Freedom from the Forbidden

All things gender and Islam. No bigotry is allowed in this feminist territory. #DeathToPatriarchy

How Not to Talk about Haruka Weiser

EDIT: Since this piece has received an unexpected level of attention, perhaps a disclaimer is appropriate. (Note that this is a personal blog run by one individual absolutely not okay with any sort of bigotry, especially against minorities.) With the emails, messages, comments, and tweets I’ve received, a lot of white people are offended by my use of what are apparently “absolutes.” The irony! (Because you know, orientalism, colonialism, and other such realities POC still have to live with – and orientalist and empty representations of especially Muslims and Middle Easterners and Africans in western understandings of the peoples of these regions.) I’m obviously not claiming that all white people are evil to all people of color (I mean, what?). This blog turns the tables and privileges people of color, their voices, their concerns, their experiences. So if you’re a white individual offended by anything I’ve written below, I’m actually not sorry at all because the only reason you’d be offended is that you expected I’m talking about all white people, and since you’re not a bigot, I should take that into consideration. Well, except, no. You don’t get a pat on the back for not being a bigot.

Understand that it is your white privilege speaking when you expect me to reiterate my point so that it doesn’t “generalize” all white people (?). It is your privilege speaking when you expect me to explain myself (or any person of color) over and over and over so you can understand it. When you expect people of color to serve your ego.  This blog is not the place for apologies to white people. If you take issues with that, there are plenty of other spaces where white people’s egos are served.

So if you’re a white person offended by what I’ve written below, here are some suggestions: 1) Look up the hashtag #StopWhitePeople2016, and 2) go be friends with at least 30 people of color. 30 might not be enough, either, but it’s a good start. This way, you won’t be able to say, “But my one black friend is okay with my use of the N word!” Or “My Asian friend says Asian people are like X.”

Why can’t white people just, just shut up for once and listen? (Again, #notallwhitepeople! We know!)

But nonetheless, just to clarify: The whole point of the piece below is to discuss white hypocrisy and limit it specifically to the demonization of all black people when the suspected criminal is a black man (and this holds true for the race/religion/etc. of other POC criminals, too – like attacking Islam or Muslims for the crimes of individual Muslims, or highlighting the individual’s religion and race in the discussion of the crime when the person is not white. And for literally jusifying the crimes when the person is white because he had mental health issues at the time of the crime. And I point out the status of the mental health of the black suspect in custody for Haruka’s crime, and you are not okay with that? And you act like I care that you’re not okay with that?)

And to say that the murder of Haruka Weiser (may she rest in peace) is not permission for you to be racist or say, “See, see, this is why black people shouldn’t be living” or “this is why Black Lives Matter has no purpose.”

If you read any of what’s below to mean that I don’t care about Haruka Weiser or that her murder was justified in any way at all (God forgive me for saying this – as we say in Arabic, astaghfirullah for this suggestion alone), you didn’t read the thing at all; and if that’s what you choose to believe, you’ll believe it even if there’s evidence to the contrary. Fine, you stay that way.

Funny that People of Color have shared this piece many, many times, and I’ve received a lot of support from them for it. My own white friends also appreciate it. (See?) But many other white people are coming to tell me this is an inappropriate piece. If only I cared about your ego.

Bye now.
This is really painful to write and talk about. But, given the response to the murder, I feel compelled to write it in criticism of the racism and other bigotry that so many people are displaying while attempting to express their anger and grief over the murder of an innocent young white (actually mixed) woman killed allegedly by a young black homeless teen diagnosed with autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

Okay, so, basically: A young female college student (whom the media classifies as white) was murdered on the UT Austin campus last Sunday, her body abandoned in a creek that students walk by all the time. Though we don’t know what exactly happened and how exactly she was killed, we have been told that her body showed obvious trauma resulted from a horrific homicide.

The victim’s name was Haruka Weiser. She was a freshman Dance and Theater student, widely known for her skills as a dancer.

The murder has affected the UT community and anyone who knew Haruka. In her honor, the UT tower was darkened the night they caught the suspect. It’s been a chilling week,  devastating and disturbing on every imaginable level.

