Why aren’t we having the conversation about white men and mass shootings?
For many years we have had public discourse about “black on black crime” and “gang violence.” The conversations are held on the news, in social media, in living rooms, in educational institutions and among organizations that work diligently to try to mend the gaping wounds in black communities.
I don’t know if I have ever heard public discourse about what is happening in the white community as it relates to violence in general but specifically the mass shooting incidents that have become far too common.
What I am wondering is…why aren’t we having that conversation?
Is there a wound?
Some of you reading this have already thought about the D.C. sniper(s) who were black or the naval shooter in 2013 who was black. Maybe you have thought of 1 or 2 other exceptions (San Bernardino, for example) – mass shootings that were not perpetrated by white boys or men. None of these killings or killers should be excused by any means.
My question is not about excusing anyone. My question goes to the heart of an apparent wound in the white community that is not being addressed.
I would like to know what that wound is and how we as Americans can address the toxicity that exists in our culture. It is common after these events to hear people say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” So let’s explore what is going on with people in our society.
Most of us would agree that people with shared characteristics and backgrounds have some common experiences and concerns. We readily discuss the common concerns of various minority groups. As far as I can tell, discussions about white men’s issues are masked in language like “rural” or even “white evangelical.” This is not to say that women are not included among those demographic specifiers. But in my experience when people speak of women they mention women, and when women are not mentioned the default human being is male.
Some reading this might also say “Hey these shooters are not representative of the majority of white men or white people.” That is a fair observation. No one likes to be grouped and potentially mis-characterized by the actions of others. Especially if you’re being compared to people that you don’t know and who are engaging in behaviors you don’t condone and in which you would never engage.
If you are following this line of thinking…welcome to the minority experience. We all take shortcuts sometimes as they relate to grouping people in order to explore and discuss their behavior, the meaning of it, and how it impacts others.
I don’t know why
I don’t know why white men are out shooting strangers. I have surmised that it has to do with rage and possibly even shame, combined with a lack of empathy…the shooters public profiles (and in some cases their writings and notes) reveal a resentment toward other people. Their common characteristics often include social challenges. Perhaps they are feeling small and ineffective or out of control. The things we see at times in domestic violence among intimates. But instead of with intimates, it is turned outward toward society.
When we see the photos of these shooters, their eyes are often vacant. There seems to be a plug that has been pulled. Perhaps that is the final detachment in a long string of events in which their ability to connect with their own humanity and that of others has diminished.
What I do know
What I do know is that it is a combination of dehumanization, detachment and a total lack of empathy that allows someone to commit these horrific murders. I also suspect that an element of entitlement is at the root of this behavior.
The idea that it is “my world and you’re just living in it.”
We have long known that white men are at the highest risk for suicide in our society. Mental health professionals also know that suicide and homicide are closely related. A person who is suicidal can become homicidal and the homicidal can also be suicidal. Not all homicidal or suicidal people have been treated or diagnosed with mental illness.
I contend that this mass shooting phenomenon has little to do directly with mental health. Rather it has more to do with societal health.
Murder is always devastating. It is not better or more palatable when people murder those closest to them. Somehow we have come to make sense of those types of murders. We don’t marvel at them like we should. Intimate murder doesn’t shock us as a culture like it should.
We are also unfortunately reaching a place where these mass shootings are not shocking us they way that they should.
When I teach about feelings I often employ the use of a feeling wheel. It has 6 basic emotions in the center- sad, mad, scared, peaceful, powerful, and joyful. As a society, we often associate anger with violence. I think that is a simplification. A person doesn’t have to be angry per se to be violent. They may have some underlying or even surface level feelings that look and sound like anger. Just think of how many times in a week you feel angry or frustrated. Generally, it doesn’t lead to you being aggressive toward others.
I contend that it is powerlessness or a feeling of being powerless that is a the root of most violence. Including the type of violence we are seeing among these white male mass shooters.
Racism & Entitlement
Why are they feeling powerless? Perhaps they feel that their institutions are being threatened and that there is not adequate place for them in society. At least not a place that they want to occupy. The truth is I don’t know. What I do know is there is a dangerous sociological virus that is spreading. It threatens our collective safety, well-being and peace of mind.
Our society is only as successful as there are adequate seats at the table for everyone. A good friend recently shared with me a radio interview with a discussion about the impact of racism and oppression on the collective psyche of black people. “When you discuss racism in America, people assume that you are criticizing America itself because that is how deep racism is sewn into the American fabric.”
Believing that one’s social group is somehow better or more supreme is a set up for us all. What happens when you find out that you and your life are ordinary? That you are not any more special than anyone else? I contend that you if you believe on a conscious or unconscious level that this world is yours and intended to be yours alone, then you feel quite comfortable making a name for yourself even if it is to be in infamy.
Even if that name is made by robbing people of their very lives and maiming and traumatizing countless others.
Copyright © 2017 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.