The Epidemic Of White Male Terrorism And Its Connection To White Privilege

Las Vegas Mourns After Largest Mass Shooting In U.S. History

Written By David J. Leonard

The headlines and descriptions of domestic terrorist, Stephen Paddock, made it clear that the mass murderer was white before the public even saw his face. As media outlets plastered the Internet with the picture of Marilou Danley, his girlfriend of color, the whiteness of the Las Vegas shooter was on full display.

TMZ noted that he doesn’t fit mass shooter profile.” Highlighting his resume, his likes/dislikes, and how he spent his retirement in quiet Mesquite, Nev., the press response has read more like an E-harmony profile than an effort to document a terrorist attack. Rather than searching for every indication of the shooter’s inherent criminality, which has been the case when people of color are at the center of violent acts, most media outlets failed to adequately chronicle how the shooting in Las Vegas was yet another mass shooting. The massacre is part of a larger epidemic of white-on-white violence that has shattered lives, destroyed communities, and left the nation looking at itself in a mirror reflecting violence and despair.

report in The Washington Post noted that while he was “quiet” and lived like “a college freshman,” he was just a regular guy who drove a modest car and often wore khakis and a polo shirt. Another piece in The Washington Post noted how “Paddock’s family was never the same following the trauma” of his father’s arrest for bank robbery. And no one drew causal correlations between Paddock’s father’s criminal background and Paddock’s criminal acts as would have been the case if Paddock wasn’t white.

Many articles centered his brother’s perspective. His brother described him as a Joe Lunch Bucket, albeit with gold and diamonds. “He’s just a guy. He lived in Las Vegas. He played at the casinos. There’s nothing. That’s what’s so bizarre. No trouble with the law. No mental illness,” he noted.

A neighbor described Paddock as “normal.” Even strangers seemed to have liked him. A bartender at Peggy Sue’s, a spot Paddock and his girlfriend frequented, continue to support the narrative that the shooter was an average guy who had an occasional drink and liked karaoke. Paddock, to many people, isn’t what a terrorist looks like? Terrorists, indeed, to many people don’t look like white men at all. Terrorists, mass shooters, and murderous criminals don’t look like Paddock or me.

The media has turned Paddock into an isolated and normal-individual-turned-violent murderer rather than another white male among a class of white men who have killed masses of people in the U.S.

Such narratives are unique to white male mass shooters. As are the efforts to humanize and to offer cultural autopsies that point to potential gambling addictions or mental illness as the reason behind a mass shooting rather than a pervasive evil inherent in white male killers.

The erasure of “white male” mass shooters from public discourse produces coverage that depicts Paddock and countless others as individuals who we must empathize with. Paddock deserves empathy because he is not the imagined Muslim terrorist, the criminal Latino immigrant, and the Black thug. Whereas they are terrorists and super predators who “terrorize communities,” who undermine the safety and tranquility of our communities, Paddock is refashioned as a sick man who deserved help.

The murderous rampage of Paddock, like so many white male domestic terrorists before him, has become a story about Haddock rather than the epidemic of white male shooters. “White men who resort to mass violence are consistently characterized primarily as isolated ‘lone wolves’ — in no way connected to one another — while the most problematic aspects of being white in America are given a pass that nobody else receives,” Shaun King wrote at The Intercept.

The numbers don’t lie. And Stephen Paddock is no exception.

While the average age of a mass shooter is 35, and while media narratives often focus on “kids,” that is when they are white, the history of mass shootings in America is one with ample examples of older shooters. In fact, many of these instances received national attention.

Just a few months ago, James Hoginson opened fire on a GOP softball practice, injuring five.

In 2015, Robert Lewis Dear opened fire on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, killing three and wounding nine others.

Five days earlier, James Houser, who was routinely described as a “drifter,” unloaded his weapon into a crowd watching TrainWreck, killing two people and wounding others.

Yet, what binds together those well-known high-school and college-age shooters, and those killers who are in their 50s and 60s, including Stephen Paddock, is that the majority of them are white men.

While representing only 31 percent of the population, white men account for over 54 percent of all shooters, according to Mother Jones. In 2015, that number was 63-64 percent.

In 2012, David Sirota, in his Salon article, “Time to Profile White Men,” noted that 70% of mass shooters were white men. Regardless of the different numbers that speak to varied definitions of what constitutes a mass shooting, it is clear that white men are overrepresented as mass shooters in the U.S. This isn’t surprising.

According to a 2013 University of Washington study, “Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity,” the authors wrote.

The epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S. is the consequence of white privilege. And just as guns threaten the safety and security of communities throughout the nation, so does white privilege.

Despite bringing 10 suitcases, all presumably carrying guns, ammunition, and his weapons of mass destruction, “Paddock aroused no suspicion from hotel staff even as he brought in 23 guns, some of them with scopes.” And despite having ”19 additional firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and the chemical tannerite, an explosive,” at his Mesquite home, his neighbors expressed shock that he could have committed such atrocities. Given how race shapes who is feared, who is imagined as dangerous, who fits profile of “thug,” terrorist, or criminal,it isn’t surprising that no one suspected that he might be preparing to kill so many innocent lives.

This is very different than those who emerged after “terrorist attacks” in the United States.  In the aftermath of the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, several people questioned the lack of attention from neighbors, blaming them for failing to report suspicious activities. Arguing that they should have known and alerted authorities, the narrative seemingly indicted their neighbors for the horrific shooting that resulted in the murder of 14 people and not the killer.

Race shapes our reaction to gun violence. The shootings in Dallas and Baton Rogue served as a moment to blast and criticize Black Lives Matter and an opportunity to connect the killing of three police officers and the wounding of three others to the Black community. But Paddock’s actions, like those committed by white mass shooting brethren, will not be pinned to the entire white community.

