WARNING: If you are sensitive to issues of race, then avoid reading this posting (because regular readers know I have no problem writing objectively about observations critical about any and every ethnic group, including my fellow African-American demographic).
Almost all of America knows or has heard about the rampant, bloody, mostly gun-based violence in my hometown of Chicago. As of this past Thursday, the city logged its 100 homicide of 2013—with only a third of the year having come to pass. And sadly, this type of violence is emblematic of many urban areas around the country. However, this type of everyday violence if often overshadowed in the news by acts of random violence of individuals we can only described as “deranged.”
Within the past 48 hours, a video-taped shootout that happened in a small Ohio town last month has been a part of the news. The video shows a middle-aged white male getting out of a car without warning, which had been stopped by police officers, and proceeded to unload a volley of gunfire from an assault rifle at the officers. The officers responded with returning fire, killing the man. On the video, the man could be heard yelling, “Kill me” (see video below).
The events three weeks ago during the Boston Marathon—an outrageous tragedy to be sure—got me thinking about life in America as an African-American. More so, as an African-American who has spent much of the last 2 decades so working with both underprivileged youth and adults, I have both experienced and bore witness a level of social reality that on the surface would seem to generate anger and frustration that should have many more individuals setting off deadly bombs in effigy at “the system.” No, I’m not advocating killing or maiming as an instrument of protest. What the bombings at the Boston Marathon got me to wondering about is what makes otherwise privileged—or potentially so—white males so dissatisfied with American society that they would lash out in destructive ways, while far more troubled black Americans endure real trials with a comparatively better social grace?
In what seems of late to be a regular occurrence, we often read or hear about white males like Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarmaev—the brothers alleged to have been responsible for the bombs at the Marathon—who feel disenchanted by their experience in America. In extreme cases, these disgruntled white males have proceeded to take out their perceptions of discontent on society (as it were) in destructive ways that usually end-up being invariably lethal to innocents.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarmaev
James Holmes, the orange-hair-dyed perpetrator of the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting that resulted in some 12 deaths and 58 injuries, was a graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado. In fact, before committing the mass shooting in a theater, he’d previously declined the university’s offer of acceptance into its PhD program—complete with a $21,600 grant from the National Institute for Health.
into its PhD program—complete with a $21,600 grant from the National Institute for Health. Holmes had an opportunity to pursue an advanced and decent education of his own choosing that many black males rarely get. Dzhokhar Tsarmaev, the younger of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects attended the prestigious Cambridge Rindge and Latin school, one of the region’s premiere competitive public schools, with a student body comprised of young people from over 70 nations and counts among its alumni the likes of actor Ben Affleck, NBA legend Patrick Ewing, and author E.E. Cummings. Tamerlan was an inconsistent student at a local community college. When so many black males are forced to attempt to learn even the basics in schools with limited funding located in high crime and poverty areas, learn in overcrowded classrooms with disruptive “special needs” students, all the while resisting the various social pressures that reduces learning to a secondary purpose of attending schools (while struggling to graduate), Holmes, the Tsarmaev brothers, and other white males’ educational prospects puts them in an enviable position in life more so than many of their black male contemporaries. The bottom line is that many white males—disgruntled or otherwise—have choices in their education that many black males do not. That translates into better life opportunities…the like which makes one wonder why some become ticking time bombs that inflict pain on others.
The disconnect between how black males endure life’s trials versus the perceptual pains of dangerously frustrated white males goes back past the recent mass shootings and bombings. Whatever problems these individuals have couldn’t possibly come close to say, experiencing the ineptitude of the government response to basic needs in the immediate aftermath of post-New Orleans Katrina, or to the indignity of being systematically denied equal accommodations (or respect) under the law of the old segregated South. When lynchings, unprovoked racial violence, and de facto/de jure denial of basic rights and human dignity were commonplace in America, there was plenty of vocal criticisms leveled against the federal and local governments, but there were no retaliatory bombings of government offices as a show of protest. There were no mass shootings of innocents, or armed individuals attending the public meetings between Congressmen and their constituents. During times when there was a true violation of Constitutional rights by state and local (and in some instances, the federal) governments, black male anger never boiled over into acts of wanton violence—even against the system that turned a blind eye. And as white males have never been subjected to such wholesale indignity on a level even close, it makes me wonder what levels of comparatively lesser frustrations could trigger the desire to inflict hurt on those who have nothing whatsoever to do with hindering an individual’s chances for success…especially when the cards are stacked in his favor by virtue of birth?
