The Aurora Shootings: What’s Wrong with White Men?

Why is no one asking what’s wrong with White Men in the United States?

With the newest mass shooting in Aurora, CO captivating the nation, it seems someone should ask the question.  After all, if we had a pattern of Women walking into public places, heavily armed, and killing everyone possible, you can guarantee the headlines would read, “What’s wrong with American Women!?”

I mean, when Nidal Hassan opened fire at Ford Hood in 2009, the media and politicians were taking Muslim Americans (particularly Muslim members of the armed services) to task, questioning their loyalties, questioning if they were part of an “inherently violent” culture, questioning every aspect of their identity.  The same sort of questions were asked when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, only directed at Asian American Immigrants.

When Black on Black crime is brought up, few question the realities of concentrated poverty in which the violence is occurring.  Instead, people ask, “Why are Black people so violent?”

One of the powerful things about White Privilege and Male Privilege is that those of us who benefit from membership in these privileged groups do not have to worry that our individual actions will be attributed to everyone who looks like us.  Well, that’s not true.  When our actions make us (and others of our group) look good, it might be attributed to our race or gender.

But when the vast majority of mass murder shooters in the last 25 years fit one particular description, what questions do we ask?  What happens when the shooters look like this:

 Or this

Or this?

  

Are there questions we should be asking about masculinity?  Should we be investigating White culture?  What about White masculinity?

Because if everyone in those pictures were Black or Latino or Female or Muslim, you know their identity would be central to the conversation.  And every person who looked like them would pay a price.

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30 thoughts on “The Aurora Shootings: What’s Wrong with White Men?

  1. Jamie, thank you for the courage you display in asking this critical question. Of course, the likelihood of this issue becoming a part of public discourse is slim.

  2. This is well written and sadly something nobody will discuss…which is suppose is part of your point. Racial/ethnic profiling outside of white european christians has and will always be common place. If anyone tries to change this, it becomes reverse racism. It is not about racism however…it is about truly trying to understand why white males poison of choice seems to be historical mass killings. Society has dissected and needled black criminals, latino criminals, muslim “terrorists”, crazy emotional females.. but always seem to sweep white male crime under the rug. This helps nobody….simply writing it off as mental health issues and calling it a day.

  3. Jamie, thank you for being you and bringing these conversations to the forefront.

  4. The same thoughts, about it being another white male, went through my head when I heard about the shooting. I’m curious, though–is it good or bad to ask questions about ethnic/racial/gendered culture, when a tragedy like this happens? Does it depend on the context? If so, how so?

    Right now, when it is a person who is part of an oppressed group, it seems like it has mostly negative effects when such questions are raised about how their ethnic/racial/gendered culture might have played a role in an event.

    At the same time, though, it seems like some questioning about white culture and white masculinity could be very healthy.

    So, how do we argue to others that it is good to question white culture and masculinity, but not the culture of oppressed groups of people, when events like this happen?

    • “So, how do we argue to others that it is good to question white culture and masculinity, but not the culture of oppressed groups of people, when events like this happen?”

      Why would you want to argue that? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If its good to question one culture, its good to question them all.

      • I disagree, RF. I think A Reader is asking an important question about power because the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” hides the realities of power dynamics.

        To answer A Reader’s question, I think we argue that because questioning those with social power is a standard we must create to check the social power and privilege from which White Men (and others) benefit.

  5. “The truth is the light of the world!” “We all need to know the answer to the question, what’s wrong with Caucasian(white) men?” “Particularly, in the United States of America.”

  6. Jamie beat me to the response, RF (thank you for both of your responses!), but I think their needs to be a more nuanced argument than what you wrote. In many cases, the type of cultural/ethnic/racial questioning that happened after the examples Jamie gave, of members of an oppressed group committing violence (Nidal Hassan, Seung-Hui Cho, violence in black communities), has been really damaging, and not at all good (in terms of leading to better understanding or relations).

    In theory, I agree with you, RF, that it’s good to question all cultures, but in reality (when white privilege and male privilege are put in to play) it has seemed like it has been damaging for oppressed groups culture, ethnicity, or race to be questioned (at least when the qualities of their culture, ethnicity, or race are questioned from the outside).

    • “In theory, I agree with you, RF, that it’s good to question all cultures, but in reality (when white privilege and male privilege are put in to play) it has seemed like it has been damaging for oppressed groups culture, ethnicity, or race to be questioned (at least when the qualities of their culture, ethnicity, or race are questioned from the outside).”

      Too bad. Most of the world is not politically correct and most common people don’t wrangle their heads over things like identity politics.

      Jamie posted this piece over at Good Men Project which means he’s part of a mens’ collective or “team man”. By asserting that only white male culture should be examined and question collectively and not say, Sri Lankan male culture, he’s being divisive amongst his own. That doesn’t seem to bode well for unity.

