Category Archives: Race in the News

Reflections on Sandy Hook: Violent Masculinity and the Mental Illness of white Privilege

Whenever major stories hit the news, there are seismic waves of instant coverage and facebook opinions that collide in a perfect internet storm that keeps me distracted and somewhat furious for hours. Countless people compete for the most profound commentary, the most controversial analyses, and the most hard-hitting opinions as quickly as possible whether they are directly connected to the story or not. After watching this go down for several days, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. This is not a post about gun control, the breakdown of social services, or “bad parenting.” This post will not contribute to the very valid discourses that interrogate the excessive media attention given to violence in privileged white spaces where events like this “just don’t happen.” This is a not post that is specifically limited to the exact details of what happened in Connecticut. This post is about two of the ugliest social diseases ever created in the history of humankind: male and white supremacy.

What I find to be suspect about so many of the reports I’ve read is the tendency to bury, or otherwise ignore altogether, the highly significant fact that the Sandy Hook shooter also murdered his own mother during the killings. In fact, most of the victims were women and, yes, most of the victims where white. I don’t personally think this warrants a scathing critique of President Obama’s tearful hypocrisy, nor do I think this warrants the argument that mental illness should be the real focus of Sandy Hook discussions–even if racism can be dismissed as the killer’s motivation in this case. I think because the victims of this shooting were mostly white and mostly women, evaluating and complicating the identity of white male killers becomes all the more important despite how counter-intuitive this may seem. Men with white skin have been killing POC for centuries, true, but when their victims share their skin color it doesn’t make the killers any less privileged as male or any less privileged as white.

I am not a parent and that much should be made clear, but this does not prevent me from sympathizing with the parents who brutally lost their children and the father who lost a son and a wife in the same day. I read a blog entry on the Huffington Post a friend of mine had shared on facebook, making a plea for understanding and forgiveness when it comes to the often repeated desire to holistically blame parents for the violence of their children. Written by a mother as a contribution to mental illness discussions that inevitably saturate the nation after mass killings committed by white men, she speaks extensively about the fear of her own son, then offers this bit of information:

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

What I find most interesting about this admittedly heartfelt and complicated entry is the mother’s admission that no doctors have officially diagnosed her son, but he is on heavy duty anti-psychotics to control his “rage.” Once again, I am not a parent, nor am I a medical professional. The only “scientist” I can somewhat claim to be is a “social” one. But this is where I get skeptical: when atrocities and/or crimes perpetrated largely by white men become subject to a consequential rush to create a crisis around mental illness and isolate the solution as an exclusively medical one. If it is legitimate to suggest that rage and mother-hating from white male teenagers is a basis for the widespread prescribing of serious narcotics, then why is it illegitimate to suggest this same rage and mother-hating is a basis for honest and critical examinations of white and male supremacy? The former will make pharmaceutical companies a fortune, the latter will not.

When whites have been conditioned to equate violence with communities and people of color, we are quick to respond with disbelief when this same violence not only occurs in our communities, but is perpetrated by one of our own. The white male (TM) is a constructed model of power, success, and–most of all–rational thought. As a result, it is not a stretch to imagine that an exception to this rule must be diagnosed as defective, pathological, and most certainly abnormal. Forget about the individual that is President Obama, and wonder more at the broader social hypocrisy that sympathizes with white killers and immediately demonizes killers and/or victims of color. But this is especially painful because it involves children, right? Remember when an 11 year-old Black girl (name still under protection of anonymity) was gang-raped by several men in Texas in 2010? Was the media trend one of overwhelming sympathy and understanding? Or did a major news publication get itself embroiled in a shit storm for indicting the character of the young girl based on her tendency to “dress beyond her age”? It is acceptable to question the racial and gender identities of people and women of color in the US, but it is wholly unacceptable to subject white male killers to the same critical lens.