What happened to Haruka is inexcusable, completely wrong and unacceptable, and devastating to no end. May she rest in peace, and may her family find comfort and strength to cope with the loss. She appears to have touched so many lives, and she was undoubtedly a beloved to anyone who knew her.

Unfortunately, also, the way people are talking about the murder is just horrible. The primary suspect is a 17-year-old homeless black man, and so we can all imagine what the response would be – from “Give him the death penalty!” to “hahahah #BlackLivesMatter still?!” As if the tragedy itself isn’t disturbing enough, bigots are using this as an opportunity to promote and perpetuate their racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, classist, anti-black attitudes. That the suspect is a black homeless “African” teen (for those who don’t know, Africa is that village up in Noland), a victim of racist, classist, capitalist systems of oppression, breaks my heart.

If this sounds unbelievable to you, do any of the following: look up the hashtag #HarukaWeiser on Twitter and other social media; google Haruka Weiser; look up the hashtag #MeechaielCriner (the suspect) or #HarukaWeiserSuspect on Twitter. Or see the comment section on any of the articles on the event, including/especially on Facebook. And, yes, believe it that humans are capable of making such horrible comments. (Now you understand why it’s haraam/prohibited to read the comment section.)

As my close UT friends and I struggle with how to talk about this without pardoning the alleged murderer and while honoring Haruka–and acknowledging and condemning the fact that what Haruka went through was beyond horrific–I think we need a better way to address the problem. So here are some ways to avoid being racist, sexist, and just generally an evil person as you express your sorrow and grief.

  1. First and most important, Meechaiel is currently a suspect, not proven to be guilty. His arrest affidavit states that the police have “good reasons to believe and do believe” that Meechaeil committed the crime. They have not actually proven that he’s the killer. There is evidence leading to that conclusion, but legally speaking, we need to be careful when talking about this. And we have to be careful especially when the suspect is a person of color, given all the history of violence against people of color in the U.S. Unless you’re one of those people to whom this post is written in the first place – in which case, for you, all people/men of color are guilty until proven innocent.
  2. Remember that when white men commit crimes, even if they commit massacres, the collective response is *never* one that attacks all white people or all white men. So don’t make this about all black men or all black people, either. This is not about all black people, and this does not prove that “black people” are murderers. Just because you’re a bigot and have difficulty finding legitimate evidence that your bigotry is the correct way to live and be doesn’t mean you get to take the crime of an individual black teen (who’s a suspect at this point, by the way) to attack all black people and just generally all people who are not white. The irony is that the Black Lives Matter struggle is needed precisely because of your unacceptable racism.P.S. FYI, turns out that, since 1982 (and I wouldn’t doubt before that, too), “white people — almost exclusively white men — [have] committed some 64% of the shootings.” It’s not that those white men’s mental illnesses don’t matter; it’s that the hypocrisy of overlooking white crimes is unacceptable. We don’t demonize all white people or white men generally for the crimes that these white men commit, but we’re quick to demonize all black people for the crimes that black men as individuals commit.
  3. Meechaiel, the suspect, was a homeless teen abused and traumatized throughout his life as a child before becoming a foster child. He has also been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, and autism, police reports say. (More here as well.) An interview that his high school conducted with him a year ago depicts his childhood as one of abuse and hurt and loneliness. This does not excuse what he did, if he did indeed do it, and this is not to say that because he had a horrible life, the law should pardon him. This is to say that, for some hypocritical reasons, America tends to dismiss the crimes of white “lonely” men with mental health problems as “oh, poor thing – he did what he did because he was lonely” or “because women kept rejecting him” or because he was mentally ill. But somehow, just somehow, with Meechaiel, so many people on social media are anxious that he won’t be punished fairly just because now the court will be like, “Oh, he had a bad childhood.”Rest assured, you white people afraid that a black man might not be punished because of the horrible life situations that led to him to commit a crime against a perfectly innocent individual: America is not going to pardon a black man,  or any man or person of color,   even if he’s a suspect only. Ever. For any reason whatsoever. It pardons only white men for committing heinous crimes, especially when the crimes are committed against people of color. People of color never have the luxury to claim victimhood of the cycles of abuse, oppression, and exploitation that push them to act the way that do – that luxury is available only to white people.
  4. Stop saying, “What a beautiful young girl for anyone to do that to her!” or “No beautiful, talented girl like her deserves to die like that.” Yes, Haruka was pretty, and, yes, she was talented and had a great future and big dreams. But, no, that’s not a thing to highlight when talking about how sad it is that she is now gone. I mean, what? And non-beautiful, non-talented girls do deserve to die like that? Of course you don’t mean that other girls do deserve to die like that. But your words imply precisely that. So don’t be an ass, and stop expressing your sorrow in ways that suggest there’s a certain value attached to her because of her looks and her talent.
  5. Here’s a suggestion: Instead of attacking black people and Black Lives Matter, direct your anger towards patriarchy. What happened to Haruka is something that many, many women have been victims of – violence against women. Violence against women on campuses, at homes, literally anywhere is a reality that all women have to live with as something that they can be victims of any time, any day. So don’t be racist – just stand against patriarchy and, particularly in this case, violence against women. Violence against ALL women, not just white women. Because the rest of us women matter, too.

