In the wake of David Sirota’s hot-button essay last week, “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is a White American,” conservatives swarmed to trash Sirota and Salon. I’m not here to defend or criticize Sirota’s piece – I get in enough trouble on these issues myself — but the storm it provoked was revealing, especially once we learned the identity of the two suspects: Tamarlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens who grew up in Russia and came legally to the U.S., who were also Muslim.
Hate mail and punditry targeting Salon and Sirota declared that Sirota was not only morally wrong in hoping the terrorists would turn out to be white — but that he was proven spectacularly incorrect, because the Tsarnaev brothers are not white. “Sorry David Sirota, looks like Boston Bombing suspects are not ‘white Americans,’” wrote the folks at Newsbusters. “Is David Sirota crying uncontrollably because the Boston bombers weren’t whites??” one conservative emailed Salon. There was a lot of other email in the same tedious vein.
But are we sure the Tsarnaevs aren’t white? They are quite literally Caucasian, as in from the Caucuses: Rebecca Eisenberg helps with this handy map. And ethnically in this country, we count Americans of Russian descent, as well as Chechens, as white. Dzhokhar was a naturalized American citizen; Tamarlan had applied for citizenship but reportedly didn’t get it because of FBI concerns about his possible ties to Islamic radicals.