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.