Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Verboten Topic: Elliot Rodger, 'Mixed Race' Identity, Internalized Racism, and Mental Health

The 24/7 news cycle is not interested in finding the truth about a given matter, and then subsequently offering up useful information that can in turn be used to create an educated and informed electorate.

Instead, the mainstream corporate news media is driven by superficial discussions of topics of public concern that can drive ratings.

As I suggested earlier, Elliot Rodger should be a focal point for a discussion of broader issues about race, gun violence, gender, and mental health issues. Apparently, those most obvious concerns and questions are verboten on the Right...and even among some on the "Left" who have internalized the norms of "colorblind" racism.

Neither white conservatives nor white liberals want to talk seriously about white privilege and Whiteness as it relates to Elliot Rodger: it would seem that both sides are largely in agreement about the necessity of protecting the nobility and innocence of Whiteness and White Masculinity.

I am fascinated by how race has not been more central to the mainstream media's discussion of Elliot Rodger's murder rampage. By comparison, the conversation about Elliot Rodger and gender is much more sharp and enlightened.
However, I have not seen (with a few exceptions)--and do please share and educate me if I am wrong (I am not able to watch or listen to every broadcast)--a focused discussion of how Elliot Rodger, a white Asian, internalized white racism and White Supremacy against people of color, and then acted upon it through misogynist violence.

Nor have I witnessed a conversation in the mainstream media about Elliot Rodger, the question of "mixed race" identity--I would suggest that such constructs are extremely problematic and facile in the American racial order, yet an increasing number of people are embracing them as a way of distancing themselves from people of color--and the specific mental health challenges around self-esteem and anxiety which some self-identified "bi-racial" and "mixed race" people may face because of their "racial" identities.

My claims are precise and careful: I am not arguing that self-identified "mixed-race" or "biracial" people are more prone to mass shootings, gun violence, or the like. No. The data do not support such a claim. 

Rather, I am interested in how the media is not talking about how Elliot Rodger, a version of the tragic mulatto figure, a self-hating Asian-American with deep levels of internalized racism, had those feelings mated and mixed with (likely) preexisting mental health issues, and then committed mass murder based on his racist and sexist motivations.

The mass media seeks out simple explanations for complex problems. As such, discussions of race and racism are flat, ahistorical, and lack nuance. In the case of Elliot Rodger, it would be both easy, and also a public service, for a news program to feature a panel discussion with psychologists, historians, mental health practitioners, anti-racism activists, and (other) social scientists to discuss how internalized racism can lead to violence. 

I am transparent. I have dated and loved across the color line. I did so without apology or regret.

One of my rules for a long-term relationship with someone who is not black is that we must eventually have a conversation about the racial identity of our potential offspring. 

I am a Black American. My children will be Black Americans. Regardless of the "racial" identity of their mother, our/my/her children must be given the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, moral, and philosophical armor to navigate a white racist society. I have that basic obligation as their father.

Those children will be black and may have a white, Asian, Hispanic, or First Nations, mom. One identity does not make impossible the other. Ultimately, I would consider myself a failure as a father if my "mixed race" child came home, confused that someone called him or her a "nigger", as they imagined themselves as something other than black. 

Did Elliot Rodger's parents give him a talk about survival strategies, race, and identity in a manner appropriate for his life as an Asian-American man? 

More generally, why is the mainstream media not discussing questions of internalized white racism and mental health? 

And what is the mainstream media, and the American public who is their primary audience, afraid of regarding this issue?


Myshkin the Idiot said...

Mainstream media can't talk about internalized white racism because they are also susceptible to it.

How is the aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome linked to conservatism in the Age of Obama?

Sandy Young (Corkingiron) said...

