My husband, Ines, is from Mexico. He views America and American culture from somewhat of an outsider perspective, and he often complains while watching the nightly news that in America, everyone’s a hero. I see his point that when everyone is called a hero that no one really is, but I used to scold him anyway for being so pessimistic, or not quite appreciating the goodness in people that these stories seek to display. However in the midst of another season of mass killings and the worn out hero narrative, Ines’ familiar complaint is starting to make a great deal more sense.
The TV news media does have its favorite heroes: the teacher hero, the quick-thinking by-stander hero, the immigrant with an accent hero, the child hero, and even my personal favorite, the hero pet.
In this week’s shooting, the Lafayette, Louisiana, shooting, the heroes are teachers, two quick-thinking women are being hailed as heroes. One woman shielded her friend, took a bullet even, and the other had the presence of mind to find and sound the fire alarm. As a teacher myself, I love the hero teacher narrative, women who soothe or shield young children, jump into action, as if on instinct, women who use their bodies and their intellect to save others. There are male teacher heroes too, the men, some muscular, some not, who tackle the gunmen and hold on until authorities arrive.
The two teachers in Louisiana, Jena Meaux and Ali Martin were really brave and probably saved many lives, but we don’t know that for sure. And that’s the problem – probably dressed up in a touching narrative about heroism in the confusing, sad, and intensely emotional days following a mass shooting provides solace in the face of inexplicable and senseless death. Probably gives us something to feel good about, something to cling to, a story to tell when what we should be doing is asking the obvious questions. The first question is why? And then, what the fuck is wrong with this country? Why are there so many angry gun-toting white men? What would motivate this epidemic of random killing? And the police shootings, all the black Americans shot and killed in quickly escalated episodes, those detained, often dying in custody, the violence against women, human trafficking, and sexual abuse of children, often by acquaintances or even their own family.
I hate to say it, but in the midst of this violence, the sadness that is our country, heroes, while they may feel necessary to go on, to allow us to breath a sigh of relief while we sip our morning cup of coffee, they are beside the point. They detract from the problem; they keep us from asking the hard questions, from doing real work, insisting on gun control, insisting on increased funding for family support and education to end the cycle of violence and for mental health services, insisting on better police training, insisting on just and equitable housing and educational opportunities for all Americans, and some very real soul searching about our racism problem. So after every mass shooting, stop waiting for stories about the community coming together to help the families of the victims; stop waiting for slogans, and wrist bands, and stop waiting for heroes, the anticipated, comfort of the hero narrative, and the elusion that alone without your participation that the heroes make it all better – at least until the next shooter opens fire.