Also, just some related comments.

1. When UT female students get attacked, the word “white” does not appears in the emails that the university sends out reporting the assault to the UT community. That’s when the attacker is white. When he is “black,” yes, the racial identity is highlighted all over. This is also true in cases of hate  crimes by white men on campus.

2. My heart breaks that Haruka did not survive. May she rest in eternal peace and light. I cannot imagine what she must have gone through during the attack. May God protect us all from all sorts of crimes, aameen. (I know that’s impractical to pray for, but like my mom always says, da khwdey pa dar ke hess kam nishti – anything’s possible with God, so it doesn’t hurt to pray for things.)

But let it be known that had Haruka survived, the most the UT community would know would be something like: “An assault occurred on campus at Location X. The perpetrator has/has not been caught. We remind you all to please walk only in well-lit areas and always with a buddy.”

3. There is history at UT behind the racism of so many of the people attacking all black people or the Black Lives Matter movement because of Meechaiel. Racism is a huge problem at the university, perpetrated especially by white frat boys (who aren’t just racist but also dangerously sexist). One of the most recent ongoing cases is that of Cody Young, a senior at UT. He was attacked by three UT students on February 20th; the boys threw glass bottles from their apartment (several floors high), and when he attempted to call the police, the boys came down to the street to try to attack him. They also yelled slurs like “Fuck you, n—–” while throwing the bottles at him. UT is taking its time dealing with the situation, if it’s dealing at all (since the assailants are white frat boys, that’s no surprise). Also, in 2012 and 2013, minority students at UT were victims of a chain of bleach-filled balloon attacks. (Some of these balloons were filled with water and others did have bleach in them.) Read more about this here.

4. While UT is right that a murder had not occurred on its campus since 1966, when a white man committed a mass shooting on the campus, let’s not forget Jennifer Cave. Jennifer Cave was murdered brutally in August 2005, her body mutilated and dismembered; the murder was committed by a Colton Pitonyak and Laura Hall, both white individuals (there are different stories of what exactly happened, and Laura’s role is still unclear. Look up the story if you’re interested). This occurred on West Campus, an area that students living there generally know to be unsafe for women (and especially for women of color and people of color generally). West Campus isn’t on-campus, but it’s walking distance and one of the most popular areas for student housing at UT.  So, yes, murders haven’t occurred on the UT campus since 1966, but Jennifer Cave was murdered in the area by two UT students.

5. There are legitimate concerns from many UT students that the increased security on campus as a result of last week’s murder is actually not a good move. There are other ways to work on the problem of safety on campus (hint: we need better lit, more well-lit sidewalks and areas around campus – otherwise, the advice to walk only in well-lit areas is futile). Some students are worried that this increased security is now going to be monitoring particular student activity on campus that does not suit the political interests of those in charge. That, and also … the fight against homeless individuals on the guad:

That should be all for now. Bottom line: Stop being racist.

