The White Guy Problem

Researchers Charlotte and Harriet Childress write in WaPo that “White men have much to discuss about mass shootings.”

When white men try to divert attention from gun control by talking about mental health issues, many people buy into the idea that the United States has a national mental health problem, or flawed systems with which to address those problems, and they think that is what produces mass shootings.

But women and girls with mental health issues are not picking up semiautomatic weapons and shooting schoolchildren. Immigrants with mental health issues are not committing mass shootings in malls and movie theaters. Latinos with mental health issues are not continually killing groups of strangers.

Each of us is programmed from childhood to believe that the top group of our hierarchies — and in the U.S. culture, that’s white men — represents everyone, so it can feel awkward, even ridiculous, when we try to call attention to those people as a distinct group and hold them accountable.

I understand serial killers are nearly always white men, too. Yes, gun violence is perpetrated by other racial groups in the U.S. But in the U.S., the particular phenomena of mass and serial killings are disproportionately carried out by white men, even though non-whites are disproportionately responsible for homicides overall. See, for example:

Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Suicide-by-Mass-Murder

Erika Christakis, The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide

David Sirota makes the point that with all the calls to profile this or that group to prevent terrorism, the one group not allowed to be profiled is white men.

I agree with the researchers that it’s high time we all acknowledge this. I disagree with them that the perspectives of white men themselves are not credible —

Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years — not just Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson and Columbine — have been committed by white men and boys. Yet when the National Rifle Association (NRA), led by white men, held a news conference after the Newtown massacre to advise Americans on how to reduce gun violence, its leaders’ opinions were widely discussed.

The NRA lacks credibility because it has a vested interest in stopping gun control legislation, not because their leadership is mostly white men. Since most white men are not mass/serial killers, I welcome their insight into this phenomenon, especially into the question asked by the researchers, “What facets of white male culture create so many mass shootings?” I have my own ideas, but not being a man I might be missing something.

Update: Steve M, who I know for a fact is a white guy, has an interesting perspective:

… mass shooters, for the most part, aren’t the alpha males within their own culture, even though most come from America’s alpha race.

And maybe that’s the problem. If you’re white and male (and middle- or upper-middle-class), the culture tells you that you can have it all. If you’re white, male, and developing paranoid schizophrenia, or having profound difficulties with socialization, you’re falling short of very, very high expectations. Why aren’t you thriving? You’re a person who’s supposed to be thriving! Everyone in your demographic category can thrive!

Young American males of other ethnicities are conditioned to expect disappointment in life. White suburban males are led to believe that the world is their oyster. Maybe it’s falling short of these high cultural expectations that attracts a certain percentage of socially struggling white males to fantasies of violent revenge. They want to kill because they’re expected to dominate, and this is the only way they know how.

That makes sense to me.

29 thoughts on “The White Guy Problem

  1. but not being a man I might be missing something.

    Is that what they call a double entendre?

  2. Don’t ask me, I’m a DFH city-kid who hates guns.
    So, WTF do I know?

    But I suspect if some “Blah” and Latino guys went out and committed all of these mass killings, there might be just a smidge better chance of passing some meaningful gun control.

    Hey, even Ronald “Minimus” Reagan came out for gun control, after the Black Panther Movement got rolling:
    “The Pathers’ efforts provoked an immediate backlash. Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

    So, all of that “Blah”-angst, and then, of course, he got his ass shot by some lily-white rich kid.

  3. Did my comment disappear, or, because I had to restart my laptop and fill-in my name and e-mail address, is it still out there, but invisible to me, and the breathless (YEAH, RIGHT!) millions waiting to read it?

  4. Well, let’s see. There were 18 mass killings in CY 2012 (defined as any killing of two or more persons where the victims were not specifically targeted by the killer but simply happened to be, unfortunately, on the scene).

    It appears that perhaps 15 of these were carried out by white males (again, depending on how one defines “Caucasian”).

    The Census indicates that there are roughly 100,000,000 adult white males in the U.S, meaning that the likelihood of one committing a mass killing last year was a whopping .000015%

    Not a lot of evidence on which to base a claim about the tendencies of a particular population (in this case, identified by race and gender).