Each report of a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant becomes a referendum on both immigrants and the Latino community, but the Vegas shooter, like Dylann RoofJames HolmesAdam LanzaChris Harper ,and countless others, are turned into stories about lone wolves and not an epidemic of white male terrorists.

To be white is to be immune to the labels of terrorism despite the resulting fear of one’s violent rampage. To be white is to kill many people and still be humanized and centered in stories about one’s love for polo shirts and burritos. To be white is to compel questions and narratives that blame a killer’s actions on gambling, the impact of his father’s criminal record, and mental illness rather than his evil tendencies and actions. And from the perspective of this white male writer, to be white is to be complicit in the everyday violence of white supremacy—especially when we tell lies and not truths.

Edited for mb3-org.com

EXPLAINING WHITE PRIVILEGE TO A BROKE WHITE PERSON…

Trailer park

Gina Crosley-Corcoran
thefeministbreeder.com

 

Years ago, some feminist on the internet told me I was “Privileged.”

“THE FUCK!?!?” I said.

I came from the kind of Poor that people don’t want to believe still exists in this country. Have you ever spent a frigid northern Illinois winter without heat or running water? I have. At twelve years old, were you making ramen noodles in a coffee maker with water you fetched from a public bathroom? I was. Have you ever lived in a camper year round and used a random relative’s apartment as your mailing address? We did. Did you attend so many different elementary schools that you can only remember a quarter of their names? Welcome to my childhood.

So when that feminist told me I had “white privilege,” I told her that my white skin didn’t do shit to prevent me from experiencing poverty. Then, like any good, educated feminist would, she directed me to Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 now-famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

After one reads McIntosh’s powerful essay, it’s impossible to deny that being born with white skin in America affords people certain unearned privileges in life that people of another skin color simple are not afforded. For example:

  • “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”
  • “When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.”
  • “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”
  • “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”

If you read through the rest of the list, you can see how white people and people of color experience the world in two very different ways. BUT LISTEN: This is not said to make white people feel guilty about their privilege. It’s not your fault you were born with white skin and experience these privileges. BUT, whether you realize it or not, you DO benefit from it, and it IS your fault if you don’t maintain awareness of that fact.

I do understand McIntosh’s essay may rub some people the wrong way. There are several points on the list that I felt spoke more to the author’s status as a Middle Class person than a White Person. For example:

  • “If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area, which I can afford and in which I would want to live.”
  • “I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.”
  • “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.”
  • “If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.”

And there are so many more points in the essay where the word “race” could be substituted for the word “class” which would ultimately paint a very different picture. That is why I had such a hard time identifying with this essay for so long. When I first wrote about White Privilege years ago, I demanded to know why this White Woman felt that my experiences were the same as hers when no, my family most certainly could not rent housing “in an area which we could afford and want to live.”

And no, I couldn’t go shopping without fear in our low income neighborhoods.

The idea that any ol’ white person can find a publisher for a piece is most certainly a symptom of class privilege. Having come from a family of people who didn’t even graduate high school, who knew not a single academic or intellectual person, it would never occur to me to assume that I could be published. It is an absolute freak anomaly that I’m in graduate school considering not one person on either side of my family has a college degree. And it took me until my thirties to ever believe that someone from my stock could achieve such a thing. Poverty colors nearly everything about your perspective on opportunities for advancement in life. Middle class, educated people assume that anyone can achieve their goals if they work hard enough. Folks steeped in poverty rarely see a life past working at the gas station, making the rent on their trailer, and self-medicating with cigarettes and prescription drugs until they die of a heart attack. (I’ve just described one whole side of my family and the life I assumed I’d be living before I lucked out of it.)

I, maybe more than most people, can completely understand why broke white folks get pissed when the word “Privilege” is thrown around. As a child, I was constantly discriminated against because of my poverty and those wounds still run very deep. But luckily my college education introduced me to a more nuanced concept of Privilege; the term Intersectionality. The concept of Intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin color privilege, that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against. These are all things you are born into, not things you earned, that afford you opportunities others may not have. For example:

  • Citizenship – Simply being born in this country affords you certain privileges non-citizens will never access.
  • Class – Being born into a financially stable family can help guarantee your health, happiness, safety, education, intelligence, and future opportunities.
  • Sexual Orientation – By being born straight, every state in this country affords you privileges that non-straight folks have to fight the Supreme Court for.
  • Sex – By being born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying you’ll be raped and that a defense attorney will then blame it on what you were wearing.
  • Ability – By being born able bodied, you probably don’t have to plan your life around handicap access, braille, or other special needs.
  • Gender – By being born cisgendered, you aren’t worried that the restroom or locker room you use will invoke public outrage.
  • As you can see, belonging to one or more category of Privilege, especially being a Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Male, can be like winning a lottery you didn’t even know you were playing. But this is not to imply that any form of privilege is exactly the same as another or that people lacking in one area of privilege understand what it’s like to be lacking in other areas. Race discrimination is not equal to Sex Discrimination and so forth.

And listen, recognizing Privilege doesn’t mean suffering guilt or shame for your lot in life. Nobody’s saying that Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Males are all a bunch of assholes who don’t work hard for what they have. Recognizing Privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all.)

I know now that I AM Privileged in many ways. I am Privileged as a natural born white citizen. I am privileged as a cis-gendered woman. I am privileged as an able-bodied person. I am privileged that my first language is also our national language, and that I was born with an intellect and ambition that pulled me out of the poverty I was otherwise destined for. I was privileged to be able to marry my way “up” by partnering with a Privileged middle-class educated male who fully expected me to earn a college degree.

There are a million ways I experience Privilege, and some that I certainly don’t. But thankfully, Intersectionality allows us to examine these varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination while raising awareness of the results of multiple systems of oppression at work.

Edited for mb3-org.com