A USA Today editor on Tuesday deleted a tweet following a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, that left ten people dead, including a Boulder police officer.
“It’s always an angry white man. Always,” Hemal Jhaveri, the Race and Inclusion Editor at USA TODAY Sports Media Group, tweeted on Monday following the shooting.
The following day, after it was revealed the suspect’s name is Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, a Syrian immigrant, Jhaveri apologized.
“I deleted a previous tweet that was posted in haste and poor judgement. My tweet was impulsive and an over-generalization, for which I apologize. That over-generalization does not reflect the values of this position or Gannett,” Jhaveri said.
I deleted a previous tweet that was posted in haste and poor judgement. My tweet was impulsive and an over-generalization, for which I apologize. That over-generalization does not reflect the values of this position or Gannett.— Hemal Jhaveri (@hemjhaveri) March 23, 2021
Jhaveri’s apology is both welcome and warranted. It was distasteful, if not outright bigoted.
What’s stunning is just how many people responded in a similar fashion. Caleb Hull, a communications strategist and social media influencer, posted a thread on Twitter that revealed an astonishing number of journalists and public influencers responded much like Jhaveri.
Many would agree that making baseless claims about race in response to tragedies isn’t just ugly and racist. It’s also dangerous.
In his book Death By Government, the political scientist R.J. Rummel documented more than 133 million murders of civilians by governments in the 20th century. It’s a historical fact that group identity was a primary catalyst for tens of millions of these deaths.
“Many of those murders were of groups of people — Armenians, Bangladeshis, Bosnians, Chinese, Jews, Poles, Rwandans, Ukrainians — murders driven by ethnic tribal hatred,” the economist Barry Brownstein has pointed out.
The efforts to tie a mass murder to someone’s race or culture is dangerous and defies a simple truth: all humans are capable of good and evil. The great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had it right when he observed the true boundary of good and evil runs through each of us.
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart,” the Gulag Archipelago writer wrote.
One can recognize this basic reality and also admit that seeing others as individuals isn’t easy. The truth is, we’ve all generalized at one time or another (which is why we shouldn’t deal too harshly with people like Jhaveri who fire off a dumb tweet). There are reasons for this. As the author Matt Ridley points out in his book The Origins of Virtue, the human tendency to form groups and battlelines is part of our evolutionary fiber.
“We have as many darker as lighter instincts,” writes Ridley. “The tendency of human societies to fragment into competing groups has left us with minds all too ready to adopt prejudices and pursue genocidal feuds.”
Yet these prejudices serve no one; nor does our obsession on group identity, which runs counter to our most fundamental values.
“The idea of the divine individual, that is the West. If we subsume that under group identity we will perish—painfully,” the best-selling author Jordan Peterson said in a 2018 talk with comedian Adam Carolla. “God only knows what will go along with us. Maybe everything.”
Unfortunately, with the rise of woke culture, a doctrine that teaches people to see others in terms of group identity, this is becoming more difficult. (Columbia University, for example, recently announced it intends to hold six separate graduation ceremonies for students based on race and other group identity factors.)
Difficult as it may be, striving to see each other as individuals is the proper goal, and to abandon this principle is no small matter.
“Look at what happened in the 20th century when people put group identity first,” Peterson observed. “How much bloody evidence do you need? The Communists did it for good reasons and the Nazis did it for bad reasons. It didn’t matter. Tens of millions of people died horribly as a consequence.”
The solution is clear. Embrace the truth and beauty in the reality that every human being is an individual with unique thoughts, perspectives, experiences, and dreams.
It’s a simple idea, and it just might save the world.