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Dec 16 2012

Nice White Boys Next Door and Mass Murder

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Standing in line at the California Science Center the day of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary school, my students wondered aloud about the race of the shooter.  “More than likely he was white,” they agreed. As the only people of color waiting to be admitted to the exhibit, their open question about race elicited visible unease from a group of elderly white women across the line from us.

According to a Mother Jones timeline of mass shootings from the 1980s to the present, the majority of American mass murderers have been white males.  The most infamous young killers—the Columbine High shooters, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and now Adam Lanza—share a common cultural theme and national narrative. “Deranged” loners who came from lower to upper middle class nuclear families, their murder sprees forever shattered white suburbia’s veneer of normalcy.  Over the past decade, the post-mass murder mantra has been grindingly familiar—“this couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t happen HERE, in our idyllic (white) suburban community.”  Catastrophic violence is implicitly marked as the province of the other, the inner city, the cesspit jungle where poor children (of color), according to GOP sage Newt Gingrich, have no work ethic and thus no “habit of I do this and you give me cash, unless it is illegal.”

And yet, methodically plotted acts of epic violence committed by young white males with mini arsenals aping video game assassins are increasingly the hallmark of “HERE”.  So no doubt the elderly white women’s unease came from a sense of deep existential displacement.  When you’ve been suckled on Ozzie and Harriet, its “hard” to have your whiteness referenced as a source of violence; especially by people of color.

As the unraced universal subject, white people are simply unaccustomed to being explicitly identified as white.  For many, the tired colorblind party line of white privilege means that just talking about race is racist.  Universal means normal, and even the most heinous white criminals (Gacy, Bundy, Dahmer, and the list goes on) are humanized by a back story of psychoanalysis, cable TV biopics, books, and pop culture reportage.  The wages of whiteness means not having to know the classic people of color ritual—i.e., that when big crime news breaks its pro forma for many African Americans and Latinos to find out the race of the perpetrator and then those of the victims.  If the perpetrator is white there is a collective sigh of relief that Middle America won’t have another dark savage, immigrant or Muslim community to demonize.  If the victims are of color, there is a short window before the media’s attention fades (ala the August massacre of six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin) and shifts to more important matters like Lindsey Lohan or missing white girls.

Black and brown children learn very early on that perceptions of race and criminality are intimately connected.  In high school when my friends and I found ourselves at the business end of Inglewood PD officers’ rifles because someone in our car “looked” like a burglary suspect, it was a rite of passage initiation.  The killing of African American teenager Trayvon Martin was a lightening rod because American youth of color saw the failure to bring his killer to justice as symptomatic of the devaluation of their lives.  Guilty until proven innocent, youth of color never have the privilege of being universally perceived as the “nice” boy (as Lanza has been described) or girl next door that wouldn’t hurt a fly.

According to a 2010 Blair-Rockefeller survey, many whites in post-racial America believe that blacks and Latinos are more lazy, unintelligent, and untrustworthy than either whites or Asians. If white Middle America views people of color as not having “white” values and “white” aptitude levels, then it’s no mystery why mainstream media pathologize people of color as naturally criminal and violent.  Black criminality can be boiled down to a rancid stew of shiftlessness, absentee fatherhood, and irresponsible motherhood.  Latino criminality stems from too much babymaking and gangbanging.  But like the moribund immigrant urban jungle of 19th  social reformer Jacob Riis’ nightmares, it’s the “inner city” that’s the guilty co-defendant.

Nonetheless, mass murder in an urban context is rare and mass shootings in schools of color are virtually unheard of.  Homicide is a leading cause of death for young African American men.  But contrary to the rap stereotype of Glock-toting men of color, an overwhelming majority of people of color are pro-gun control, while the majority of the white electorate is not.  The high school assailants in the Littleton, Colorado, the Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Santee, California shootings were steeped in a NRA besotted gun culture that fetishizes readily available firearms as the ultimate medium for violent white masculinity.