In a recent essay on the Sandy Hook shootings, Tim Wise denied that there was something about whiteness that causes homicide. No, I don’t think there is some kind of whiteness gene that makes certain white men lose their shit and kill people, but is it really that ridiculous to make a connection between whiteness and violence? How high on white supremacy were the Nazis, the KKK, and any other white male vigilante militias who intentionally carried out lynchings, bombings, and, yes, mass murders? Maybe whiteness is the illness here–not the genetic pigmentation that decides skin tone, but the social and structural environments that dictate how sympathetic and privileged white folks will be. Maybe white privilege and patriarchy (cultural & structural, domestic & private) is what teaches white men insane levels of entitlement and inconsolable rage as a logical reaction whenever they are denied what they think they deserve or are treated in a way they think they don’t deserve to be treated?

There is always something more reasonable to blame than whiteness.

Although I don’t deny the legitimacy of mental health issues, I’m not buying that as the only explanation in multiple cases of distinct and premeditated patterns (some might say histories) of behavior. I wonder whose definition of mental illness is being used when these mass killers are revealed to be white men with little or no anger management who are otherwise coherent, calculating, and aware of what they are doing. As fucked up and far-fetched as they are, manifestos and detailed plans are often left behind after these killers take their own lives. A repeated mental illness defense, in my opinion, makes it easier to dismiss violence as the work of “crazy” individuals instead of understanding it as something that has always pervaded cultures of whiteness in the US. Why is mental illness a national crisis that desperately needs to be remedied only when white men murder? After colonization, after Indigenous genocide, after chattel slavery, after lynching, after Oklahoma City, after Columbine, after Oak Creek… why is anyone still surprised when white men murder?

When something like this happens, I think of all the privilege not only white folks maintain, but also the massive amounts of privilege US citizens (and Westerners in general) continue to enjoy. I remember the times I have been cussed out by wealthy white women while working as a cashier after making some small error with their purchase. I think of the screaming matches I have witnessed over material goods and political opinions in retail stores, the irate tantrums white folks have thrown over long lines, missed orders at coffee shops, and the wrong burritos on their plates.  I think of how ego-driven and hyper-masculine mainstream US culture is, where violent white males are routinely celebrated as heroic outlaws and gun-toting badasses. Sure, I appreciate the humor from folks like David Sirota who wonders why it isn’t time to racially profile white men in this country, but I wonder what might happen if white society decided it was time to try something like this instead…

What if we stopped teaching each other how special and superior whiteness is–children and adults alike. What if we dismantled and discontinued the idea that we are the best people who deserve nothing but the best while living in the best country on Earth. What if we stopped giving lenient or abbreviated punishments to white collar criminals and white criminals in general. What if we abolished policies and practices in employment, education, and housing that perpetuate social inequities and oppression. What if we used a humane sense of limits to re-frame the “rights” and “freedom” that entitle us to do whatever we want and express our rage however we want. What if we educated our men to have unconditional respect for women and people of all gender identities whether they are relatives, strangers, next door, down the street, or in another country. What if we refused to see violence as something that exists only in communities of color, and made it completely unglamorous and unsympathetic at the hands of white men.

What if.

–DD

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Genocide on Trend: white Violence, Ignorance, and Fashion

“Apparel manufacturer The Gap is currently selling a black t-shirt bearing — with no explanation — the words “MANIFEST DESTINY.” Manifest Destiny is a polite term for the popular 19th-century belief that the United States — a white, European nation — was destined to expand westward across the continent, by any means necessary. In Indian country, the term Manifest Destiny calls to mind the suffering of previous generations of Natives through forced relocation and genocide.”

—from Indian Country Today Media Network (full article here)

On the left is an altered ad campaign image for The Gap’s new pro-genocide statement t shirt, bearing the words “Manifest Destiny.” On the right is a response from the Settler Colonial facebook page. The designer, Mark McNairy, issued a non-apology on twitter—something along the lines of “I’m sorry you thought I was racist”—after he tweeted “MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.” Sure, these are both racist white ideas, but they mean very different things. Manifest Destiny is more so “survival of the whitest.” The philosophy behind it also involved European colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples being sanctioned by “God,” which doesn’t quite work with a scientific theory of evolution. If white folks don’t know the meaning of Manifest Destiny, we don’t get to create a new one that we imagine is completely separate from its specific historical and social context.

