Yesterday it was 70 degrees and sunny in Washington D.C., where I am writing this missive. Today it’s raining, and tomorrow it’s likely to snow. Typical D.C. bullshit — the offer of a grand promise, the subsequent haggling when the promise is deemed too controversial or expensive, and then, eventually, a denial that the promise ever existed. I’ve only been in the city where I was born for a day and I’m already exhausted by the political machinations that undercut every conversation.
I’m here to go through my Pakistani family’s rich history with my aunt as she lets go of many of the heirlooms she’s graciously stored for decades. We spent yesterday morning going through her collection of ghararas, beautifully embroidered tunics and wide-legged pantaloons made of silk, brocade, and other finely-spun fabrics. Each holds a story of our beautifully foreign origins and the convoluted path each member of my father’s family took to citizenship. I chose a gold brocade gharara, because my name literally means “princess king” and I’ve finally accepted my place in this world.
My aunt, who has long been immersed in the art world and worked at the Smithsonian (among many other museums in D.C.), had suggested we visit the Hirschhorn Museum, where a projection of a work by Krzysztof Wodiczko was slated to run for three nights on the exterior of the building. The image featured two hands, one holding a candle and the other holding a gun. The projection was canceled, in deference of the Parkland school shooting carried out by a 19-year-old in Florida.
In August, I wrote a column as I was Alaska-bound. I was sitting in the airport in Charlottesville, watching cable news overplay the grainy cellphone footage of a Nazi plowing his car through a crowd of protesters. As the visage of Heather Heyer became nationally recognized, now the faces of these seventeen dead children will spend their moment in our collective consciousness. Just as the faces of the children from Sandy Hook, and the victims from Las Vegas, and those murdered in the Pulse shooting in Orlando, were blasted across what remains of this decaying society.
The Hirschhorn will never get to project Wodiczko’s imagery. I say this with the weary resignation that is my eternal state of being now. Our country has long since abandoned its citizens in favor of greed and power. The National Rifle Association has so corrupted our government that a running tally of the money it has donated to the members of Congress remains an ever-present reference point for the New York Times. Yesterday, for the fafillionth time, the evergreen post from the Onion entitled, “’No Way to Prevent This’ Says Only Nation Where This Happens Regularly,” went viral, as it does after every mass shooting. In fact, it’s such a staple of post-shooting online content that the Washington Post wrote about the viral nature of the post, and how often it’s been re-shared by its creator.
I’m not doing a great job at upholding my mantras in this column because it’s hard to stay hopeful when faced with the murder of 17 children who could have grown up to change this country. I hope every survivor in Parkland runs for office and ousts an NRA puppet, but my greater hope is that our country begins to understand the moral bankruptcy of forcing victims to be the ones who struggle most for equity and change. Our job as good allies is not to wait for the next tragedy to spur us to action. It is to create a foundation that eradicates the systems that allow these tragedies to flourish.
Sultana Khan is a social justice advocate who works in youth development. Previously, she worked as a national security correspondent and cultural commentator for Gawker Media.