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Jul 24 2013

The racialization of danger

Tim Wise reposts an essay from 15 years ago; it’s remarkable for how nothing has changed since. It’s about this peculiar asymmetry in which, when a black person commits a crime, most people are quick to generalize the behavior to their race; when a when a white person commits a crime, blame falls on the individual. I thought it was enlightening to see the litany of crimes primarily committed by white people.

It’s amazing how many crazy whites there are, none of whom feel the wrath of the racial pathology police as a result of their depravity. Killing parents is among our specialties. So in 1994, a white guy in New York killed his mom for serving the wrong pizza; last year, a white kid in Alabama killed his parents with an axe and sledgehammer; and in 1996, Rod Ferrell, leader of a “vampire cult” in Murray, Kentucky, bludgeoned another member’s parents to death and along with the victims’ daughter, drank their blood so as to “cross over to the gates of hell.” Which brings me to rule number one for identifying the race of criminals. If the crime involved vampirism, Satan worship, or cannibalism, you can bet your ass the perp was white. Never fails. But you’ll never hear anyone ask what it is about white parents that makes their children want to cut off their heads and boil them in soup pots.

Ditto for infanticide. When Susan Smith drowned her boys in South Carolina, she had hundreds of people looking for a mythical Black male carjacker, because that’s what danger looks like in the white imagination. We should have known better, especially when you consider how many white folks off their kids: like Brian Peterson and Amy Grossberg, in Delaware, who dumped their newborn in the garbage; or the New Jersey girl at her prom who did the same in the school bathroom; or Brian Stewart, from St. Louis who injected his son with the AIDS virus to avoid paying child support; or the Pittsburgh father who bludgeoned his 5-year old twins to death when they couldn’t find their Power Ranger masks, and were late for day care; or the white babysitter outside Chicago who bound two kids with duct tape, before shooting them and turning the gun on himself. None of these folks’ race was offered as a possible factor in their crimes. No one is writing books about the genetic or white cultural causes of such behavior. In 1995, when a poor Latina killed her daughter in New York by smashing her head against a wall, every major news source in America covered the tragedy, and focused on her “underclass” status. But when a white Arizona man the same month decapitated his son because he was convinced the child was possessed by the devil, coverage was sparse, and mention of race or cultural background was nowhere to be found.

Or consider thrill killing, spree killing, and animal mutilation: three other white favorites that occur without racial identification of the persons involved. In October 1997, a white male teen obsessed with Jeffrey Dahmer killed a 13-year old to “see what it feels like.” In New Jersey, a 15-year old white male killed an 11-year old selling candy door-to-door, but only after sexually assaulting him. Late last year, a white couple in California was arrested for “hunting women,” and torturing and mutilating them in the back of their van. At Indiana University, a white male burned four cats alive in a lab, while in Martin, Tennessee, two white teens set a duck on fire at the city’s recreational complex, and in Missouri, two white teens killed 23 cats for fun, prompting their white neighbors to say, not that there’s something wrong with white kids today, but rather, “boys will be boys.”

So all that’s what my genes predispose me to do…good to know. If people are going to assign genetic causes to black people’s behavior, it’s equally legitimate to do the same to use white people, right?

His prescription for what we ought to do about it did make me cringe a bit, though.

And the next time you hear about some flesh-eating, Satan-worshiping teenager who just pickled his grandma, you’ll know his race before you even see his face on the nightly news, and you’ll know that if he’d just spent a little more time in church with the Black folks, none of this might ever have had to happen.

34 comments

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  1. 1
    anuran

    Mass shooting is a privileged White male crime. Maybe it’s time to take guns out of their hands and give them to people who really need to defend themselves against this violent, erratic minority, namely people of color and women

  2. 2
    Zdeno Czarnowiejski

    I feel that the same is happening to Muslims in Europe. Every time one of them commits an awful crime or a riot breaks there are voices that all Muslims are the same. And to tell the truth, most of them are hard working, underpaid folks who suffer because of mindless radicals.