However, these youth were instantly transformed into symbols of troubled, tragically “misunderstood” teens.  National conversations about the perils of bullying dominated the airwaves.  It was accepted that these tragic figures were “our boys,” our recklessly wasted youth.  It was conventional wisdom that preventive mental health resources could have minimized their inner turmoil.  As the bloggers Three Sonorans note in their piece, “White Privilege and Mass Murder in America,” “whenever white men commit mass murders it is just a freak isolated incident, but when we look at other crime statistics for minorities the reason given is that it is something innate to their culture, to their family.  It is those people.”

With Columbine there was tacit understanding that these boys’ acts were symptomatic of a potentially imperiled national heritage.  Conversely, any time violence erupts in a black or Latino context it’s a racial indictment, an indictment of a community, not a reflection on the rogue acts of lost boys from salt of the earth homes.

As my students and I left the Science center, bracing for more news about the scope of the attack, it was clear that the tragedy would dominate the news for weeks to come.  The senseless slaughter of children from the “perfect” town may finally prompt serious bipartisan legislation to curb the barbaric gun lobby. But it will not prompt analysis of the violent masculinity at the heart of whiteness.  And if any of these nice white boy shooters had been black the national sentiment would have echoed the biting comment made by my student Jamion: “Send those niggers back to Africa.”

37 comments

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  1. 1
    Fred Salvador, Onion Jumbler

    But it will not prompt analysis of the violent masculinity at the heart of whiteness.

    This would be nice, although a first step needs to be forcing middle-class whites to accept that violent masculinity exists as a facet of whiteness every bit as much as it exists as a facet of blackness, or of brownness, or of Asian-ness. Lots of middle class whites are willing to make this concession if we’re talking about the violent masculinity present in whites from south Boston or rural Alabama, but are blind to the instantiations of that self-same violent masculinity amongst leafy suburb communities. Even when it manifests itself as yet another mass shooting committed by the son of a white, middle-class family.

  2. 2
    No One

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, criminals rarely commit suicide upon the resolution of their crime. The shooting spree/suicide is in a class of it’s own. It’s not about survival (no matter the inappropriateness of the method), it’s about coping mechanisms. Or lack thereof.

  3. 3
    Brad

    “aping video game assassins”
    OH fuck right off. You should know better than that. Video game panic is as ludicrous, baseless, and irresponsible as the music panic of the 70′s and the D&D panic of the 80′s were. How many millions of middle class white boys play “violent” video games and don’t shoot up the place? “Skeptic” is in the name of the blog for crying out loud.

    Rest of the article is spot on though.

  4. 4
    N_J

    Wow. Just wow. *shakes head sadly*

  5. 5
    Pitchguest

    So we have Sikivu Hutchinson claiming that Richard Dawkins is a “superstar, white male atheist” who has “institutionalised a very narrow prescriptive, white supremacist, patriarchal version of atheism” and it’s shoved under the rug.

    Now as a general statement, it’s “violent masculinity at the heart of whiteness”? Are we supposed to take this seriously? Are we supposed to take this insipid, ridiculous assertion as anything other than a declaration of radical feminism? How many times does she mention “whiteness” in this article, as though it has any merit of her argument? Not in a million years would I use the term “blackness” to describe “black behaviour”, nor would I be so quick to simplify it as such. Oh, and as a brief aside attempt for a bit of videogame guilt. Isn’t she precious? At what point during these sweeping generalisations do we say enough, and rule Sikivu Hutchinson for what she really is? An insane, racist radical feminist.

    1. 5.1
      annalise

      Pitchguest,

      Two things come to mind: 1) You must have no knowledge whatsoever of critical whiteness studies and how the term “whiteness” is now a part of the sociological imagination; and,

      2) What is your definition of feminist? I don’t suspect you have much knowledge of the history and the use of this term either.

      That notwithstanding, what violent and dismissive (anti-human) language you use against Sikivu to get your point across; indeed, it is the very epitome of white supremacist, patriarchal behavior. If you don’t know what these terms mean, I recommend looking them up before going off behind the comfort of your computer sheet, I mean screen.