Categories: Death to patriarchy, I can't believe this needs to be said out loud, Just stop, let's talk privilege, social justice

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34 replies

  1. “I mean, what? And non-beautiful, non-talented girls do deserve to die like that? Of course you don’t mean that other girls do deserve to die like that. But your words imply precisely that. So don’t be an ass, and stop expressing your sorrow in ways that suggest there’s a certain value attached to her because of her looks and her talent.”

    By that logic, Black Lives Matter implies that other lives don’t. That is to say, perhaps you should heed your own advice and put people’s words in context. A life lost is always a tragedy, but there’s a reason that people with great talent or accomplishments get obituaries in The New York Times and others don’t.


    • The problem with saying that “all lives matter” specifically in reality of lack of the *fact* that black lives actually don’t matter in America is in no way comparable to the fact that people with talents are more privileged post-mortem than people not believed to be talented or beautiful, etc.

      I could write a whole different article on why we need to stop privileging people based on their conventionally good looks (which, by the way, are inherently racist) and by their potential and abilities and skills and what not (which can be classist and deny the fact that people not believed to have talents are actually deprived of opportunities to prove themselves and elevate their status in society), and so on.

      Yeah, no, nothing excuses attaching value to a person based on their good looks and talents. That’s completely irrelevant to why their deaths should be mourned.

      The fact that only certain obituaries get published in NYT and not others is a part of the problem. If those obituaries highlight people’s looks and talents, that’s a problem; if they highlight their humanity, that’ s a different story.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, saying “Black lives matter” does not mean other lives don’t matter. And saying “No beautiful, talented girl like her deserves to die like that” does in no way mean that non-beautiful, non-talented girls deserve to die like that.


  2. Alrighty, sooo I’m not going to express my view on this, but I want to give some constructive criticism.

    When writing, don’t use absolutes. For instance, this quote “America is not going to pardon a black man, or any man or person of color, even if he’s a suspect only.” Because let’s face it, it’s not true. Yes minorities get the short end of the stick in the justice system, but making statements like that is statistically not true and does not support your argument.

    Also, by calling the reader “you white people” and calling white people bigots, is not going to help your cause. If you’re trying to make a world a peaceful more better place, and prove that your side of the argument is for the greatest good, don’t call your opponents bigots. Yes, they very well may be bigots, but most conflicts do not get solved with name calling.

    This article was written in rash aggression. It’s not a good response to the death of a freshman girl at UT, it was an excuse to complain about racism. If you want to respect the life of this girl, don’t make it a race issue.

    I’m not saying there’s not a race issue in the United States. There’s racism everywhere. It’s not here though. This was not a hate crime. One person murdered another. And it’s sad.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Your entire article is about not profiling or judging an entire group of people based on the actions of one or a few. Then you go on to say “Racism is a huge problem at the university, perpetrated especially by white frat boys (who aren’t just racist but also dangerously sexist)”. You literally just did EXACTLY what this entire article is about not doing. Do you really thing every single “white frat boy” is inherently racist and sexist? That makes you just as much of a bigot, just as ignorant, just as judgmental as the people you are condemning in this article. I know you think you must be such a social justice warrior for writing this big long article condemning all of the “bigots” out there, but why don’t you look in the mirror, you are just as big of one as anyone that judges all black people for the actions of this person.


  4. I appreciate that you had the courage to write this. I so wanted to say these words but was too afraid of the backlash to come out with it. I’m glad that someone did.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. fully agree


  6. Yet another attempt to shove political correctness down everybody’s throats. Honestly, a list of what to say and what not to say? The first amendment guarantees our freedom of expression, and yes, even if it’s offensive. In this country you have the right to be a jerk. You are in for a rude awakening if you expect this utopian society to exist when you graduate and start working….good luck!


    • What article did you read? Nowhere, NOWHERE, in this article does it suggest that your freedom of speech should be curtailed, threatened, or otherwise stepped on. If you wanna be a racist maniac, or even just a jerk, of course you have that right, so stop putting words in the author’s mouth. If you actually had read the article, you’d see it for what it is – a thoughtful guide to more ethical ways of speech that frame the situation accurately and don’t blame groups of people for the actions of an individual. “Political correctness” my ass.