  3. 3
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Don’t forget the serial killers — majority white and male. (The few women and people of color are notable precisely because they are an aberration from the pattern.)

  4. 4
    marko

    A morning of Warren Zevon for me then.

  5. 5
    marko

    Sorry, screwed up the link…
    Excitable boy

  6. 6
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I feel that the same is happening to Muslims in Europe. Every time one of them commits an awful crime or a riot breaks there are voices that all Muslims are the same. And to tell the truth, most of them are hard working, underpaid folks who suffer because of mindless radicals.

    QFFT
    Just had the discussion with a friend:
    Her question: “When do Christians ever kill for their religion?”
    Me mentions examples like the Oklahoma bombing, like Breyvik.
    Her answer: But they’re just madmen!
    Me: Neofascists!
    Her: But they don’t want to kill me

  7. 7
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Paedophiles (by which I mean people with a sexual prediliction for prepubescent children, not anyone who commits statutory rape, which is how the media erroneously use it) are almost always white males too.

    …The majority of offenders incarcerated
    for crimes against juveniles were white
    (64 percent), were over 30 years old
    (51 percent), and had been married
    (56 percent)…

    (also scroll down to view figure 2).
    http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/offendersincarcerated.pdf

    @Giliell

    And that right there is the problem. Muslim radicals scare her because she’s part of their target group. Christian radicals don’t, because (in her head, due to group identity) they wouldn’t hurt her. Except of course they would.

    Also due to group identity; if she admitted that Breivik etc. were Christian radicals and not just “madmen”, she’d be tarring herself by extension, because she’s part of that group. Muslims, however, are a different group, so tarring them all with the same brush casts no negative aspersions on her.

  8. 8
    anuran

    Terrorists are Swarthy Sinister Orientals, Scar Angry Negroes, Inhuman Moozlums who hate us for our freedoms and the occasional hippie race-traitor eco-freak. Read their mail. Torture them. Throw them into a no-tell prison. Find their cellphone and blow up whoever happens to be carrying it.

    White Christians are “tax protesters” or “separatists” or or “pro-life” or “gun rights activists” or very rarely “militants”. But usually they’re “lone nuts”. They deserve every protection of the legal system. And they don’t reflect on Real Christians(tm).

    Excuse me while I throw up my own bunghole.

  9. 9
    Dunc

    Here’s a fun little Google experiment which came to me while I was reading some of the commentary surrounding the Zimmerman trial… Just search for the phrase “white on white crime”, without any quotes.

  10. 10
    laurentweppe

    I feel that the same is happening to Muslims in Europe. Every time one of them commits an awful crime or a riot breaks there are voices that all Muslims are the same

    Something that really grates me is that when a petty would-be domestic tyrant ends up killing a female member of his family (wife, sister, daughter, etc…), the media tends to call this crime “honor killing” if the killer is Muslim and “Crime of Passion”, or “Family Tragedy” otherwise. Self-proclaimed “experts” who are often little more than know-nothing know-it-alls start pontificating about the “incompatibilities” between “their culture” and “ours”, expecting to be seen as erudite and dispationate intellectuals for their public indulging in ethnic determinism.

  11. 11
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Thumper
    Well, I told her that I’m reasonably much more afraid of people talking on their mobiles while driving because I’m much more likely to get killed or hurt by them and she said “oh you can’t compare that, one is murder and the other one an accident”
    I’m still waiting for her reasonable argument as to what difference that makes to the dead person…

  12. 12
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    It’s interesting that animal abuse is included– in New York, we have “Buster’s Law” which strengthens the penalties for abusing domesticated animals. “Buster” was a kitten that was set on fire and although animal abuse is a depressingly common occurrence, this story hit the news (and later the state lege) because the perpetrator was a black teenager.