      Thus, I recommend two authors: The first is Theodore Allen, author or The Invention of the White Race: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, vol. 1 and vol 2. The other is Feminist Theory: from margin to center, by bell hooks.

      After getting an understanding for these terms, perhaps you will be able to engage the blog with more intelligence and with a little less anger and defensiveness.

      1. fredericksparks

        what she said :)

        1. annalise

          Frederick,

          How ironic that this commentator resorted to name-calling and aggression following the violent events of last week. Yes, violent masculinity IS at the heart of whiteness. And, speaking of, I recommend one further book:

          “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege” by Robert Jensen, who is a white male.

    2. 5.2
      blackskeptics

      Thanks Annalise and Frederick for smacking down the smear tactics. To the troll posse wallowing in ahistoricism:

      Whiteness has historically been constructed as a socioeconomic system of racial oppositionality based on the purity, moral sanctity and cultural superiority of whites as the universal subject. Violent masculinity has been critical to institutionalizing and normalizing white supremacist domination from the advent of racial slavery (in which black women’s bodies were the “breeder” engines of the slavocracy — slave status was determined by the condition of one’s mother and under mid-17th century colonial law blacks who converted to Christianity were not eligible for freedom) to Jim Crow (in which the government’s sanction of violent racial terrorism, rape, lynchings and dispossession of blacks from their land and property were the cornerstone of white citizenship) to the current regime of de facto segregation based on mass incarceration, racial profiling and spatial apartheid. All of these regimes of power turn on the violent policing of the bodies of racial others (in the media as perpetual criminals and jezebels; in urban communities as the pathological shiftless breeder “welfare queens”; in schools as over-suspended and over-expelled ineducable delinquents; in white suburban neighborhoods as savage interlopers driving down white property values; and in the criminal justice system with racially disparate conviction, sentencing and incarceration rates) and the conferral of greater socioeconomic, physical and legal mobility onto whites regardless of class status. Denying African Americans the right to bear arms (as well as the right of assembly) and conferring it onto poor whites was one of the key pre-revolutionary war era strategies (e.g., Bacon’s Rebellion 1676) used to confer white class advantage onto the white underclass. Physical mobility, the right to bear arms, the right to property, and the right of freedom of speech further secured white working class personhood in an era in which class divisions amongst whites were informed by the remnants of white indentured servitude and ethnic hierarchies (i.e., discrimination against non-Anglo whites). The white nationalist uprisings that have rocked this country since Obama’s election are part of this legacy whereby white patriarchy crystallizes around misogynist Christian fundamentalism, homophobia and pro gun rights extremism. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there has been a dramatic uptick in anti-Obama assassination threats (relative to that of the two previous WH occupants), secessionist petitions and militia/survivalist movement organizing all arrayed around a militant right to bear arms as the ultimate signifier of white anti-government sovereign citizenship.

      So where are the black and Latino militias stockpiling arms, conducting survivalist training and plotting government overthrow in the backwoods of Montana, Michigan, et al under the radar of FBI scrutiny?

      1. blackskeptics

        See also Frederick’s excellent article on gun rights and the social construction of white citizenship: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blackskeptics/2012/12/20/the-nra-the-kkk-and-the-2nd-amendments-black-history/

  6. 6
    Lily

    Brad, there are plenty of studies that cite that the constant barrage we get of violence (in video games, movies and other media) DO desensitize us. I think the author hit a raw nerve with you, because you like pretending to kill people from the safety of your sofa. Stop being so defensive.

  7. 7
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    I rather like that phrase, “violent masculinity at the heart of whiteness.” Much of whiteness is predicated on acceptable times to commit violence, and on the use of violence or violent metaphors/threats to assert dominance because being white is predicated on dominance and being ‘better than’.

    I think it’s such a nice, succinct summary of some of the scarier things about being a white person and a white woman. It’s been my experience that it’s hard, in white culture, to even have conversations without some sort of violence entering the conversation. In my experience dating white men, there is always some sort of competition for dominance involved, some element of incredible ignorance about the experience of others and the effect of their actions. No matter how well-meaning, no matter how careful they are, and I am, it creeps into the conversation, into our actions.