      And he’s wrong on 2 accounts;
      1. That people have not examined and critiqued white male culture. On the contrary it is examined and critiqued (more like criticised) all the time. If you’re in the academic world just look at post-colonial studies and if your a commoner like me, just sit down and have coffee with just about anyone who is NOT white male and you will get an earful.

      and

      2. the whole “white male” thing. Armenians are white. If this was an Armenian descent American who did this would questioning his cultural background be off limits? this whole “white” thing is a social construct.

      and

      3. I know I said he’s off on 2 points but I just thought of a 3rd. “power dynamics theory” makes no sense. What “power did this Holmes dude have in our society? That is before he killed people?

      I don’t agree with much of this piece, in fact there’s hardly anything in it I agree with, but I want the readers here talking about “white males” and “power dynamics” to think outside of your box by reading the perspective of someone who feels our country will face more crazy mayhem the more we try to pigeon hole white males into the category that everybody can criticise but from which they (white American males) cannot say anything in their defense, much less criticise their criticisers, if they happen to be non-white or female.

      Please read.

      http://whiskeysplace.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/the-dark-knight-rises-movie-shooting-healthy-and-unhealthy-fantasies/

      And Jamie, you seem like a sweet guy with his heart in the right place who means well, but why would you, being a white male yourself, even think for a moment that white male culture should be examined closely in a case like this while in similar whack job cases wherein the perpetrator is not white or male, their culture should not be called into question, particurlarly if the questioner is male or white, in other words, not from the same background?

      This is a divisive tactic.

      If “white male culture” is open season for every corner of the globe to critique, then every other culture is as well. You can’t pick and choose. Well you can, but most people will not, nor should they.

      And I’m neither white nor male, just a fair lady.

      • Crisp, I will try to be concise in my response.

        First, though I have occasionally had pieces published at The Good Men Project, I’m curious what it means to be on “team man” or part of a “men’s collective.” Based on the virulent response I have had from most of the men who comment on that site to most of my work, I am pretty sure I don’t get to be a part of their “team man” club, so I am wondering what relevance it holds in this piece.

        I, personally, am not sure I want unity with White Men unless those men are united against our own self interest to act toward justice. I don’t often see that kind of unity, so I would rather strive toward allyship with those who are striving for justice.

        To address the three ways you say I am wrong,

        1. In certain academic contexts, power and privilege are indeed critiqued and criticized (as they should be). However, in much of dominant culture, the power and privilege that come with being White and Male go unchecked and unquestioned. Thus, there need to be more common spaces in which White Privilege and Male Privilege are being questioned, no?

        2. You’re right that Whiteness is a social construct, but as such, many people have given up their distinct cultural identity (in my case, my German, Dutch, and Irish identity) to become White and benefit from White privilege. You tend to be hard pressed to find White people in the U.S. who are closely aligned with their unique cultural identity as it relates to European roots, and when you do find this, it is often in trivial ways (like the food). Beyond that, such ties usually die out within one generation of becoming “American” because of the benefits that are gained in leaving behind one’s cultural identity to become White. Thus, while a social construct, Whiteness is a part of a system of White Privilege and White Supremacy that pretty much every White person benefits from in the United States.

        3. By the nature of being a White Male, Holmes had more access to social institutions (like the University of Colorado through which he was getting a PhD). I cannot write a treatise on everything that is White Privilege here, but I would encourage you to check out the work of Dr. Peggy McIntosh, Dr. Robert Jensen, and Tim Wise to understand all of the ways that Holmes had power by the nature of being White, and that’s not even addressing his Male privilege. For a short piece or two on it from my own blog, check here:

        http://changefromwithin.org/2010/06/27/hilarity-whiteness-and-privilege/

        and Here:

        http://changefromwithin.org/2011/03/16/the-relativity-of-privilege/

        Lastly, you ask, “why would you, being a white male yourself, even think for a moment that white male culture should be examined closely in a case like this while in similar whack job cases wherein the perpetrator is not white or male, their culture should not be called into question, particurlarly if the questioner is male or white, in other words, not from the same background?”

        It is the responsibility of White people to question and check White Supremacy so that it is not solely the responsibility of people of Color. Similarly, Men must check and dismantle Patriarchy so that it is not solely the responsibility of Women. Thus, I think that it is vitally important that I, as a White Male myself, engage in these conversations in hopes of finding constructive answers.

  7. Though this is a thought provoking question, as long as the powers that be are White American males (in the USA obviously) it will never be discussed. In the USA it’s okay to make generalizations about all blacks, latinos, asians, arabic/muslims, and “emotional” females, but never about white american males. In fact, there is always the “he was a good guy, a loner, misunderstood, this wasn’t like him, etc.” whereas all the other groups are treated as if something is somehow already genetically wrong because they are not White American Males.

    We can’t start walking around being scared of White American Males in the USA when our bosses, coworkers, delivery men, etc. are all WMA’s. We can’t cross the street clutching our purses when we see them because we already “have” to clutch them when we see the other groups. And the propaganda machine wants us to trust these guys so we keep voting for them, keep getting loans with them, keep admitting them into any school of their choice, or giving them anything they want just because of the male/white privilege thing. The second the curtain falls and we start to notice that EVERYONE has the potential to be violent, is the moment we start to realize, EVERYONE is actually the same. And we can’t do that in the USA. No way. We must trust them implicitly, ignoring their track record, while generalizing entire other groups of people based on the actions of a few.