For whites to wear the Gap original, it would be continuing our long legacy of racist disregard for Indigenous peoples, our appropriation of violent ideas (or violent appropriation as an act in and of itself) to make a fashion statement, and our privilege of never knowing the harm of racist ideas and language. Folks with white skin are repeat offenders when it comes to cultural theft, and it may seem acceptable, innocuous, or even meaningless because we have absolutely no idea what that experience is like. There are no t shirts printed with statements signifying the genocide, removal, displacement, colonization, and mass killing of white folks. There are also no corporate megastores selling shirts that say “Auschwitz” or “Sieg Heil.” It’s only because of our positions on the safe and privileged (therefore ignorant) side of Manifest Destiny that we can have fun with the term and turn it into a consumer product. The good news is that The Gap has apparently agreed to stop selling the shirt. The bad news is that racism doesn’t go out of style with it.

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“The House I Live In”: New Documentary about the War on Drugs

This is the official trailer for a documentary being released today called The House I Live In, billed as a scathingly critical analysis of the failed US War on Drugs and consequential mass incarceration. A brief clip of Michelle Alexander (legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) reveals her as one of the interviewees, which bodes well, but I can’t attest to how substantive and/or thorough any racial justice discourses will be in the film. There is a pretty comprehensive review on Forbes which can be read here, and a review from Sundance that can be read here. One of the more interesting pieces of carefully guarded information I’ve found is about an interview with Abraham Lincoln scholar, Richard Lawrence Miller, who argues that “legal substances were frequently demonized only when it became clear that making them illegal could help keep a threatening minority in check. (For example, Miller cites opium laws on the West Coast directed at Chinese immigrants.)” He may have just described the whole motivation for the War on Drugs in one sentence. This should be interesting.

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The “Don’t Re-Nig” Campaign and white Denial

So the Republican website that created this image, Stumpy’s Stickers, was supposedly shut down in March of this year, seeing as their products behind a national campaign were based on a racist play on the word “renege.” The site is still there and fully functioning. It includes an industrial strength roll of Confederate flag stickers sold in bulk with 500 per roll, stickers with phrases such as “Tequila: Mexican Holy Water,” and an image of a billboard comparing President Obama to Hitler. A Republican small business owner in South Dakota recently decided to continue the racist spirit of the “Don’t Re-Nig” campaign by displaying a sign with this exact slogan on it. Twice. On both sides.

This is what she had to say in her defense:

“I had no intention of trying to be racist,” said Mary Snyder, who put the sign outside the business. “It’s just ridiculous. It’s a political sign, my opinion. They think I’m slandering, uh, n*****s. That’s not it.”

Snyder said she didn’t know about the controversial national campaign. She said she intended the sign to say “Don’t Renege,” which means not to go back on a promise, undertaking or contract.

First of all, she just said the N word. Any statement that begins with “I wasn’t trying to be racist” and is followed with the word “n***ers” immediately disproves its own point. Never underestimate the power of white denial, something so ingrained it compels us to insist we aren’t racist, then comfortably use the N word in practically the same sentence. Does anyone really believe that a white person who freely says the N word to reporters didn’t “intend” to reference it on a sign? And if she intended to say “Don’t Renege,” then why didn’t she just write that on the sign? Twice. On both sides.

Second of all, whether or not she knew about the larger campaign is irrelevant. Nowhere in the interview does she claim to have misspelled the word “Renege.” There’s some meaningless discussion of what her “intentions” were, but no following explanation of why she went with “Re-Nig” instead. Was it an accident? She didn’t say it was. Will she change it now that she understands the pejorative association? She didn’t say that either. In fact, she refused to apologize for it. Her plan is that of most whites: deny racism, then hide racism behind the First Amendment. Protecting the “freedom” of hate speech = white supremacy.

