The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday May 21st

Column: A redo of 'Orlando could not have been any of us'


Online managing editor Danny Nett

In the world of writing for a living, I think a degree of regret is part of the writing process. I don’t know a single time I haven’t read back over something and stumbled over a line that made me wince — or wished that I’d changed the tense or found an adjective with an extra syllable.

Other times, the regret’s a little bigger. On June 12, 2016, I was celebrating at D.C. Pride with my friends when the Pulse massacre happened. In the week following, I cried every day. I was afraid to be and go out. In my typical use-work-to-cope fashion, I poured everything I had into a piece titled “Orlando could not ‘have been any of us,’ ” which ran on The Daily Tar Heel website three days after the attack. 

And then I never read that column again. As far as I’m concerned, the second half of June 2016 is a place in my mind that’s closed for visiting.

But finally, looking back eight months later, what I need to admit is this: I should have considered that my own feelings about Pulse weren’t enough.

I should have acknowledged that the victims weren’t “any” of us in the queer community; they were the members who experience some of the most marginalization, both from inside and out.

I don’t regret sharing the pain and grief that weekend brought — in some sense, I think those feelings of anger and fear are the shared experience of queer people across the globe. But in my column, I wrote there was “no room for generic statements” of the lives lost. I begged the public not to erase us from our own tragedy. And, in relegating the factor of race to one paragraph of a 900-word column, I did exactly that.

At the time, I had given some thought on how to navigate my whiteness. I wrote it reacting out of my own raw emotion. I wrote the piece before rumors arose that Omar Mateen might have specifically chosen Latin Night to carry out his assault, and I wrote it before an overwhelmingly Latinx list of names was released for the victims. 

And in the time since, I’ve come to know that was a misstep. In experiencing the fear, frustration and sorrow of Pulse, I learned the sense of support that happens when people you haven’t spoken to in months reach out to ask if you’re OK. I also realized how much I’d allowed myself to ignore the pain and violence inflicted on communities I’m not part of.

I can’t find words to describe how ashamed I am that it took the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history for me to wholly empathize with a grief my friends of color have known their entire lives. 

I’m ashamed that there were times I avoided thinking about violence against black people and Latinx people and trans people. I’m ashamed that I used journalistic objectivity as a shield from obligation and human empathy. And I acknowledge that this column is, in addition to correcting a wrong, part of my own way of handling that guilt.

But I also can't overstate how easy it is to send a “Hey, I just wanted to check in and let you know I’m here” text when someone you love is hurting — or how much it can mean to receive one when you’ve been sitting in bed all day looking at a Twitter feed full of tragedy.

I want to say I’m sorry I was complicit in erasing Latinx people from a massacre that largely targeted them. I’m sorry to my Muslim friends who took time to check in on me while their faith and identity were being villainized for the same act of violence.

To all the people I love whom I haven’t checked on after a shooting or protest or harmful legislative push, know that I am deeply sorry.

And to my fellow white, cis-presenting gay folks: We have had 40 years of making our lives and the movement solely about us. These next few years are time for us to realize it and step up.

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