    It’s a crazy world we live in guys, and it just gets crazier!

  8. My opinion is that the problem IS part of a white-male issue. I think that it is more a function of the current media culture, especially movies, video games, and other forms of “entertainment”. Now don’t get me wrong , I am not against any of these forms of media. In fact I have always been a defender of them. But I do think that the mass glorification of violence desensitizes us to the realities, and contributes to those who are unstable enough to do these things having the ideas, means, and inclination to do it. Now, this isn’t inherently an identity problem, but lets also consider who has the most access to these media depictions of violence. Its the prevailed (usually white), and who men are more susceptible because we are biologically more predisposed to violence.(Studies have shown that watching television violence produces a brain response in men similar to that experienced during sex, while eating, and other pleasurable activities). I think it is also worth noting that specifically mass murders are disproportionately white while “routine murders” are committed by almost every race, and much more commonly in low income and underprivileged areas. I think that those whose exposure to violence is highly sensationalized rather then those exposed to regular violence on a daily basis, are more likely to commit sensational crimes when they finally snap. Just some thoughts.

  9. “I disagree, RF. I think A Reader is asking an important question about power because the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” hides the realities of power dynamics.

    To answer A Reader’s question, I think we argue that because questioning those with social power is a standard we must create to check the social power and privilege from which White Men (and others) benefit.”

    I’m confused. Its good to question or not? Its good to question some but not others?

    I’m not saying this guy did this because he’s white or male or a combination of both, what I’m saying is that when somebody does something like this, all aspects of their lifestyle and identity are examined. Whether it *should* be or not, it is.

    While making blanket statements about any group of people is inaccurate, we must look at statistical patterns and ask if certain aspects of the culture they were raised in could be a factor.

    And this goes for ALL people from ALL cultures.

    Culture is not a sacred cow.

  10. [...] every mass murder in recent years has been committed by a middle-class white guy. But as Jamie Utt pointed out in the hours after the Colorado theater massacre, in those rare instances where a man of color is [...]

    • I’m not sure how it makes sense to bring rampage killers from all over the globe into a conversation that is and must be situated in the particular context of the United States of America and our history and reality of power and privilege. When you look at those who committed mass murder of random targets of the last 40 years in the United States, you find approximately 7 that are people of Color and about 25 that are White people. All of them are men.

  11. [...] every mass murder in recent years has been committed by a middle-class white guy. But as Jamie Uttpointed out in the hours after the Colorado theater massacre, in those rare instances where a man of color is [...]

  12. [...] recent Aurora shootings. I’ll conclude with the link; it’s definitely something to think about: http://changefromwithin.org/2012/07/20/the-aurora-shootings-whats-wrong-with-white-men/ Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  13. [...] the past few weeks, we’ve seen two mass shootings in the U.S. that were committed by White men against targets those men did not know in seemingly-random acts of intense [...]

  14. [...] every mass murder in recent years has been committed by a middle-class white guy. But as Jamie Utt pointed out in the hours after the Colorado theater massacre, in those rare instances where a man of color is [...]

  15. Jamie, great conversation starter. The other very important profile detail that was left out is the age group of these men 16-28. White young adult males. The age of our mass killers is so alarming to me. Why is this mental health crisis on the rise in our young adult white male population? Are there profile connections with violent movies and games? Are there similarities or connections between troubled home lives or bullying? There needs to be a serious research project profiling all of these mass shooters. We need to find any links and similarities we can because they are now coming out of the wood work. What happened today in CT to our beloved children is the most heartbreaking target of all. These acts of terror are gaining popularity with our disenfranchised, youthful, white, male population in America.

  16. [...] After the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in July, I read this interesting blog post: “What’s Wrong with White Men?” [...]

  17. [...] likely perpetrators of American mass murders domestic and abroad. Authors discuss it here, here, here, here, and here. Trendy and [...]

  18. [...] middle- or upper-class.  And of course, there have been those conversations over the past year, here and there linking and questioning the fact that ove 90% of mass, serial and spree killers are white [...]

  19. [...] than 3000 views in its first two days of publication, the single most-viewed piece of 2012 was, The Aurora Shootings: What’s Wrong with White Men?  The post even got a shout out in Hugo Schwyzer’s piece on Role/Reboot.  Sadly, the post [...]

  20. I rarely leave comments, however i did some searching and wound
    up here The Aurora Shootings: Whats Wrong with White Men?

    | Change From Within. And I do have a couple of questions for you if
    it’s allright. Could it be only me or does it seem like some of these comments look as if they are written by brain dead people? :-P And, if you are writing at additional sites, I would like to follow anything fresh you have to post. Would you make a list of the complete urls of all your community sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  21. […] every mass murder in recent years has been committed by a middle-class white guy. But as Jamie Utt pointed out in the hours after the Colorado theater massacre, in those rare instances where a man of color is […]

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