White Men and Their Toxic White Fragility

It has been several months since the shooting in my classroom at UNC Charlotte where two of my students were killed, four were physically injured, and an untold amount of long-term mental, emotional, and spiritual harm was perpetrated. It is terrifyingly wide-spread the consequences of the shooting have been.

It hasn’t just affected me; my loved ones and colleagues have also felt the reverberations of this tragedy. Furthermore, the trauma doesn’t stop. Over the last several weeks there have been more mass shootings, bringing the annual total to more than 250.

Yesterday, there was another mass shooting carried out in El Paso, Texas (my new state) and I woke up in my hotel in Oakland to hear of another in Dayton, Ohio.

I have been avoiding writing about this more mainly because I had my daughter for the summer and it offered me hope of some reprieve and some time to focus on recovery. Reprieve never came, at least for the time being.

As a presence on social media, including a private Facebook account and public Twitter profile, I am constantly bombarded by memes concerning these murders. Many (if not most) of these memes have the same thing in common: they discuss some aspect of the killer with a special focus on his story, plastering his photo all over social media, and reminding us of his name.

I find this incredibly troubling and frustrating. Beyond our lives as meme-machines, experiencing the world and expressing our views through shared and retweeted memes, it provides a means for these terrorists to become immortalized. For the survivors of these tragedies, it is a slap in the face. Very little is said to memorialize the victims and these monsters get the spotlight they crave.

The constant focus on the killers normalizes the acts and provides potential future terrorists with models for action. But who are these people that carry out these heinous acts of violence and rob people of their lives and futures?

Right-wing white men (hence the bold ‘he’ above) are over-represented as the actors. This is an incredibly troubling trend, especially in the light of the current head of state in the US and the Right-shift globally.

Nationalist, Right-Wing political figures are wresting power all over the world. It seems the further we move from the Holocaust and as those that experienced it pass on, it becomes nothing but a distant memory of a time passed. Where Right-Wing racists were seen as the baddies (see: That Mitchell and Webb Look skit) they are being tolerated by “polite society”. One consequence is an increase in violence against marginalized groups. There has been a rash of murders perpetrated against Black trans women, particularly in the south. Another is an increase in number and severity of these mass shootings.

To conjecture on why White men are overwhelmingly implicated in these acts and are drawn to White supremacist ideology and the political Right (the Republican party and Donald Trump in the US):

As marginalized groups gain more power, prestige, and acceptance, White men see it as a loss of their political position of domination. Norton and Sommers (2011) argue that a decrease (but not elimination) in anti-Black bias is coupled with an increase in the perception of an anti-White bias. This is despite the fact that White people still maintain social power and are still over-represented in positions of power, with the consequence that they are still making the rules.

The ability for White men to abjectly dominate other groups (read: women, People of Color, Immigrants, non-conforming genders and sexualities, etc.) with no social consequences is slipping.

I believe that what is happening here is an intersection between toxic masculinity, White fragility, and the incitement of violence by a Right-wing, racist president that speaks to these unfounded fears.

Toxic masculinity refers to a performance of masculinity that results from the extreme maintenance of patriarchal power structures. Men enact power and control through violence.

Historically, men held positions of power de facto and, without any effort, benefited from social structures by the mere process of being. This was propagated through hegemonic control of ideology. However, through social movements this state has been challenged and has slipped ever so slightly. A consequence is a unequal reaction expressed through violence (direct and indirect), posturing (discourse, policy, etc. ), narratives of and victimization (“I’m the real victim here”, White replacement, calls of “reverse racism”, etc.). It seems some men will do anything to maintain their social positions.

In terms of White fragility (see: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo), which DiAngelo defines as:

“a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue.”

In the case of White supremacist terrorists, current discourse surrounding racial equality and the contemporary and historical treatment of People of Color and other marginalized groups forces White people to confront their role at maintaining these structures and the benefits received. When coupled with toxic masculinity, a result is extreme violence.

We see this fragility expression of masculinity manifest itself in the racist manifesto posted by the El Paso shooter. The sentiments expressed by the shooter is incredibly harmful in and of itself. However, when legitimated by the president, who not only incites the violence but does little or nothing to condemn it, is expressed in these terrorist acts.

Mass shootings have become normalized and are treated as uninteresting sequelea of being in our 21st century world. They are merely headlines to be tapped for nightly ratings and then cast aside once the shine has worn off. Politicians plunder the corpses of the victims for their benefit but when push comes to shove are either ineffectual or fail to act all together.

One other thing that was illustrated by the El Paso mass shooting was another indication of the racial injustice in the US. Black men perceived as a threat to police (but ultimately are not) are beaten and murdered by police (with functionally no consequence) while the man who perpetrated the El Paso shooting was taken into custody with not even a scratch. The police maintain White solidarity and prop up the White supremacist structure.

We are sick.

Also see what my student has to say about this.


16 Comments Add yours

  1. michaelkilman says:

    Thanks for writing this!


  2. Josie says:

    “White supremacist terrorist.” Haha.

    Black men are not a threat to the police. Hahahaha.


    1. Black men don’t commit mass shootings in public spaces. How about you keep your racism to yourself.


      1. Josie says:

        Mass shootings don’t tend to be committed at police. We’re talking shout threats to police.

        Racism! XD If you’d said, “humans are not a threat to police” and I laughed at you, would that make me species-ist?

        U dumm.