    • Not a lot of evidence on which to base a claim about the tendencies of a particular population (in this case, identified by race and gender).

      I hate people who are too lazy to follow links.

  5. Ok I think, as far as white men being involved in the conversation on this issue ..sadly they probably do need to be involved . That being said I am going to get a lot of shit for this but I am sayin it anyhow ..they have had plenty of time to address their own issues and clearly they have not, nor do they plan to – so I believe it is time to move on without them and take it out of their hands. Try to have a conversation with a NRA member about gun regulations. Most of them are not mass shooters (yet). They don’t want to find solutions – they want to show up at mom meetings with loaded guns. Too bad none of the moms had the guts to stand up to them and tell them to get their guns the fuck away from their children. Or to tell them what bullshit it was to show up to the discussion lookin like rambo wanna- be’s. And thats why those people showed up with their guns. Had they not they were afraid to be yelled out of the room by a bunch of angry moms when they started spewing their nonsense.

    And to you white guys that are not pigs what the hell are you doing to help your cause? No one calls these cave men out and says ENOUGH. We are all a bunch of enablers.And the worst of the bunch is the NRA& members (the Newtown shooter we learn is a member BTW).Do I think they are going to be a productive part of the solution? Or do I think they will instead come to the conversation armed to the teeth( afraid as hell of the world their guns have created) and waste everyones time till another 20 kids die?

    I think it is time the world moves on without them to find solutions to deal with them on our own. I have a lot of ideas of where to start but since we lack the balls to do anything as a nation to truely have an impact we wont do any of them.

    Maybe the NRA is on to something. Lets end the criminal justice system and all laws, because ya know, the criminals are not gonna follow them anyhow.

    I call on the parents to do something I never could have imagined I would; I ask them to make public the photos of their children in that classroom that day. It may be the only hope that people will wake up and make a change before it happens again. Because I guess the cost to them of their children just wasn’t enough. And for that I beg their forgiveness that we as a society have fallen so short of behaving like decent , compassionate human beings.

  6. As a man who no longer enjoys fishing because I don’t see the point of annoying and injuring a living creature for entertainment, I’ll take a stab (no pun intended) at it.

    My wife sell insurance. The most expensive people to insure (auto insurance), are youthful males. The reason is they tend to have more traffic accidents.We can debate the reason why they have more accidents, but it appears to boil down to aggression and risk taking.Peel away more of the onion, and we find a substance called testosterone. Lots of people want to blame testosterone, but it is the very thing that makes males attractive to females.Some women will deny it, but the evidence is overwhelming.

    If you mix natural aggression , the constraints of modern living, and violence as entertainment, things start getting a bit weird. Now add the “tribalism” and validation from the NRA, PLUS the fear factor of loosing one’s Class / gender/ race/ religion/ domination being generated by various outlets, its a wonder the violence isn’t more widespread.
    We didn’t have this problem of mass shootings when I was a kid.Now we do.
    What common threads do the shootings at V.Tech, Aurora Co., and Newtown Ct. share?Pissed off young men with guns and plenty of ammunition.

  7. Also too – there’s another element at play, I suspect, now with minorities soon to be the majority in this country, and that’s “respect.”
    To get instant respect, not too many years ago, it was enough to be the white male in any situation – the world, was your oyster. If there was an advantage to get, it was yours for the getting.

    But, despite our Conservatie “friends” best efforts, that’s no longer the case – or, at least, not all of the time.
    And it you can’t earn respect the way it should be, through words and deeds, then how else do you get it?
    Intimidation, fear, and control.
    And what better tool to accomplish that, than openly carrying around and brandishing your gun?
    Instant repect!

    The proper way to deal with the gutlless cowards who came out openly brandishing their metal penises to a group of Mom’s protesting gun violence, is to openly laugh at, and mock, them.
    But, who’s going to do that?
    Not me. I may not be an abject coward, but I ain’t stupid, either.