IIRC, the term "mulatto" (same origin as "mule") was associated with weakness rather than strength. The mixing of the bloods entailed a loss of powers that were believed to be assigned to the various races.
So it would seem to me that the aggrieved fear what they have always feared - a loss of social, political, sexual and above all economic power.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

There have been some studies relating a crisis in masculinity with the rise of a very conservative gun rights absolutist movement. This gun rights absolutist movement (think National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, Right To Keep And Bear Arms) is part of the broad right-wing that extends frm its left to the Christian Right and the Republican Party and to its right the John Birch Society, the Patriot movement, the Patriot militia, and the white supremacist movement. The "aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome" has serious implications for a radical, revolutionary movement represented by that broad right-wing. See, for example, Joan Burbick, Gun Show Nation; Osha Gray Davidson, Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control; Carolyn Gallaher, On the Fault Line: Race, Class, and the American Patriot Movement; Scott Melzer, Gun Crusaders: The NRA's Culture War; and, Catherine McNicol Stock, Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain. The commonalities across the broad right-wing: a sense that the white race is being subsumed by immigrants; a sense that the white race is being electorally cheated by blacks voting illegally; the sense that white males are being challenged by reproductive rights of feminists; the sense that white males are being challenged by gay rights; the sense that white males are being challenged by an economic egalitarianism; the sense that white males are being challenged by an elite that want to take their guns away; and, the sense that white males are being challenged by an elite that want to enslave them. The real common denominators: white Christian male fundamentalisms (religious, economic, constitutional). It follows that many liberals do not want to discuss a broad right-wing white fundamentalist Christian male movement opposed to everyone else. Nor, as you point out, do they want to look at white supremacy in terms of terrorism or in terms of mass murderers.

chauncey devega said...

Learned something new. And that reminds me of the notion of "pure racial stock".

chauncey devega said...

Great shares there for resources as always.This really is part of a deep social anxiety and malaise about the loss of power. Maybe I am too hopeful, but I am surprised that there have not been more incidents of domestic terrorism not fewer.

Craig said...

Thank you for this essay. I've been thinking about how to have that talk with my own children. We talked about Rodgers last night and I was nervous, I'm not sure why. I mainly stuck to the facts but feel like I should have said more. Chinese television (from Taiwan) is discussing this as an asian issue. Mainly the talk is about the prevalence of marketing that idealizes the western look and western lifestyles and what that does to self esteem. I hear this talk all the time, it goes on for awhile, but nothing seems to really change - it's the same marketing catering to the same desires. To me, Rodgers is as close to white as an asian is ever going to get - he is biologically half white and looks white - but even he didnt experience the imagined gloriousness of whiteness. I would appreciate some advice about how to talk to kids about this.

RPM said...

Tell them that they are what they are. That you as their father will always view them whole and treat them as such but others won't. The world will always try to pigeonhole people, if your child is half black that is how society will identify them regardless if any othe ancestry. If they are American Indian but look white them society will treat them as such. No matter how the world views and judges them they must never limit themselves to anyone else's bias. If they are mixed ethnicity and are demonized or privledged based on their looks should be irrelevant to how they see themselves . You can identify with any or even no side of your ethnicity and the world can't stop you. But you can choose to believe that some aspect of your ancestry makes you inferior or superior to others. That makes you a bigot and a self hating one at that. This murderous freak never had parents that sat his ass down and told him that he should be himself not a member of some elite group. It sounds like he surrounded himself with voices that did nothing to challenge the idiotic idea he had about superior and inferior members of his species be they opposite gender or opposite ethnicity. Talking about misogyny is easy in a culture that claims it frowns on it, even when it does very little to nothing to stop it. Talking about race is uncomfortable for people on tv because they are uneducated children posing as adults. You want to talk about race and bigotry with another human being regardless of age? Do it like this:" I know we are different on surface details. Because of it are cultural diferences may seem wide and I acknowledge the fact that I can't truly understand everything you have and will have to experience because of it. But we are similar in more ways then either of us comprehend and I will not treat you different than I would anyone else because if your differences in the hope you do the same. That won't be true for several other people you encounter who only want to talk and never listen but I won't be one of them." You don't have to use these words and they would seem patronizing if you said them aloud but if you go in with that mindset then you and your kids will be ok. Bigotry is just fear mixed with ignorance. It cuts both ways so it makes it difficult to break through . If you think someone is closed minded than you won't approach as quickly or at all. I'm not afraid of anyone so no one is afraid of me. There will usually be weariness with strangers for most people but be patient. Most have bad experience coloring their approach to situations. Don't Blame them for it and teach your kids the same and things will be alright. Living in a world full of instant gratification makes westerners especially pissed when they don't get their way immediately. Women aren't prizes to be won like a trophy and people of different backgrounds aren't there to make you feel better about yourself or amuse you. If everyone taught their children that than this would be far less common then it is. As it stands now parents need the lesson as much as their kids. The shooters get the attention but the racist culture that starts with their elders in socialization eggs them on. Calling someone diseased instead of a symptom will never be a cure.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I am going to post a paper at on the ideological affinity between right-wing propaganda and victims of right-wing terrorism, plus the raw data.