  13. 13
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Giliell

    Your last literally had me in fits of laughter :) Surely your friend is indulging in some logical fallacy there, but I can’t for the life of me work out which one…

    She appears to be of the opinion that the dead person will be made to feel better by the fact that their death was accidental…

    @Alexandra

    Your comment stopped me laughing pretty quickly :(

  14. 14
  15. 15
    Alverant

    Thumper #13
    It’s the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy. She implied that christians who commit terrorist acts shouldn’t be called “christian terrorists”, they’re “madman” or “not really christian” or whatever because “real” christians can’t be terrorists.

  16. 16
    timgueguen

    I wonder what she thinks of the IRA. Of course the IRA probably never considered an attack on the US because it would have cost them revenue from Irish Americans.

  17. 17
    dianne

    So…time to take guns away from white men because they’re innately violent and can’t handle the responsibility?

  18. 18
    witlesschum

    Methinks Wise was just cracking wise with the church part. It’s ironic that conservatives can often think both than Christianity is the cure-all for everything that ails society and also think black people (or for the more polite, black culture) are inferior and criminal, given that American blacks are very, very religious.

    Also, my attempt at explaining what’s going on pithily: conservative white people are specifically het up about the media’s treatment of George Zimmerman because they think it treated him like a black man.

  19. 19
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Speaking of Jeffrey Dahmer, two of his victims (the Sinthasophones) were brothers. And were Asian. At some point, Konerak Sinthasomphone managed to escape after the torture started, and found some cops. He was severely disoriented, but Dahmer managed to convince the cops that they were lovers and had just had an argument (Sinthasomphone was 14, naked, didn’t speak English well, and bleeding profusely from his anus). The cops turned him back over to Dahmer, who killed him that very night. In fact, they entered Dahmer’s apartment, and noted an odd smell (this was the decomposing corpse of Dahmer’s previous victim).

    Afterwards, the cops were recorded in their squad car joking about this situation.

    How much do you want to bet that Dahmer’s status as a white middle-class man (Army veteran, even) protected him until the evidence was overwhelming?

    Of course, nowadays, you’ll see much of the focus on Dahmer’s pathology centered on the fact that he was gay – which is nonsense. If Dahmer had been straight, his victims would have been women – and if OTHER serial killers are any indication, he would have racked up a higher body count before anyone cared.

  20. 20
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Sorry, Thumper. :(

  21. 21
    dianne

    @Esteleth: It almost certainly did. Perhaps men of races other than white don’t often become serial killers because they get caught before they can rack up much of a body count. Or maybe they are and do and don’t get much attention as long as they seek victims who are also non-white.

  22. 22
    garnetstar

    The FBI once classified murderers on a sadism scale, from those who weren’t interested in that, to those who incorporated that somewhat into their crimes, to those who only committed crimes because they enjoyed torture, and had to murder the victim(s) afterwards to keep them quiet.

    Going up the scale, as they approached men whose sole interest was sadism for the fun of it, the perpetrators became exclusively white. In fact, the FBI was able to correlate whiteness with ever-increasing enjoyment of torturing people.

    Can’t figure out where that comes from.

  23. 23
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Alverant #15

    Thanks :) But I’m referring to Giliell’s friend’s contention that you should be more worried about terrorists than distracted drivers, despite the fact that you are more likely to be killed by the latter, because the distracted driver is “only an accident”. In Giliell’s post at #6, Giliell’s friend is indeed indulging in the No True Scotsman.

    @dianne

    I asssume #17 was intentionally ironic?

    @Alexandra

    No worries! I need to know about these things, even if they are fucking depressing.

  24. 24
    dianne

    Relax, Thumper, it was meant ironically. Unlike proposals to single out people who might possibly be Islamic for special screening in airports.

  25. 25
    smhll

    I want to underline the idea of the default human being.

    I think because in the West, in the past, almost all power and all media was in the hands of white men between the ages of 20 and 55, then being that person (that fits those criteria) just makes you neutral, just “a person” or “a human being” with no extra adjectives needed to describe you.

    If age is the reason someone doesn’t fit the category I defined, then a person will be additionally described as a teenager or as elderly. Straight people and cis people are just described as “people” and the adjective is omitted. But “gay” and “trans” are somehow defining characteristics that always have to be mentioned. A woman isn’t just described as “a person”, her gender is always mentioned. If someone is not racially white or is an immigrant or newcomer, that gets mentioned.