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The US Navy’s “Secret” Swastika

The swastika shaped structure on the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base in San Diego, California, was built in 1967. Fifty years later, shit went down in 2007 when satellite images of the base were found on google. Five years after that, the Navy has decided to spend a reported $600,000 to “hide” (read: disguise) the aerial view—with some landscaping. How did that meeting turn out? “I don’t think we need to take the swastika down, just make it look.. nicer and, you know, less like a.. swastika.” The design of the structure has been described as “unfortunate,” and darn it if folks just didn’t have the foresight for satellite images when it was built.

What percentage of professional US military construction is accidental? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought buildings required blueprints and stuff, meaning clearly delineated and intentional designs. The US military makes plenty of mistakes, but this isn’t one of them. Predictions (or no predictions) of satellite photography aside, who missed the swastika when they saw it on paper? Fancy technology of today may not have existed in the 60s, but blueprints did. They’ve been around since the 1800s. And if anyone is going to dismiss this structure as resembling an innocent “Buddhist good luck charm,” then first find the Buddhists who designed and built it. Symbols of white supremacy are not “unfortunate,” and only whiteness would compel someone to describe them in such a nice way.

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Expensive Homemade Racism in Massachusetts

Members of Scott Brown’s campaign were recently caught (and recorded on youtube) making a stereotypical mockery of Native Americans, which Brown wouldn’t condemn as racist—just “unacceptable and immature.” With the sign above, we see the consequences of both racism and a political campaign that ignores (and therefore encourages) it. A business owner in Boston created this sign after already being criticized for his anti-Obama displays, taking his white supremacy to another level by spending more than $2,000 on the custom signs while protecting them with 24 hour video surveillance. In his own words:

“I’m voicing my opinion. As an American, it’s a right that we have and I’m going to use that right,” Sullivan said. “So we’re not bad guys here.”

Yet another example of racism and hate speech being conflated with constitutional rights and sanctioned by national identity. This is our personal freedom as white folks in the US: we can say whatever we want, hurt whoever we want, offend whoever we want, and be as racist as we want, then turn around and say “It’s OK I’m an American. Read the first amendment, asshole.” If you uphold the constitution as a unique and sacred document of equality, first consider how often it is used to defend shit like this.

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Racism and The Empty Chair

During Clint Eastwood’s psychotic episode speech at the RNC this year, he pretended to address President Obama by talking to an empty chair. If the symbolism of a white man talking down to a powerful person of color didn’t send the message of racism home for you, then consider the aftermath.  Eastwood used the chair to put President Obama “in his place,” while other white folks are taking this spectacle of racism to another level. The first photo shows an empty chair in Virginia with an obvious target, the second photo shows an empty chair from Texas has a less visible target. The common denominators are: Obama, lynching, and anti-Black racism.

Attention white folks: we know exactly what we’re doing when we hang shit from trees, we don’t get to take this behavior out of historical context, and we need to understand that a Black president does not mean the end of racism when this kind of racial violence continues to go down. Sometimes a picture isn’t worth a thousand words. “Racism still exists” are three words these combined pictures are worth. If you’re still unconvinced and still looking for proof, then you might consider that you have no idea what you’re looking for.

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Racism: It’s How We Sleep at Night

The New York Times recently published a report on new findings linking race to quality of sleep (or lack thereof) called “How Well You Sleep May Hinge on Race.” The ‘you’ in this sentence refers specifically to white folks, and how well our white privilege allows us to sleep. There is extensive investigation into race in this article, but only in terms of POC. There is no mention of white privilege, or the racial meaning behind the solid sleep the majority of white folks enjoy. The largest mystery remains the reasons for sleep inequality along lines of race, which simply demonstrates how the mainstream media is well prepared and armed with “facts” when it comes to race while being conveniently clueless and mystified when it comes to racism.

