Archived: 4 Things to Know About Boston Bombing Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

By Dara Sharif

The manhunt for and subsequent capture of a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing riveted the nation last week. But as the country revels in a quick arrest in the deadly attack, the search for answers unearthed more ugliness with regard to attitudes about race, religion and ethnicity. As investigators learn more about what may have driven two young men (one of whom was killed in a shootout with police) to acts of terror, here are four things to know about the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev:

1. He’s white.

Despite egregious examples of racial and ethnic profiling during the course of the manhunt—including CNN’s speculating about a “dark-skinned” suspect and the New York Post’s publishing a front-page photo of a Moroccan-American high-schooler and wrongly suggesting he was one of the bombers, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is Caucasian. Truly. His family is originally from Chechnya, which is located in the Caucasus region of southern Russia.

2. He’s American.

Tsarnaev, whose parents brought him to the U.S. as a child, took the oath of citizenship last year on Sept. 11 (the anniversary, of course, of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil). By all accounts, the young Tsarnaev, who grew up in Cambridge, Mass., was pretty typical. Former classmates at Cambridge Rindge & Latin high school described Tsarnaev as a kid who had lots of friends. He lived on campus at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he was in his sophomore year.

3. He’s Muslim.

Ethnic Chechens are predominantly Muslim. In a Russian social-media profile, Tsarnaev described his world view as “Islam.” Chechnya has a history of violence, with occasional skirmishes between Russian forces and Chechen insurgents demanding independence. However, many Chechens, including Tsarnaev’s family, have fled the region to escape the fighting.

4. He‘s the suspect—not all Chechens or Muslims.

Just as the actions of Newtown, Conn., mass murderer Adam Lanza shouldn’t condemn all white, U.S.-born, Christian men, neither should the alleged actions of a white, Chechen, Muslim man damn all who share his ethnicity or religion.

No one should feel the need to walk on eggshells around a coworker or employee, as one DiversityInc reader opined recently, but everyone has the right to a workplace where reasonable accommodations are made for differing religious beliefs. Arming oneself with knowledge can help dispel the kind of rumor and innuendo that can prove destructive in the workplace.

What You Can Do in Your Workplace

  • Use your resource groups to foster cultural-competence education. If you have religious resource groups, make sure they are inclusive of everyone and are used to explain how NOT to stereotype people.
  • Distribute educational/training materials like Meeting in a Box to ensure maximum exposure to all your employees. Include information on stereotype threat and the dangers of lumping groups of people together.
  • Be cognizant of laws on religious and other types of discrimination and ensure that your managers are as well.

Also read: Boston Bombing Fallout: Immigration Reform

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