Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Young White Men & Violence: A Racial Profile
Any honest observer should be able to admit that if the gunmen in these mass shootings mostly had, say, Muslim names or were mostly, say, African-American men, the country right now wouldn’t be confused about the causes of the violence, and wouldn’t be asking broad questions. There would probably be few queries or calls for reflection, and mostly definitive declarations blaming the bloodshed squarely on Islamic fundamentalism or black nationalism, respectively. Additionally, we would almost certainly hear demands that the government intensify the extant profiling systems already aimed at those groups.
I graduated on the other side of Columbine and I simply do not recall ever having an inkling of fear that our suburban Southern California high school would get shot up by a white kid. Back in '92, we were all told to stay safe in Orange County as the LA riots raged 50 miles north. It was those violent black men from Compton that were the problem.
Of course, black males were not the problem then and they certainly aren't the problem now. Now more than ever, that racial stereotype is being exposed as a farce. Over and over, these disoriented and uniquely American-style shootings are perpetrated by white guys. Now is the time that all of us surburbanites take a rigorous moral inventory and ask questions about why it is that Young White Men are shooting up vulnerable targets: schools, malls, theaters and places of worship. No doubt, this is precisely what we would all be doing if the profile of virtually all these mass murders were black, hispanic or muslim young men.
Why, specifically, do certain white guys keep going off?
First of all, all Young White Men have deep, mostly unacknowledged, privilege in our society. When I want to talk to "the person in charge," I'm pretty much guaranteed that this person will be white and a male. When I apply for a bank loan or interview for a job, I'm pretty much guaranteed that a white male will be making the final decision on whether I get it or not. Heck, I can even be late to a meeting and not have that reflect on my race. This all works out for me, not because I've earned it, but because I'm a man and I'm white.
What happens when certain lonely, awkward, introverted and/or shy Young White Men are then denied these privileges by bullying, neglecting or scapegoating tactics day after day after day at school? These Young White Men often lack a father figure and their afternoons are relegated to marathon sessions of World of Warcraft or Halo 4 or Call of Duty: Black Ops II, locked in their rooms or basements. These Young White Men have become emasculated, stripped of the dignity of being a human being socializing with people (other than Mom) who actually care about them. This is a far cry from the level of privilege that all the other Young White Men they've grown up with possess.
This series of events inevitably leads to boredom, loneliness and, most tragically for the Young White Man, utter powerlessness. This is not how it is supposed to be. When virtually all those in powerful positions (including characters on TV and movies) have the same skin color as they do, it sends the message that they too ought to have power. But this particular Young White Man doesn't. And no one cares about him. Except for Mom.
No doubt about it: there's mental illness involved. The causes and effects of Aspergers and autism and schizophrenia are widely misunderstood. And there's ridiculously easy access to guns, which are glorified on the screens that occupy these Young White Men every afternoon. Guns bring a Young White Man the power that has been stripped away by the bullying peers and indifferent adults in their lives. And the cycle of violence continues.
How, then, do we stop the violence?
-On a systemic level, our political leaders desperately need to pursue a robust regulation of assault weapons. The gun lobby owns DC and, perhaps until Friday morning, occupied the minds of too many American voters. I simply do not believe that Young White Men are "going to get assault weapons if they want them" no matter what we do with legislation. On Friday, Adam Lanza used the weapons (all of them legal) available to him at his home. Meanwhile, the "crazy" guy in China (extremely strict gun regulations) attacked an elementary school on Friday. He injured 22. No fatalies. All he had was a knife.
-On a symptomatic level, our political leaders need to prioritize monies for mental health services. Broken families in suburbia and bottomless poverty in innercities and brutalized warfare in Iraq/Afghanistan produce deeply painful outcomes. Many parents of autistic & schizophrenic children are understandably fearful of labeling and/or misdiagnosing and some are just in denial. They need a groundswell of support from all of us.
-On a serious level, we ought to shun simplistic explanations and solutions. Nothing worse than Old White Men blaming ruthless violence on the lack of prayer in public school or on gays and abortion. These would almost be funny if it weren't a fact that so many people uncritically follow & believe everything these men say.
-But, most importantly, on a seismic level, all people of faith & conscience ought to identify Young White Men in the suburbs who desperately need to experience the human touch of empathy. As a high school teacher, I can vigilently and compassionately "profile" these Young White Men in my classroom and in the hallways of our campus. We must be careful and critical when diagnosing all our children as parents and coaches and administrators and faith leaders can form a coalition committed to the dignity of these highly vulnerable Young White Men and the protection of everyone else. This, indeed, can be a redemptive brand of racial profiling.
Of course, Young Brown and Black and Red and Yellow Men (and Women) deserve our full attention as well. Indeed, the historic racial animus directed towards these minorities probably adds to the guilt and hatred filling up Young White Men. But these attacks continue to prove that there is something in the water specifically affecting Young White Men in the suburbs. There is a dreadful loneliness and boredom and inadequacy and powerlessness percolating in these suburban subdivisions. In the end, screens can't save the Young White Man. Only human touch can.
All people of faith & conscience are called to do whatever it takes to care for the Most Vulnerable among us. This is what Jesus did for the lepers, the prostitutes, the blind beggars and countless others. Socially awkward Young White Men like Adam Lanza aren't freaks. Their numb alienation dehumanizes them and ferments into rage and violence. The violent outbreaks of these Young White Men are obviously not justified. But we must dedicate far more time and resources to understanding more and more about what makes them tick. They are time bombs waiting to explode.