Earlier in the year, following the Newtown mass shootings, we recommended David Leonard’s article “The Unbearable Invisibility of White Masculinity: Innocence in the Age of White Male Mass Shootings.” Now, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, we have posted the article again because of the media response that focused on factors of ethnicity and religion in shaping the narrative of the suspected bombers. Once it was discovered that the suspected bombers were born outside of the U.S., the framing of the story shifted dramatically from a bombing to accusations of terrorism. It seems that it is only possible for non-white people to commit acts of terror while the Newtown shooting was never framed as an act of terror. It is important to analyze how race, nationality, religion and gender influence societal responses to these large scale tragedies.
How is it that white, straight males remain unmarked, when the actors in mass shootings are consistently read as straight, white males? How do we construct innocence and dissociate pathology from straight, white men? What about societal expectations around white, heterosexual, masculinity as well as societal change in regards to these standards can be counted as shaping factors in the decisions of these individuals? It is a dangerous misconception that patriarchy only oppresses those who identify as women, patriarchy and violent ideals of masculinity hurt us all and we ignore the markers societally viewed as the norm. Markers of “male” “white” “heterosexual” need to be examined as a sociocultural category in the same way that marginalized groups are labeled. This article by scholar David J. Leonard analyzes the privilege afforded to white, straight, men in light of recent mass shootings.
I have been profiled my entire life as innocent. When disruptive in class, I was told that I was eccentric, that I needed to work on my focus. Growing up, I looked for fights and conflicts yet I never fit the profile of a juvenile delinquent. The chip on my shoulder never signified a thug; I was just a kid with a bad temper who needed to mature and grow out of it.
When I was pulled over in Emeryville, CA for speeding for several miles and asked multiple times by the police officer if there was a reason for my speeding, I told him the truth. “Officer, my ice cream is melting.”
No stop and frisk. No pretext stop. No humiliating search. No fear of how to hold my hands. No ticket. I, like Adam Lanza and James Holmes, the two most notorious mass shooters of the past year, am white male privilege personified. We are humanized and given voice and innocence over and over again.
***The most recent shooting in Newtown highlights whiteness and the ways it has been rendered invisible after every mass shooting. Described as a “nerd,” who “still wears a pocket protector,” Adam Lanza has been reimagined as a character straight out of The Revenge of the Nerds series and not a cold-blood killer. He carried a brief case, not a gun; he read The Catcher in the Ryeand Of Mice and Men, not Guns and Ammo; he wore button down polos, not fatigues. His life was not extraordinary but was that of an average kid. From the reading list to the sartorial choices we have been sold a Normal Rockwell painting. The Associated Press painted a picture of Adam that imaged him as a character ripped out of a Brady Bunch script: “He was an honors student who lived in a prosperous neighborhood with his mother, a well-liked woman who enjoyed hosting dice games and decorating the house for the holidays.”
While identified as “reclusive,” and “shy,” as “quiet and reserved,” as “weird” and a “loner” outcast, Lanza has been consistently described as an average kid who had problems and difficulties. At worst, he was odd and painfully shy. “He didn’t have any friends, but he was a nice kid if you got to know him,” said Kyle Kromberg. “He didn’t fit in with the other kids. He was very, very shy.” Yet, the constant quest to figure out what caused him to snap, to speculate about the effects of his parents’ divorce or medications, all refashions Lanza as a good kid, a victim of sorts. He just snapped so there must have been a reason. Yes, he was strange, but do good (white, suburban, upper-middle class) kids shoot up an elementary school? Thus, reports the New York Post: “Bloodthirsty child killer Adam Lanza might have snapped, and carried out his unspeakable atrocities after learning that his mom wanted him thrown in the loony bin, according to published reports today.”
The narrative following Adam Lanza and Newtown might as well recycled the media coveragesurrounding James Holmes and the Aurora, Colorado shooting. Described as “smart” and quiet, as “nice,” and “easy-going,” the narrative sought to not only humanize James Holmes, but also imagine him as good at his core. It worked to tell a story of a normal kid, whose life turned toward evil for some yet-to-be-explained reason.
Read the full article at Gawker here.
-Patricia Ekpo Blog Editor, Will Furuyama