In his usual dark, poignant humor, Jerrod Carmichael tried to normalize the concept of a place being “shoot-up-able” to Maxine in an episode of The Carmichael Show. As he tried to brush off his own terrifying recent experience in the vicinity of an active shooter, his list and descriptions of “shoot-up-able” places actually made sense to me. The more Jerrod talked about it, the less of a joke it become. That’s just life in the U.S.A.
We innately know that a country music festival in Las Vegas would probably be on that list. That’s the messed-up part about the shooting near Mandalay Bay last night. It wasn’t a surprise, just sad.
The identity of the perpetrator wasn’t surprising either. A middle-aged White male. Again. But the severity of this shooting plus the lack of Black people in the public eye to shift attention onto has changed the discourse surrounding White male mass murderers.
Labeling this occurrence as ‘terrorism’ means more than you think. A terrorist works to give power to a cause—an organization, a belief, whatever—through fear. At first glance, it’s hard to pin a cause on all of these troubled “lone wolf” White male shooters. Then you realize it’s not really a rebellious credo or a belief that many of these shooters are trying to impose on people, it’s their selves.
White male mass shooters are terrorists acting in the name of White male supremacy.
Let me be clear as to what I mean by the term ‘supremacy’. Am I saying all White male mass murderers are racial supremacists? No. Am I saying White males sit in a distant position atop America’s social pyramid? Yes. Am I saying all White male mass murderers implicitly promote fear of what scared, confused, and angry White American men are capable of? YES. Aren’t there large, vocal groups of scared, confused, and angry White American men that are currently very active in American society? Politics even? Cool, you see where I’m going with this.
When James Eagan Holmes was asked about the motivation behind his horrific 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, he said, “Terrorism isn’t the message, the message is there is no message.” Mentally ill or not, what possesses someone to aimlessly kill people they’ve never met for the sake of a half-baked philosophical epiphany?
Dylann Roof felt compelled to start a race war after writing his own White supremacist manifesto and “almost” didn’t go through with his crimes because the victims-to-be were so kind leading up to his shooting rampage. Duh, motherfucker, they were in church on a Wednesday. That’s where you decided to make a statement about White power?
There is no record or indication that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, had any motivation to kill elementary school kids aside from mental health issues and an extreme preoccupation with violence that his World of Warcraft habit wasn’t satisfying.
The details surrounding Stephen Paddock are murky, but playing the conspiracy game will sidetrack the fuck out of this piece. So whatever coerced him to do what he did in Las Vegas will have to be safely assumed as an internal, personal impetus. Whatever it was, it simply reinforces the fact that the demographic most inclined to projecting internal rage/chaos onto innocent people in the form of mass violence is White American men.
Large-scale economic disasters, wars, colonization…a lot of things in recent human history have been driven by White male rage. White male rage pushed English dissenters to settle the thirteen colonies. White male rage made the United States what it is today—isolated, extremely sensitive to change, and almost free of Native Americans. The compulsive need for White men to impose themselves on the world has long been manifested in destructive episodes of violence. Mass shootings are only the latest trend of examples.
As troubling as radical ideologies are, the predisposition of White American males to violent self-projection seems to be an even more potent influencer of mass violence. Intentionally or not, directly political or not, events like the Las Vegas shooting keep us in fear of what a chaotic world might make the next disgruntled White man do. That is terrorism.
Despite many White male mass shooters having histories of mental illness and social isolation/exclusion, you don’t see the same problems pushing people of other racial and gender identities to do the heinous things White male shooters are doing. I’m sure plenty of drug-addicted and mentally ill folks of color have guns, but why hasn’t their disenfranchisement driven them into mass murder? Sadly enough, even they have more accountability to society than most mass shooters.
Being a White man means you’re never forced to consider your place in society unless you’re of the LGBTQ community and/or you’re looking up at richer White men. Otherwise, a White man doesn’t need to be aware of what others think and feel in order to move around in life. Couple that inherent reality with the bleak holes that these men dig for themselves, and you get people who are devoid of empathy that subconsciously know they can do whatever they want without receiving full consequences. Collectively, White American men are the least socially accountable people in the world. Unlike the poorest, sickest, and most-policed demographics, there are no institutions or communities that can check a detached White man.
It goes without saying that this is not all White men. But the ascribed statuses of ‘White’ and ‘man’ place White men in the only social position that is able to breed people like the Las Vegas shooter. There are a number of angles to breakdown Whiteness and toxic masculinity from, but they all take time, as well as cooperation from White men themselves. Until counteractions to these harmful social roles become more effective, all we can do is pray and do our best to make sense of it all.