Rob said...

Your article has definitely touched upon some very interesting aspects of this ordeal that have otherwise gone unnoticed. I'm not sure if I'm making a snap judgement or not but I think there had to have been a serious disconnect from Elliot Rodger's parent(s). I mean the mother saw the videos and apparently was moved enough to call Elliot's doctor... whom then called the police. Why didn't a parent go to Elliot's apartment? Why did no one face this issue head on when it seemingly was a growing problem since he was 8. While not the same type of crime or possibly intent this tragedy reminds me of Ethan Couch. Maybe it's Rodger's BMW or his blatant misunderstanding of relationships that gives this situation an air of entitlement; but to act as both did with no regard or respect for human life is the real issue.

SabrinaBee said...

The media and both political parties have a stake in maintaining the status quo. Neither work for the general public. To inform us nor defend us. It has become increasingly clear that we are either a vote or a source of income and that is it. I don't believe that mom would have discussed what his mixed race heritage means. I think one of the commenters mentioned in the prior article,that often times minorities are as equally racist, if not more so as they try to outdo even whites in an effect to prove their bonafides. This probably took the form of careless conversations around the house while he was young.

I slogged through all 140 pages of his whining and it seemed to me that while mom was very active in trying to help him, eventually recognizing that there was definitely something wrong with her son, she ultimately did not understand the source of his problems. She clearly thought that she could send him to professionals, psychiatrists, life coaches, counselors, and then purchase whatever else he wanted to make him happy. Throwing money at him rather than a shoe. The step mom seems to be the one to try to instill some discipline in him.

The bigger question I had is how must the outside world view this country? He seems to have had a skewered view of the this country's values. That riches are the only worth in this country. We know that to be true in Washington but, he was in for a culture shock among his peers. His niceties did not buy the results he wanted. That is at least a somewhat heartening revelation about the youth of this country.

skilletblonde said...


chauncey devega said...

I appreciate your sharing. I bet you lots of wisdom on this issue--revealed by your asking for thoughts and advice. Please share. What have you been doing? What are you worried about not doing right?

Bread & Butter said...

Craig, I'm the progeny of a Chinese father and an Anglo-Saxon mother, am possessed of mainly Chinese features, and grew up in rural UK, where I was constantly reminded of my otherness, sometimes benignly and sometimes not so benignly. Since my father was not often around and was not particularly attentive in teaching me about his culture, I had a tendency to "otherise" aspects of myself since I carried around the physical markers of his heritage without any personal insight of said heritage to reinforce my cultural identity. I grew up becoming increasingly distrustful of whiteness, particularly British ideas of whiteness, whilst maintaining a similar level of distrust (though of a different quality) of my Chinese ancestry, which made for long periods of feeling isolated and lacking in any sort of identity whatsoever. Wrap that up with the usual adolescent growing pains and I'd be lying if I said I didn't harbour all manner of unpleasant thoughts during my youth. My parents aren't particularly motivated to read politics into their choices and they don't attend to notions of race and cultural identity with much depth - they are who they are and I don't begrudge them this at this point in my life. However, if you are concerned about what Elliot Rodgers says to you and your children, as a mixed-race person, I wholeheartedly echo RPM's wonderful sentiment. And may I add that I think this world really does condition one to think and act in such a frustratingly and dunderheadedly binary manner; at times I wanted to be white and times I wanted to be yellow and no-one really took the time to tell me that whilst the world will always hand down this pressure that I was thinking about myself in completely the wrong kind of way. I often feel like I was the result of a tentative cultural exchange that didn't make good on its initial promise. You and your partner need to lead by example and show your children that your dynamic is liquid and that by extension so are they in their identity.