      2. Josie says:

        Yeahbut, you misunderstood my comment and called me racist, then you didn’t bother to ascertain my race and called me racist… care to reset and play again or just wanna double-down?

        But on the topic of black-men-don’t-commit-mass-shootings-in-public-spaces (haha), would you call a neighborhood a public place?

        Answer and fall into my trap.


  3. Oy vey, with this Josie character. Where to even begin with him. He can’t even see that he is making your very point. Some black people do something, it accurately says something about black people in general. All these mass shooters are white and male. Could we ever even imagine police pulling over every white guy justifying their detention with “you fit the description”? Josie, if you happen to see this please, don’t even bother to respond. I can’t, I just can’t today.

    I want to invite you and our followers to check in at my first attempt at a webinar this Sunday 3/29/2020 where I’ll be fielding questions related to Robin DiAngelo’s book from my black perspective. –ndm





    1. Josie says:

      “All these mass shooters are white and make.” Except, um, ever so many mass shootings are so so very super black? Like even more commonly than whites?

      I’m fact, a gang of black men shot up the duplex I was living in while I was home one day in fact, 8 people were involved and injured (none killed, luckily, though they did take the time to reload their guns and empty full second clips). It’s quite common with gangs and drive-bys that they shoot at masses, but I guess those statistics don’t count? Because, why, black violence doesn’t count because they’re not expected to be civilized like whites? That’s what people tend to think as they coddle and dehumanize blacks, not counting them in such studies of “mass shooting” violence. Only counts in white schools and malls, doesn’t count when it’s in a ghetto that’s a different thing we expect that kind of behavior!

      Hmm so yeah, you lookin purdy racist right nao. You’re the problem.

      Also, “Josie” is a guy’s name to you? I just can’t. I just… I can’t, just… not today…


  4. Josie says:

    (If you’re going to reply just don’t okay, I want to insult you without repercussions okay, because I just can’t…)


  5. B. BUCK says:

    Man you so full of shit your eyes are brown. Obviously, you’re a panty wearing liberal lady boy trying to apologize for your racism just because you were born white. Yoy have NO business around kids much less indoctrinating them with your liberal ideology. White men have done more than any other group to advance the human condition of all races. Only you liberals still lie in the 1960s. The rest of the world has moved on, improved. Youre still stuck with 60s bision of race relations


    1. Case in point. You’ve made my point for me.


      1. Josie says:

        White America was surely one of the first (if not THE first, if not the only) country to fight AN ENTIRE FREAKING WAR AGAINST SLAVERY, wasn’t it?

        All races have enslaved all races, and each other, including blacks. Yet whites are the only people you shame about it? You can only even get away with shaming someone because they have a core of morality and humanity, so your continued pathetic targeting of them (and yourself, so sad) proves that whites are, in fact, good does it not? You wouldn’t bother to continue to waste your breath shaming Hitler? Or the enslaving Chinese, enslaving other Chinese right now as I type this in a horrible country with horrible conditions?

        Oh but that’s a cause worth fighting for, no time for that, let’s just keep hitting the whites who already carry all that sad white guilt. Beat a dead horse, easy low-hanging fruit.


      2. What does that have to do with the US? I am writing about contemporary American life as a consequence of our own history of chattel slavery. “White” is a Western race category and a history of White male dominantion has shaped contemporary race relations in the US.
        As Jane Ellliot says, the greatest privilege of being White is that you can be totally ignorant of issues of race.


      3. Josie says:

        I’m… specifically talking about America. That’s what what I’m saying has to do with the United States, the fact that I’m talking about it?

        Continuously ignoring the slavery that all other countries and races commit and pretending racism is an American inventionis not just stupid, it’s dangerous. You let shit like China keep happening because you pretend we have our own problems so you can’t help them because hey I’m busy over here right! It’s cowardice to pick a cause like this. Get a real cause, make a real change. Write an article and help the Hong Kong protests why not. (Are they still going, have they all gotten forced on trains to work them until they literally drop dead?) Is white American racism really the best way to spend your time? Really?

        From outside America, the idea that America is racist, America the most inclusive fucking country to ever exist NO ONE has the mixture of races and ideologies America does, is mind-bogglingly laughable. It’s looking more and more deranged the way you people go on about America’s “institutionalized” racism problem when it’s literally, provably, the LEAST racist country to ever exist.


      4. The history of slavery in the US matters to the US. I’m not talking about China because the history of racism in China has not shaped contemporary American life.

        Discussing national issues in the US does not preclude the terrible enslavement of Uygar in China. However, the actions of predominately White men in response to shifts in power and demographic dynamics in the US has lead to an drastic increase in mass shootings carried out by White men in the US.
        Example: talking about cancer does not preclude Alzheimer’s. Both are important but it doesn’t mean any mention of disease requires the mention of all diseases (all diseases matter!).
        Also, no one ever said the US invented racism. We do have a particular history of racism and that is what has shaped contemporary race relations.


      5. Josie says:

        Your analogy doesn’t work. More apt would be to suppose that we cured cancer but Alzheimer’s was still raging and taking countless lives, and some asshat was writing supposedly deep and incisive articles waxing on about how we had cancer once, ignoring the raging Alzheimer’s. That guy would look like a truely pathetic dipshit wouldn’t he, especially if he was taking credit for the cancer he created though he never had a hand in creating it, just to signal his virtue.

        But that’s not you of course. You quoted Jane Ellliot (sic), so you’re clearly super non-douchey and a really all-around self-aware kinda guy.


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