    I won’t try to be a completely nonviolent person, because I know what my fellow white people can get up to and I just don’t have it in me. But I try to keep this kind of thing in mind as I pay attention to my own thoughts and behaviors, to note how many times this is the default to which my mind defers.

  8. 8
    ShowMetheData

    Pirchguest said:

    Now as a general statement, it’s “violent masculinity at the heart of whiteness”? Are we supposed to take this seriously?

    We have set up black masculinity as a violent masculinity – very seriously
    – 87% of the people under NYPD ‘s “stop & frisk” policy are black/chicano
    This right to kill black people attitude and even law(Stand Your Ground)
    – we even had a case where a young black guy was in the police sketch – but the criminal was a white, balding, middle-aged guy
    in sum: Society is now socialized to view black masculinity as criminal

    Because these school shootings are done by a majority of white guys, we should examine it.
    These white killers felt:
    – They had the right to collect guns without being questioned
    – They had a right to kill dozens because the world was not as they wanted it

    So examine it and quit hiding behind “them are radical feminists” schtick – that won’t make those white killers darker or stop the killing

  9. 9
    scotthill

    The assertion that white’s are more likely to be serial killers is untrue.

    http://www.kevinnelson.com/race-breakdown-of-serial-killers-657

    From the article…
    “Walsh identified 90 African American and 323 white American serial murderers, all men operating between 1945 and 2004. …African American serial killers made up 22% of Walsh’s sample, a figure in close agreement Hickey’s enumeration. But, as blacks number well below 22% of the U.S. population, they are actually overrepresented among the ranks of serial killers — roughly by a factor of 2.”

    and…

    “roughly 0.018 percent of adult white males, 0.033 percent of adult black males and 0.0025 percent of adult Hispanic males have values of criminality in the range of serial murderers. ”

    and…

    “Arguably the most famous black serial killer is Wayne Williams, who was suspected of murdering 29 black boys in the Atlanta area.”

    I think that what makes a person a good Skeptic is the ability to be skeptical of one’s own beliefs, where it might be to uncomfortable to do so. Otherwise you are just cherry-picking data to promote an ideology.

  10. 10
    loofasword

    The assertion that white’s are more likely to be serial killers is untrue.

    You do realize that the first mention of serial killers is in the reply you posted, right? Our host is talking about mass murderers/spree murderers. They’re a different beast, and overwhelmingly white.

    1. 10.1
      scotthill

      I would argue that a serial killer is a type of mass murderer. …but I understand the distinction you are making.

      With that in mind, I would offer that it is still untrue that mass murders are disproportionately white.

      http://www.omnilogos.com/2011/05/17/profiling-mass-murderer/

      From that article….
      “One source stated that mass murder, or “sudden mass assault by a single individual” (SMASI), broke down demographically as 77% White offenders, 15% Black, and 7% other, whereas overall homicide rates reported in a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics 30-year study were 51% White, 47% Black, and 2% other. ”

      Black folks are about 13% of the population, by recent census reports. These are the only statistical references I found after a quick search. Interestingly, there are many sites that merely assert whites are more likely, without data to back it up, as has been done here. I’d be interested in seeing any other contrary statistical evidence, though — it was just a five-minute google search. It’s the minimum you would expect anyone to do before posting this type of article.

      1. blackskeptics

        They are disproportionately white and male — not just white, i.e., approximatley half of the overall white population. And if we break it down further and get more specific with ethnic lineage, mass murderers are disproportionately non-Hispanic white males of European descent (non-Hispanic whites are approximately 64% of the population)