Civil Rights-era voting rights protestor attacked by police and attack dogs
Black anger and frustration, even during the most trying of socio-political and economic times, has rarely elicited anything in the way violent rage-against-the-machine-type reactions that destructive-minded angry white males are willing to engage in (sadly, most of our destructive tendencies tend to be self-directed). The closest thing to explosive anger that can even be remotely compared as an example of brink-level frustrations that some angry white males exhibit was the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And to put this into perspective, the Panthers were formed only after a couple centuries of oppression that included lynchings, disappearances, race-riots (which many African-Americans caught the business-end of), government inaction (or collusion in the car of local police departments) with regards to violence perpetrated against blacks.
What is it about disgruntled white males that find them seemingly unable to cope with something as common as—for instance—a job loss in manners which doesn’t cause American society to rewrite the rules of workplace safety? A generation ago, the phrase “violence in the workplace” was unheard of. But today, how often have we seen instances of violence in the workplace perpetuated primarily by disgruntled white males? African-Americans have our share of socioeconomic problems, but being unable to handle something like being dismissed from employment, unjustly or otherwise, is not one of them. We weathered the disproportionate levels of higher unemployment among our ethnic demographic during the Carter and Reagan years, as well as during the recent economic crisis and the resulting economic downturn.
Even among many white males who do not resort to mass shootings, bombings, or poison-spiked mail deliveries, their alarmist mindsets tend to reflect either frustrations and/or paranoid preoccupation with their well-being simply doesn’t gel with reality the way the average African-American see it. And realistically-speaking, these white males have never really had any real cause to be vigilant (or hostile) towards any particular state or the federal government as a “tyrannical” force looking to “suppress” their civil liberties or “rights.” Coming from the perspectives of those who have had to endure arrests, physical violence, and fear of death just to sit on the front of a public bus, the concern for these white males have for their dignity and their “rights” to be potentially “violated” by any government seems unreal to African-Americans. In fact, compared to the African-American historical experience, their knee-jerk penchant for challenging innocuous laws as being a “violation” of their “rights” is akin to someone looking for an enemy to fear…one that simply isn’t there.
Our mistake is in assuming that such deranged individuals are “crazy.” I believe this to be hardly true. Those particular white males who harbor feelings of disaffectedness, and who engage in mass shootings and other such destructive demonstrations of their extreme angst tend to pick and choose targets who have little or no chance of fighting back. They chose locales where their potential victims are caught completely unawares, and who are not capable of preventing this cowards from potentially interfering with their plans to inflict maximum pain. And that is what these individuals are…cowards! If they were truly unhinged from reality, they would chose targets that would truly reflect their seemingly “I-don’t-care” attitude with their lives, and life in general. Why not walk into a police station, a gun show, or even a public housing project and attempt to randomly inflict pain? Because they fear the same pain they seek to inflict would be visited upon them. Shooting a classroom of early grade elementary students; a house of worship; bombing an annual sporting event…all in the name of expressing dissatisfaction? Not “insanity,” not “protest,” and not “justice.” Its cowardice.
Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza
Additionally, our lawmakers may be entitled-minded, self-interest-driven, ideological, money-motivated, egotistical elitists, but their own individual love of liberty makes it hard to believe that any of them would concertedly work to suppress our rights, so white males really need to come off that conspiracy-level thinking. Yes, its fine to be vigilant, by not to the point of paranoia. And definitely not to the point where one feels guns are the only way our government is willing to listen to us.