      “I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase ‘politically correct’ wherever we could with ‘treating other people with respect’, and it made me smile.” — Neil Gaiman


  7. To the author: this is a thoughtful and important response piece, and I commend you for having the courage to take a stand for the unpopular position.

    With that said, I simply urge you to apply the same thoughtfulness and maturity into how you read and respond to criticisms of your piece. When you encounter any such critique (as you invariably will), read the argument being made carefully, be charitable in how you interpret it, acknowledge the validity of the critic, and respond with grace. Your defensive posture with respect to the criticisms above caused you to misread (or not fully understand) the critique in two instances, and in each instance to respond in a tone that undermines your credibility as a thoughtful, fair-minded observer.

    Learn to embrace constructive feedback, tolerate destructive feedback, and display measured thinking and poise in response to both.

    Great job on the article overall, and thank you for delivering what was an important counter-response to this tragedy.


  8. I’m curious as to why, instead of engaging in discussion with people who disagree with you or even so much as offer constructive criticism, you choose to respond with rude, snarky comments intended to humiliate them. I just don’t understand this anti-intellectual, preachy, fundamentalist strain of communicating that runs through the leftist community that treats disagreement and diversity of thought as something to be ashamed of, as if having the “moral high ground” allows you to just eviscerate anyone who offers anything but unequivocal cultish support of your views. I think it undermines your argument. I also think using this tragedy as a spring board to talk about racial inequity is in poor taste.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I very much disagree that it’s in poor taste, but surely, I don’t have to explain that.


    • Okay, Obala, but can you actually explain what they were actually asking? Like, instead of avoiding can you explain why you’re choosing to be rude to other people who disagree with you? I for one have always loved to be in discussions where people disagree with me so I can understand both sides. You’re deliberately avoiding and being rude to others. Also, this article gives on this whole idea that Haruka isn’t the victim here. I find it very disheartening…. I understand you’re trying to shed light and I see that you’ve even said “I’m not saying what he’s done is okay” , but you have give him a lot of excuses as to why he should be set free. Do you yourself believe he should not spend a life in prison for what he’s done? Regardless of color, I think we can agree that someone should not get away with this. Even with mental illness, the tapes themselves show that he had malicious intent. She literally walked by him and he decided to prank his stolen bike, take out a weapon, and go after her. He thought about it and then executed it. The way her bottom was found, there was no way it was an accident. If you believe he shouldn’t be put away, I want to understand why and I want to hear your reasoning behind it because obviously I’m missing something…

      Liked by 1 person

    • If you read this post as a suggestion, legal or ethical, that anyone pardon the suspect, you missed the whole point. A major point here is about the collective reaction to white men who commit crimes and, well, this case (& others where the suspects and/or criminals are men of color). Surely, I dont have to repeat that when white men are proven to commit crimes, the reaction is one that tries to pardon him and explain away his actions as committed not by him but the mental illness that caused him to do it.

      In this case, legally, too, Meechail’s mental health will have to be considered before a punishment is mandated.

      If you think acknowledging that the suspect was in a particular state of mind during the crime means saying he should be let loose, … I mean, I don’t even know what to say to that! Really?…

      I can’t believe that even needs to be said.


    • I made this account just to thank you for this comment. So, thank you.


  9. I feel like this whole article is a perfect example of “How Not to Talk about Haruka Weiser”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I particularly find the continued mention of the suspect being autistic to be dangerously unnecessary. Murder is not a common action of autistic humans by any stretch. It’s as useful in description as if you were to say the suspect was suffering from allergies that day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I disagree that that’s irrelevant. Also, it’s not a “continued mention” of it – I said that twice. It’s troubling that you’re troubled by the mention of his mental state here, actually. Because, you see, context matters, and legally his mental health/state has to be taken into consideration when a rule is issued.


