When anyone who isn't a white and relatively well-off man strides into a public place and guns down innocent civilians, we attack his race and/or religious beliefs before we bury his victims in the ground. But when yet another privileged white guy storms into a school or movie theater and kills dozens of people, we assume there's something wrong with his brain instead of wondering whether his murderous rage has anything to do with good ol' American macho entitlement. Are we ready to talk about it yet? Let's.
This is hardly the first time we've questioned what makes white middle-class dudes more prone to shooting up public spaces; last summer, after the Aurora movie theater massacre, Hugo Schwyzer wrote that "the fact that these white male mass murderers felt so confident choosing public spaces to commit their crimes reflects a powerful truth about the culture in which they were raised."
Huh, how about that? We wondered, briefly, and then we moved on with our lives. Gun sales spiked, as they always do after highly publicized mass shootings. The NRA — White Men Central — stayed silent via social media, but doubled its followers even though it shut down one of its Twitter accounts. Some more white dudes shot a bunch of people at temples and shopping malls. Now, twenty little kids are dead because another privileged white guy literally shot his way into an elementary school with a gun made by a company that tries to convince people to buy their killing weapons by telling them they're crybabies if they're not packing heat.
When Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, pundits instantly declared that his Korean upbringing had something to do with it. When Maj. Nidal Hasan went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood shootings, we heard more about his Muslim faith than anything else. Yet, when David Sirota suggested on the Sunday morning edition of "Up" with Chris Hayes that the same conservative politicians and commentators who support racial profiling when black people or Muslims are the ones being profiled would rather sacrifice a few of their semi-automatic weapons than think critically about white men, the right-wing media freaked the fuck out.
"Leave it to the shamelessly craven NBC News cable outlet MSNBC to find a race-baiting angle on the Connecticut school massacre tragedy," Breitbart crowed. "It is a basic tenet of progressive, left-wing ideology that all things boil down to race, gender or class." (Oh, cool, it's opposite day again and Breitbart's Shirley Sherrod scandal never happened!) The Blaze called it a "curious outburst" — you know, totally apropos of nothing. Fox News said Sirota "injected" race into the discussion.
Sirota didn't actually recommend we start racially profiling middle-class white men; he just pointed out that that's what would be happening if we were talking about any other demographic group. Over at Salon, he made the excellent point that the only reason we're considering more complex issues like mental health and Hollywood gun-worship is because the mass murderer in question was, as per usual, well-off and white:
Let's review: any honest observer should be able to admit that if the gunmen in these mass shootings mostly had, say, Muslim names or were mostly, say, African American men, the country right now wouldn't be confused about the causes of the violence, and wouldn't be asking broad questions. There would probably be few queries or calls for reflection, and mostly definitive declarations blaming the bloodshed squarely on Islamic fundamentalism or black nationalism, respectively. Additionally, we would almost certainly hear demands that the government intensify the extant profiling systems already aimed at those groups.
Yet, because the the perpetrators in question in these shootings are white men and not ethnic or religious minorities, nobody is talking about demographic profiling them as a group. The discussion, instead, revolves around everything from gun control, to mental health services, to violence in entertainment – everything, that is, except trying to understanding why the composite of these killers is so similar across so many different massacres. This, even though there are plenty of reasons for that topic to be at least a part of the conversation.
He's right. In many cases, we don't know much about the killer's psyche, although they are usually described as "lonely" or "troubled" or "seemed autistic, now that I think about it." (This is a good time to note that the mentally ill are more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators.) Of course mental health should be a factor, but we should focus more on what we do know about these murderers: that there's obviously a direct link between growing up privileged and entitled and snapping when the world doesn't give you what you've been conditioned to feel you deserve: money, happiness, love, whatever. As Hugo pointed out, white men aren't more violent — rates of domestic violence are roughly the same across all ethnic groups — but "the less privileged you are, the less likely you are to take your violence outside of your family and your community."
This morning, Jessica Valenti tweeted a photo of an ad for the gun Adam Lanza used to murder 26 people. As you can see, it reads "Consider your man card reissued." The man-tastic fun doesn't stop there; check out Bushmaster Firearms' "Man Card" campaign. Apparently, some men are pussies who deserve to have their "man cards" revoked unless they buy guns to make themselves feel like their dicks are bigger.
Americans have fetishized the power and agency guns provide ever since the Revolutionary War; guns are such a pervasive part of our national consciousness that millions of people, mostly male, spend their downtime fantasizing about them via movies and video games. Even an unabashed gun-hater such as myself knows that most people who buy guns do so because they think it's the best way to protect their family if danger arises. But since we know civilian gun-owners don't actually stop mass murderers from gunning down innocent people, we no longer have the luxury of prioritizing macho daydreams over the mass murder of elementary school students — or allowing MRA-types to feel victimized because they can't do whatever they want whenever they want to do it.
That's not hyperbole; it's just the truth, and why we have to "inject" race into the discussion right now. Will we go there?