Beginning with a big booming knowledge drop, the article introduces one individual under study, Moleendo Stewart, by saying “Sleep experts would point to another factor working against Mr. Stewart: He is a black man.” Oh.. so it sounds like this is his problem. It sounds like the claim is: he’s Black so he doesn’t sleep well, not he’s a Black man struggling in a racist society so he doesn’t sleep well. While this team of tireless professionals has come to the conclusion that “sleep is not colorblind,” they have not discovered why. With all of their “unique” material on the correlation between race and sleep, they still can’t understand their findings and are without explanation. Well, team of professionals, fret no further. We don’t need to spend years in a lab with our white coats to find the answer. It comes down to one simple word: RACISM.

Although researches haven’t yet “unlocked the secret” behind this phenomenon, they have a promising lead: freeway noise. Yes, they actually site this shit as legitimate data in potentially harming sleep for POC. The NYT doesn’t get a big pat on the back for initially giving mention to segregated neighborhoods, because there is no in-depth analysis of the white supremacy and institutional racism behind housing segregation that follows. There is no context, no historical perspective, and no social understanding. First of all, segregated neighborhoods don’t spring up under freeways, freeways are built over and through them. And second of all, even though it is common for this kind of noise to be in low-income neighborhoods, it’s an extremely small factor compared to the much bigger reasons why POC are losing sleep. Despite how inconclusive this article claims to be, it desperately wants to make class the ideal source of sleep deprivation.

“The idea that differences in work and living conditions can explain the racial sleep disparities is a popular one among sleep experts.” Any guess as to why this might be? It is completely unsurprising that “science” would favor a class analysis over a racial one. It is much easier for white folks to blame class status as the reason for social inequality because it allows us to pretend racism does not exist.  It is a comforting idea to believe socioeconomics are more relevant than race–an idea that suits and exposes white privilege–because it means we are no longer accountable for racial inequality in this equation. This shifts the focus of our reality as oppressors to the myth of POC as poor workers, thereby making it easier to argue that POC are responsible for their own class status and we are not responsible for the material consequences of racism.  Clearly racism is the cause, but nobody in this article wants to explicitly say so.

“We had no way to control for stress, and there are social stresses an African-American man might feel that a white man with the same income and education level wouldn’t.” In this instance, the word ‘stress’ is a euphemism for racism. Here we are with a perfect comparative example that throws class out the window, and we still can’t say: IT’S RACISM, STUPID.  Even with this kind of evidence, two men with different racial identities who possess the same shit, we can’t admit what is actually going on. We can’t admit that class doesn’t matter and racism doesn’t sleep. How about investigating that, team of professionals? When class status fails to fit their scientific model, another false culprit must be uncovered.

“It may also be the culture. Black and [Latin@] children in America are far less likely to have regularly enforced bedtimes than white children, according to a 2010 study conducted by Dr. Hale for the National Institutes of Health.” This argument is otherwise known as something called cultural racism, where “culture” is scapegoated for any number of bogus claims about POC instead of skin color. Once again, this article is suggesting the problem is with POC, not with institutional racism or white supremacy. The whole corporate time model, whip cracking schedule, and “properly enforced” timing for every behavior is very much a thing of whiteness. POC are not losing sleep because they don’t act like white folks or have an identical approach to their lives. Furthermore, they aren’t all children, so that piece of trivia isn’t worth much.

And now, a laughable closing statement: “In order to break the cycle, researchers say, patients need to make sleep a priority.” Well that’s a helluva lot easier than dismantling racism isn’t it? And it’s a much nicer white fantasy to educate POC about their “priorities” instead of educating white folks about their racism. White folks don’t sleep better because we make it a priority, we sleep better because we are safe from racial violence and oppression, because we are racially privileged, and because we never deal with racism of any kind. POC don’t need different priorities, we do.

–DD

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