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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Pathology of Mass Shooting

My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.

When the soul is crushed with the weight of unanswerable questions, how do we begin to bind up our wounds? How many times have we gone through this? How many more can we endure?

We experience such shock each time we hear the news. But at what point do we refuse to dismiss such instances as 'random' and 'unheard of'? When do we as a society begin to take collective responsibly for the lives that have been lost? How many will it take before we examine the 'cultural pathology' of white male mass shooting?

There is a double standard that exists around the explanation of such events. It would not take very many mass shootings in which the perpetrators were Black, Muslim, or Latino before we would hear comments about 'violent cultures' and the 'moral bankruptcy' of an entire group.

Think that race should have nothing to do with it? Maybe not. Yet when the perpetrator isn't white, race is routinely injected into the narrative. And no matter how many white male mass-shooter we've had, we still live in a society that fervently fears Black men.

This is the danger of maintaining cultural white male default. We are blind to the ugly aspects of a culture that is perpetually considered 'normal.' If these shooters were black men, there would be a collective shaking-of-heads at their 'inherit violent nature'. If Latina women were committing mass shootings at a similar rate, the media would certainly be asking what the cause of it might be. But after the Newton shootings, we saw no law enforcement policy changes that will increase the racial profiling of white men.

It is a chilling aspect of white privilege to be able "to kill, maim, commit wanton acts of violence, and to be anti-social (as well as pathological) without having your actions reflect on your own racial group" (Chauncey DeVega). Time and again, the white men who commit these mass shooting are framed as 'lone wolves' and 'outliers,' with little examination or reflection on a broader cultural responsibility.

Abagond also notes the trend:

"When white people do something bad it is due to circumstances, a bad upbringing, a psychological disorder or something. Because, apart from a few bad apples, white people are Basically Good. Everyone knows it. But when black people do something bad it is because they were born that way."

When the shooter is white, we dig into school and psychiatric records in search for explanations as to why someone so 'normal' would do such a thing. The shooter is often perceived as the quite, unremarkable 'boy next door' that no on ever dreamed would suddenly snap.

When violence is perpetrated by a person of color, we are quicker to be satisfied with broad explanations of terrorism, religion, or turf wars. Indeed, "after Maj. Nidal Hasan carried out the Fort Hood shootings, his Muslim faith became all the public needed to know about his motive." The news media routinely "pathologize people of color as naturally criminal and violent." 'Urban' is used as shorthand for immorality.

As sensationalized as inner-city violence is, mass shootings of strangers in public settings like schools and shopping malls are virtually non-existent in urban neighborhoods. And despite gun-blazing stereotypes, the majority of people of color are pro-gun control, in stark contrast to the white voting public.

Finally, the understandable horror that is felt after each mass shooting is in stark contrast to the silence and apathy with regard to the children that are dying on the streets everyday. There are daily cries for change and regulation coming from the mouths of mourning mothers that are never heard. The shock expressed after the events like those in Newton subtly sends the message that “this shouldn't happen here, in our idyllic white suburban community. We're not like those neighborhoods where you expect random violence." These attitudes are reflected in the difference in public attention span depending on the race of the victim, whether it's a shooting at a Sikh temple, or a missing child report.

When white is seen as the default, any deviant behavior can be excused as the exception to the rule. Conversely, when we limit our interactions with those of other races, we are forced to rely on heuristics to generalize about the 'other'. If Adam Lanza were black, it would reaffirm stereotypes of a violent culture. If he were Muslim, the shooting would be a 'clear act of terrorism.' But as a white male, he is characterized as a a disturbed individual, wholly distinct from the race and culture to which he belongs.

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  1. Katelin, your views and perspectives are timely and well thought out. Keep up the great work!

  2. Similarly:

  3. I see valid points in this argument but I feel that the Left in general is focusing too much on symptoms--and yes I do think that White male violence is a symptom.

    For me, there is a quiet tragedy in the Connecticut shootings that is off the radar of most mainstream and activist media: That it demonstrates how the Western Left has been unable to put forth a unified narrative regarding why mass shootings have became more common after the 70s, and why at the same time mental health issues became much more common in the West (especially in the US).

    Anyways I talk about it all in more detail in my article on it. I'd love your thoughts if you have the time.

    Thanks Katelin!

  4. Thanks for your response. I see a lot in your writing about what ISN'T the root cause of such shootings. But you bury your lead--so in a sentence, what is your thesis as to the root cause of said symptoms?

  5. Katelin,I must respectfully interject that when the shooter is white and there is *not* racism, there is another evil that is just as horrific: ableism. As someone with a disability and co-morbid mental illness, I always cringe inside when mass shooting happen--because I know that soon after I will encounter strangers who look askance and some ask me point blank if I am a violent person. I have seen it over and over again ad nauseum; people who suspect the mentally ill and people with disabilities of violent crimes. That does not negate the struggles of racial minorities, though in some cases, it can make us equally as vulnerable.


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