        “While the majority of all violent crimes are perpetuated by men, American mass murders in particular seem to be the territory of white men. The Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime writes that, “Compared with assailants who kill but one victim, mass murderers are overwhelmingly likely to be male, [and] are far more likely to be white,” and the numbers prove it. According to Wikipedia, 75% of the rampage killings on US record were perpetrated by white males, as were 71% of massacres in schools, and 60% of workplace rampages – a seriously disproportionate number for the number of white males that make up the general population. Clearly, there is more at play here than the advantage of opportunity.”
        Read more at http://bossip.com/698648/race-matters-study-claims-white-men-are-more-likely-to-commit-mass-murders-than-blacks-or-any-other-racial-group/#iVLzPDRm9Gu2mywX.99

        http://lawsonry.com/2012/08/the-entitlement-complex-of-mass-murdering-white-men.html

        Mother Jones graphic timeline (with 6 of 62 mass murders committed by people of color)

        http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

  11. 11
    blackskeptics

    You need to reread the article (perhaps consult a dictionary) and check your facts. The post did not claim that white men are more likely to be “serial killers.” There is a difference between mass murder and serial murder.

    1. 11.1
      scotthill

      See above.

      1. bachalon

        There is a clear difference between mass murderers, spree killers, and serial killers. This is basic psychopathology: mass murderers kill their victims during a single time frame, spree killings usually happen over a longer period of time with stop then start factor, and serial killers have a cool down period between what are usually single victims.

        This is an important distinction.

        1. artistformerlyknownascheese

          Not to confuse people, but isn’t there a difference between serial killers, mass murderers, spree killers AND rampage killers?

          Someone recap and tell me which one we’re dealing with here. Mass murderers are disproportionately white and male? Or spree killers are? Or both?

  12. 12
    Brad

    Brad, there are plenty of studies that cite that the constant barrage we get of violence (in video games, movies and other media) DO desensitize us. I think the author hit a raw nerve with you, because you like pretending to kill people from the safety of your sofa. Stop being so defensive.

    Desensitization doesn’t cause behavior, it just dampens reactions. A gamer might be less disturbed by some horror, but they are no more likely to commit violence than anybody else. Again, “skeptic” is in the name of the blog and confusing not-even-meaningful-correlation with causation is ridiculous.

  13. 13
    davidct

    I don’t know if it is good or bad but I never think of someone of color associated with these horrific events. I was once surprised when the killer was Asian. I hope that does not make me a racist of some kind. The blatant racism is easy to avoid but more subtle thinking flaws are often hard to see in yourself.

  14. 14
    Avicenna

    Lily –

    If videogames make people violent then why do only white people act on it? I don’t see Indians running around shooting schools up in the USA and UK. Same for black people. Are you suggesting that we don’t play videogames?

    I don’t see Koreans or Japanese kids shooting up schools. Black kid’s violence is blamed on rap music (despite more white kids listening to rap) and I know that any violence brown kids commit is usually blamed on “terrorism”.

    Videogames do not cause violence. You cannot shoot a gun just because you can in a videogame. Last I heard the WASD keys and a mouse are not the preferred method of firing a gun. Even the most gung ho of videogames are more about dexterity than shooting guns wildly at people.

    There is a fascination with guns that borders on the pornographic with americans. To many americans they are not “guns” they are freedom, safety and a public service all rolled into one. They can do no wrong, only the mortals that wield them… They are the great equaliser since all men are equal with a gun in their hands.

    When american freedoms were eroded people defended the right to own guns more than the right to privacy because people thought that guns protect freedom…

    BTW? The american term for this is “Going Postal” however as a form of culturally acceptable ways of going mad (AKA if you think you are going mad you will behave in a set pattern a la Wendigo Psychosis) it is also a South east asian occurrence too. It is called Running Amok and was first noticed in places like Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

    The origins were blamed initially on “spirits”. People who ran amok in malay culture were not demonised or punished because they were not in control of their bodies at the time. In a typical case of running amok, a male who has shown no previous sign of anger or any inclination to violence will acquire a weapon, traditionally a sword or dagger, but presently a variety of weapons are used, and in a sudden frenzy, will attempt to kill or seriously injure anyone he encounters. Amok typically takes place in a well populated or crowded area. Amok episodes of this kind normally end with the attacker being killed by bystanders or committing suicide, eliciting theories that amok may be a form of intentional suicide in cultures where suicide is heavily stigmatized… But that’s just a hypothesis so far. Individuals who are not stopped in this way often are found unconscious and claiming amnesia.

