America has a major angry-man problem. Reading the Mother Jones article, whose lead author is former Salon reporter Mark Follman, I was actually surprised to learn that there was one female mass shooter in recent American history, a disgruntled postal worker in Goleta, Calif., who shot a neighbor and several co-workers. But the other 61 people who have so tragically acted out their twisted private fantasies on people around them have all been male. While some element of sexual or misogynistic drama was frequently involved – a mother or ex-wife or girlfriend; a rejection or divorce or suggestions of closeted homosexuality – the one thing you can point to in almost every case is perceived humiliation...
Nonetheless I suspect that economic realities play a role. It’s plausible that these grotesque events are by-products of the downward pressure on wages, especially in the working class and lower fringes of the middle class, and reflect what has sometimes been called the “crisis of masculinity,” meaning the perceived emasculation and loss of privilege felt by some men in an age of increasing sexual equality.A gentle corrective: America has a major angry white man problem.
As I wrote about here, and also over at Alternet where my essay on the Sandy Hook shooting was the lede story today, I largely agree with Andew O'Herir about the relationship between masculinity and the mass rampage shootings that have occurred in this country. Something is horribly amiss in American society where a toxic gun culture, social and economic anxiety among men, a culture of privilege and entitlement, and a lack of access to public health services have combined to create conditions ripe for the types of horrific violence committed by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut.
While Andrew is spot on in his general concerns about masculinity and gun violence, he has committed a common error: while he alludes to the racial demographics of mass shooters in passing, there is no sustained focus on the obvious fact that the vast majority of these spree murderers are white men.
I’m not suggesting this is good news, but the stereotype that these kinds of shooters are invariably white men is less true than it used to be. In the last decade or so, almost every possible demographic has been represented: There have been two infamous campus shootings by Asian graduate students, one by a Native American teenager living on a Minnesota reservation, and a couple by African-Americans and Latinos. Overall, 43 of the 61 shooters in mass killings since 1982 have been white, which is only a little higher than the proportion of whites in the general population.
Andrew's oversight is a common one in a society (and among the pundit classes) where whiteness is taken to be a condition of both normality and invisibility. Whiteness has social power precisely because it goes unnamed. To be White in American society, with its long history of white racism and other inequalities that are structured around the colorline, is to be considered "normal."
Ultimately, whiteness is the ability to be an unmarked individual whose actions do not reflect on your racial group. Consequently, white men who kill are just individuals who kill; black and brown folks who kill and commit other crimes are exhibiting behaviors which reflect on their "race" and "culture."
To point. American politics and culture are obsessed with narratives that link race and crime.
For example, the "law and order narratives" of the 1960s onward are a direct cue and signal to fears of black criminality. Conservatives are especially obsessed with the idea of black (male) crime. George Bush had his infamous Willie Horton moment which he used to win a presidential election. Because conservatism and racism form a bundle of attitudes which are tightly bound together in post civil rights America, when seemingly unrelated conversations about public policy matters such as "affirmative action" are discussed, it is a short detour to Right-wing talking points about black folks, our "bad culture," and "criminal" ways.
For example, in cases such as the Trayvon Martin shooting or the more recent Jordan Davis case, the default assumption is that whites who murder unarmed African-Americans are innocent because black males (and women)--whatever their age--are especially capable of lethal violence even when innocently walking down the street or listening to music in a car. Black people are existentially violent; thus, any violent force by white people against them has to be assumed to both just and reasonable until matters are proven otherwise.
Given the cultural scripts that inexorably relate crime to race, one would think that white people, and white men in particular, would be the focus of similar narratives. White men are the majority of domestic terrorists in the United States. White men commit the most serial murders and child rapes. White men comprise the vast majority of those accused of treason. White men destroyed the country's economy and financial sector.
And white men have committed 70 percent of the mass shooting murders in the United States as sourced from this piece in Mother Jones. By comparison, white men are approximately 30 percent of the population. They comprise more than twice their percentage among mass shooters. Yet, there is no "national conversation" on the matter. The silence is deafening.
However, because Whiteness is the very fact of not being "raced," or made into the "Other," such frameworks or interventions that ask basic question about whiteness, masculinity, crime, and violence, are rarely offered.
And when they are--see the range of reactions to our discussions of white masculinity and violence here on We Are Respectable Negroes, as well at Alternet--there are howls and screams of denial, as well as accusations of anti-white "racism." Apparently, it is somehow impolitic or callous to talk about the race of white murders who kill innocent children by the dozens. But, it a given that the racial identities of black and brown folks are routinely and reflexively foregrounded in discussions of crime in America, more generally.
Help me understand. Why is the media afraid to talk about the relationship between white men, guns, and mass violence? What is the white public afraid of? Would it not be in the interest of the Common Good, and the safety of all people, especially white folks who are the disproportionate victims of mass shootings, to figure out why one cohort of the public is repeatedly involved in this type of spectacular violence?