded of her own personal tragedy. Clearly, she could identify with the experiences of those who had lost family members in the shooting and so was capable of great empathy.
Empathy is the only way to melt our numbness to the relentless reports of violence that light up our phones weekly. To those with no connection to the tragedies, seek out others’ stories and approach them with openess and humility; we won’t immediately understand the pain of those who feel an attack personally. On The Vanguard editorial board, we found that many of us were shaken by particular acts of violence in the past month. Laila Shadid, whose father was a journalist imprisoned by the Libyan government and died in Syria a year later, said that she was deeply upset by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. After the Pittsburgh shootings, Sam Klein Roche talked about how remembering violence against Jews is an integral part of Jewish psyche and that he thought of the synagogue shooting as the major instance of violence in his Jewish generation. Listening to those who feel tragedies personally creates empathy, which creates community.
Dismissing tragedy as the norm inhibits our ability to create a community that can end this era of hate crimes and mass shootings. Laws won’t change until we are united. In this case, our collective vulnerability is our strength. Sharing it, ironically, leads to the human connections that will make us a force against hate and acts of hate.
After Dr. Price shared with us a glimpse of her past, The Vanguard staff agreed they felt more connected to the head of school. Let’s create more of these connections, rejecting apathy just as we reject hate.