    And that’s exactly their point.
    Instead of coming out to counter-protest, marching with signs and chants (preferably, clever ones), these gutless cowards went for instant respect, by openly carrying their guns in a group of female anti-gun protesters.
    Wow! What “courage!!!” NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And that’s all a gun is to a lot of these angry, frustrated, white males , a way to get respect they haven’t earned, and never will earn – as long as they’re walking around “naked,” without the guns.
    But with their guns, dangling like the peckers they wish they had, they get respect wherever they go.
    Without their guns, they’re scared, frustrated, and cowardly, little bully-boys.

    And as for the mass-shooters, they’re trying to get attention by turning normalcy into mayhem.
    They were probably ostracized for being losers in school, they can’t get a date, they’re nobodies. And, what better was to become a somebody, than by shooting up a school, a movie theater full of people dating, or a Congesswoman’s “meet-and-greet?”

    Remember, other countries have their “crazies,” too!
    The same day as Newtown, some “crazy” in China went into a school and attacked children and teachers, too.
    But no one died.
    The “crazy’ in China had a knife.
    Our “crazy” had a Bushmaster.
    And so, no grieveing parents, friend, or relatives, in China, had to attend a funeral.
    But we, in this “exceptional” country, buried over 2 dozen children and adults.
    Over 2 dozen.
    FreeDUMB and LiberTEA!!!

    Maybe after the next mass killing in a school, we’ll learn our lesson.
    But I wouldn’t bet my house on it.
    Why not?
    FreeDUMB and LiberTEA!!!

  8. Thanks justme277, I think you added a lot to this thread.

    “I have my own ideas, but not being a man I might be missing something.”

    The closest parallel I can draw from my life is from way back in high school. My girlfriend was a feminist and she kept harping on things that didn’t make any sense to me, until suddenly, they started to make a lot of sense. I had a lot of growing up to do and a lot to learn about the world and I didn’t want to face up to that. My worldview was pretty shaky and had a lot of silly remnants from childhood. “Growing up” for lack of a better term, is difficult, maybe especially so when you’re squinting at a world in soft focus and trying to tie your shoes somewhere on the other side of a beer belly. It’s hard to reaccess the world when you think you should be taking your rightful place as a “village elder” and you find that it’s just the first day of school. Most of the time, someone else has to provide the clue to break through the narcissism and the little world we construct around ourselves. If we had to do it all on our own, odds are we’d never get out of the illusion.

    Maybe it’s an indicator of my own prejudice, but vehement ideologues and “one issue” people don’t seem to have a lot of capacity for self reflection. People who carry loaded guns to otherwise peaceful meetings don’t seem like “good bets” either. But, they’re just the ones who stand out and by standing out in the way they do, they shift people with more level heads against them.

    As to erinyes’s point. I worked in the rehabilitation field for well over twenty years. The major population that I worked with was traumatic injury, most people with spinal cord and brain injury. Young men were over represented as erinyes indicates. Looking back, seems like a countless series of stories with a poignant mixture of tragedy, absurdity, impulsiveness and bad luck, with a healthy dose of bad decision making to spice it up. Motorcycles and guns were common features, but, it was Florida and in the summer diving was a popular way to get hurt. But, the major player seemed to be the tendency to take senseless risks.

  9. Happy Easter, to the believers out there.
    Have a nice Sunday, to the non-believers.

  10. What Steve M says applies to the racist faction as well. At some level, these people know they cannot win in a fair fight, and thus do all they can to unlevel the playing field.

  11. BTW, I read the Wa post article and the comments: It seems the jest of the comment section is white men sayinng “Black people do it to!” See? No white male problem here! And you want to include them into a conversation? That is nucking futs! How is them pointing fingers at EVERYONE else but themselves going to help?

    And CU , you asked who is going to laugh at them? Well I said it before in a past post that never made it out of moderation : I WILL. From now on everytime I see some idiot standing in the check out line with a dirty harry gun strapped to his side I am going to point and laugh. Stupid? Maybe. I will take my chances.I have nothing to lose.