    This speech pattern is almost invisible to people who are treated as the norm, i.e. white men in the middle of their lives. Until you describe them as “white” or “male” and then they may feel affronted that you mentioned a characteristic that usually goes unmentioned. (If you are never “adjectived” like this, if people always categorize you as “a person”, what I am saying here may not seem meaningful the first time you read it. Start looking for the pattern, especially in newspaper articles or the like.)

    Somehow, straight white men between 20 and say 55 are people and individuals. But everyone outside of that segment is explained and understood as a group member when looking at the question “why are they like that?” and “why did they do that?”

  26. 26
    moarscienceplz

    Thumper #7

    According to your own statistics, more than 1 out of 3 pedophiles are non-white. So it’s a little hyperbolic to say pedophiles “are almost always white males”. Sure, 64% is definitely a majority, but when you take into account the fact that that whites still make up more than 50% of the American population it’s not such a lopsided figure as you make out. Also, many Hispanics self-identify as white, so that might also factor in to a higher percentage. Your thesis may still be correct, but race does not seem to be such an overwhelming factor as your commentary would imply.

  27. 27
    fredericksparks

    “At some point, Konerak Sinthasomphone managed to escape after the torture started, and found some cops. He was severely disoriented, but Dahmer managed to convince the cops that they were lovers and had just had an argument”

    The other part of that story was that two African American women were the ones who initially spotted Konerak and they called the police. They insisted to the police that his life was in danger, but of course the police believed white Dahmer over them.

  28. 28
    Winters

    Patrice O’Neal had a great bit on this. Talking about how black people have to defend their criminals. I searched all over youtube and couldn’t find it. I believe it’s on his “Mr. P” album though.

  29. 29
    John Horstman

    White people are terrifying; the scariest neighborhoods are hyper-conformist exurban subdivisions.

  30. 30
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    True, fredericksparks. I’m also so infuriated that the cops are presented with an obviously quite young person who is (1) naked (2) severely disoriented (3) bleeding profusely from his anus and they return him to someone who identified himself as his partner. I mean, even if Dahmer wasn’t a serial killer, that just screams “DV situation” to me.

  31. 31
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    I’m halfway tempted to do a cross-section of Dahmer’s victims and see how many of them were otherwise “normal” middle-class (or up) white guys and how many were lower-income, PoC, addicts, and/or sex workers.

    I’d bet that Dahmer’s eventual arrest came when either (1) he got sloppy and the evidence was too overwhelming to ignore or that (2) he went after someone who wasn’t “disposable.”

  32. 32
    David Marjanović

    I wonder what she thinks of the IRA. Of course the IRA probably never considered an attack on the US because it would have cost them revenue from Irish Americans.

    Giliell doesn’t live in the US.

  33. 33
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    I do a bit when I teach where I ask students to identify white culture here in the US. It takes awhile for me to coax responses out of students, but violence, competitiveness, aggression and power are nearly always on the board after about ten minutes.

    We whiteys come from a culture here in the US highly geared to dominance, brutality and violence. Pity it’s hard for my white students to understand what my non-white students overwhelmingly know to be true: where whiteness is expressed here in the US as sine qua non white, it is expressed in threats (explicit and explicit).

  34. 34
    Rutee Katreya

    QFFT
    Just had the discussion with a friend:
    Her question: “When do Christians ever kill for their religion?”
    Me mentions examples like the Oklahoma bombing, like Breyvik.
    Her answer: But they’re just madmen!
    Me: Neofascists!
    Her: But they don’t want to kill me

    …What the fuck am I reading? Breyvik explicitly was okay with killing white people who were.. what the fuck was that guy’s choice of words? Whatever, he was cool with k illing any woman who wasn’t properly obedient until the rest of them got the message. So your friend isn’t just engaging in stupid rationalizations of bigotry, she’s also ignoring threats to her own person.

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