    Amok is an actual DSM categorisation.

  15. 15
    MatthewLaboratory

    If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns

    1. 15.1
      BinJabreel

      Good. They’re the people who need them.

    2. 15.2
      Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      And if we outlaw gunmen rampaging through schools, only outlaw gunmen will rampage through schools. Your point?

  16. 16
    captainahags

    Wow, MatthewLaboratory, you have the miraculous ability to cross-post the exact same comment on various blogs, without ever adding anything to the discussion or indicating any hint of original thought. You have, in fact, failed the Turing test. Hope the echo chamber doesn’t get too loud…

    @Scotthill #9
    I’m sure that if you looked at the statistics for whites vs. nonwhites convicted of crimes, you would find minorities overrepresented and whites underrepresented. Would you say that this is because members of minority groups commit crimes at a frequency vastly higher than white people, or that perhaps there are other factors at play? And do you think that these other factors, if present, might also influence convicted serial killers?

  17. 17
    Ed

    I think it’s time our world embrace what science has revealed in the 21st century. Race is an illusion of ignorance. Much of what divides us is nothing more than cultural differences. White, black, red or green you are a product of your time and place in history.

  18. 18
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Are we supposed to take this insipid, ridiculous assertion as anything other than a declaration of radical feminism? How many times does she mention “whiteness” in this article, as though it has any merit of her argument? Not in a million years would I use the term “blackness” to describe “black behaviour”, nor would I be so quick to simplify it as such

    Translation: My white male privilege disagrees with your facts, therefore you’re wrong!

  19. 19
    No One

    Lack of coping skills, mal-socializeation, playing 1st person shooter games, and access to firearms seem to be common denominators in the spree/suicide school killings. I suspect a certain amount of copy-catting is rattling around in the mix also. The individual components don’t need to be lethal, but when over-layed over the American tradition of “justified” killing (see movies, video games, TV shows)…

  20. 20
    Stacy

    Mass murders, especially school shootings since the 1980s seem to have been disproportionately perpetrated by young white males. One hypothesis is that these men possess a sense of aggrieved entitlement:
    http://www.examiner.com/article/connecticut-shooting-white-males-and-mass-murder
    (Article by William Hamby.)

    Here’s a paper referenced by Hamby. It’s behind a paywall, though. The abstract mentions masculinity, but not race: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=008827323800273;res=IELFSC

  21. 21
    CplFerro

    Dear Sikivu Hutchison,

    Your article interested me, but I was saddened to see the n-word at the end. Don’t talk about equality between the races and then use a word white folk are verboten to use.

    Cpl Ferro

    1. 21.1
      Winterwind

      Clearly the fact that white people aren’t allowed to use a racial slur is the gravest injustice here.

    2. 21.2
      aztekenprinzessin

      @21. CplFerro: You can say the n-word as loud and as often as you want to. What you’re crying about here is that you don’t get the additional privilege of not being punched in the teeth for doing so.
      Seriously, get over yourself.
      You get to call *yourself* and *yours* whatever the fuck you like without any social sanction, so let black people do the same.
      You not having all the privileges at all times doesn’t mean that you’re being treated unfairly.

  22. 22
  23. 23
    =8)-DX

    Lack of coping skills, mal-socializeation, playing 1st person shooter games, and access to firearms seem to be common denominators in the spree/suicide school killings. [my emphasis]

    Correlation does not imply causation. Brushing teeth and washing one’s hands going to the loo are probably also common denominators. Violence in computer games (and books and music and other kinds of fiction) have not been shown to directly cause violent behaviour.

    And why 1st person shooters? Why not 3rd person shooters? Platform games? RPGs? RTSs?
    The fact is that a majority of people have no problem distinguishing between a simulated game environment and reality. People who havbe problems with this or are attracted to violence in culture will always be able to find games, books or other artifacts to suit their tastes and of course, most importantly of all correlation does not imply causation.

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