    This group, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, are terrorists. Their goal is control by threat, intimidation and fear. Well if my Friends in New York could be brave in the face of terrorism after 911 , the rest of us look pretty silly and lame not standing up to this new face of terrorism. I won’t be an enabler.They want me to fear and respect them because their gun says so? Ah, I don’t think so. If everyone laughed at them and treated them like the joke that they are they would change their line of thinking if their goal stopped working. As long as we are afraid they get their pay off for stupid behavior it will continue.

    As angry as I am I don’t think anyone is gonna have a good day if they point a gun at me. I am waiting for the day some jack ass pulls a gun because he thinks I took his parking spot or his place in line. IT WILL end in the persons arrest and the ability to carry forever will be taken and thats IF he doesn’t run into me on a day when I have PMS. I will yell and scream and cause a scene. I am not a helpful victim. I have no problem pointing out a gun nuts small penis to an entire store full of people. And if he shoots me , well then one less person with a gun on the streets.

  12. justme,
    Maybe I really am a coward.

    Though, hopefully, since you’re not a 55 year-old white male, who’s over 6 foot, and 250 pounds, you’re not seen of as as big a threat as I am, when you’re laughing

    Just be careful.
    As a woman, you might threaten these cowardly peckerwoods even more than some big guy laughing at them. Remember, YOU’RE supposed to be intimidated and frightened by men who you, correctly, identify as, “terrorists.”

  13. “the particular phenomena of mass and serial killings are disproportionately carried out by white men”

    Bullshit. Try reading your own link, according to it “Sixty percent of mass murders are committed by whites…Blacks are responsible for 36 percent of mass killings”. Whites are 72% of the population, blacks are 13%. Blacks are least 20% of serial killers as well.

  14. Yes, Steve M’s comments make a lot of sense. One basic reason dominance hierarchies can work is that a lot of people are willing to accept being dominated as long as they can dominate someone else in their turn. So when white guys no longer get to dominate others just by being white guys, it makes sense that the ones lower down in the pecking order would really feel the squeeze. I mean, it hasn’t exactly become a disadvantage to be a white guy yet, but there are fewer openings for dominant white guys these days.

    Of course, the nice thing about being human is that we don’t have to have dominance hierarchies. It’s one way to organize a society, but there are better ways. But first you have to be able to see the dominance hierarchy, and it’s awfully convenient for people who have unearned privileges not to be aware of them.

  15. “What facets of white male culture create so many mass shootings?

    I’d like to offer a serious attempt to answer that question but the parameters are too restrictive to find an honest answer. I know the statistics justifies the question, and I’m always more than happy to pounce on white males with their testosterone besotted brains and insane love of guns, but something intuitively tells me that the ‘white’ aspect of the question taints it in such a way that it disconnects from the true concerns of mass shootings.

  16. I believe it would be educational to further refine the statistics to separate out mass and serial killings where all or nearly all the victims were previously unknown to the killer. In other words, random acts of violence. Then we wouldn’t get as many comments that beg for Wanda’s reply to Otto: “Apes read philosophy; they just don’t understand it.”

  17. c u n d said, “…the breathless (YEAH, RIGHT!) millions waiting to read it?”

    C, one of my favorite things about you is that you use the same name where ever you post, which seems to be many of the blogs I favor. I ALWAYS read your comments, always, always, always. Your comments are insightful, often humorous, and honest. I like you!

  18. Swami, you often make me laugh so hard, I start crying at my desk. Which makes my coworkers avoid my cubicle, so… bonus!

  19. Thanks, Joan. I needed that. And I feel so incredibly validated. You know,rather than having to drive people away from your cubicle by means of unstable behaviors…Try posting a picture of DaVinci’s last supper..It works like a charm in giving you your own space.

  20. Actually, it’s mostly just a guy thing.

    Of all males, white males are only insignificantly over-represented among mass and serial killers.

    Just a statistical blip.

    Nothing to see here, move along.

    Black males, on the other hand, are very significantly over-represented among murderers, as a whole.

    Their ideas on why that might be are indeed welcome.

    As are anyone’s.

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