  11. When I read the many descriptions of Haruka that include the word “beautiful” I take it as a description of the beauty of her soul and spirit, not as a physical description. I also believe the same would be said about a female of color who captivated people thusly.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Astounding that this whole article epitomizes how we should not talk about Haruka Weiser. I never comment on articles of this nature, but since the incident has been somewhat more personal, I couldn’t help it. All the people turning it into a race/gender issue without sufficient time post-incident are shameless (and this is an understatement). Please allow families and friends to grieve out of the limelight before getting on your social justice platforms.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Just a suggestion. Great article. You made very intriguing points throughout your piece especially at the end with the way UT would’ve handled the situation had it been less of a tragedy. However, I find it interesting that you (along with many other media outlets) referred to the suspect as a 17 year old “man” instead of what he was, a teen. It is important to keep in mind your choice of words in describing people because “homeless black man” paints a whole different picture than “homeless black teen”. Just a thought.


    • That’s an important point, thank you. I usually refer to people as women or men (if they are known to be okay with being identified as such), but I add “young” to suggest a certain age range. But you’re right; words matter.


  14. You complain about racism and then you go on showing you are a racist and accusing people and institutions of being racist. I am a parent with a student at UT Austin. When this was first known, I am sure that the phones and emails of every UT parent jammed the communication lines. They needed to tell their parents that a horrible crime has been committed and to let them know they were alright. As a parent, I never thought about the race of Haruka Weiser and later that of her murderer. Stop giving excuses. A young woman, a student, has been murdered at her campus. Next time, think, go outside and do some gardening or something constructive. Your article is thoughtless, insensitive and not constructive at all. Go plant a tree.


    • #rollingEyes. Please – go ahead and tell me more about what I should and should not be doing. On my own blog.

      Besides, if you didn’t think abt the suspect’s race, bravo. You’re not the intended audience of the article then, obviously. It’s for those who did racialize the crime and made it about BLM.


  15. Just some thoughts, y’all:

    – I don’t tolerate white rage.
    – there’s no such thing as people of color’s “racism” against white people. Until we are treated as equally valuable in this racist-ass system where non-whites are basically guilty by default until proven innocent, you can’t claim that anything abt this post here is racist. Calling out white hypocrisy isn’t racist in the first place, though.
    – The responses have been interesting (both here, on FB, and Twitter): People of color appreciate it; except for a few who get how power dynamics in racism work, white people are angry. There’s nothing shocking about this.


  16. Hello, Orbala. It took me a long time to respond, and a longer time to formulate the things I wanted to say.

    As a POC myself and one of Haruka’s closest friends at UT, I have mixed feelings about what you’ve written. I am absolutely passionate about the issues you try to outline here, but was also horrified and offended by how you have presented them. In the age of clickbait journalism, absolutes read strongly; however, please do not presume that you represent the only minority POC voice on what has happened – “so we can all imagine what the response would be – from ‘Give him the death penalty!’ to ‘hahahah #BlackLivesMatter still?!'” is NOT the only, nor majority, sentiment of POCs here at UT.

    I understand that there are very ugly things being posted – of course there are. However, if you took the time to read the posts, letters on her memorial, and notes on her public memorial Facebook page, many of her friends are responding the way her family has wished: with love, not violence. The other day, one of our close mutual friends described how she remembers how Haruka hated that homeless people were treated inferiorly, and that she (our friend) gave a homeless man her sandwich that morning in memory of her.

    We are hurting deeply to have lost our dear, sweet, and kind friend. Yet you are turning her death into something her family has expressly wished it not to be – part of a larger “trend” or “issue.” I completely advocate opening the forum to talk about race issues (race baiting, white pardon, etc.), but you have written a piece demanding that we (POCs and whites) speak about our dear friend within YOUR outlines, and have ignored the statements that we have made that are NOT as you have described “everyone” is making.

    That should be all for now. Bottom line: please review more sources before you make definitive, absolute statements.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish you peace and comfort in coping with it; I cannot imagine.

      I appreciate your insights, but the responses I’m talking about aren’t from POC… I’m also clearly not talking about everyone who’s responding. I don’t know if you’re following the responses on social media (& including in FB threads), but more than just a minority are certainly making this about BLM & POC generally.

      None of what I’ve written was to suggest that Haruka isn’t getting any love. Her memory is being honored in beautiful ways – but I’m talking about the wrong & unethical ways many are talking about the tragedy, and that’s my focus here.



  1. “How Not to Talk about Haruka Weiser” | African American Literature and Culture