Tag Archives: oak creek

Why Don’t We Racially Profile Whites?

10 Aug

A while back I wrote a post called White Identity Politics. In it, I wrote:

Whiteness has a political meaning as much as does Black or Asian or any other racial category. In order to define non-whites as inferior and deviant, whites needed to be defined as superior and normal. By claiming the category “normal,” whites imagined themselves outside the racial paradigm they had created. But, in fact, they were and are at the center of it.

I was trying to make the point that while whites seem to think of themselves as raceless, they in fact are the inventors of the whole system of race. They have a racial identity, and their historic (and contemporary) role in creating and perpetrating racism is as integral to that identity as surviving slavery and facing it’s continuing legacy of injustice is to the identities of African Americans.

In the name of white racial identity, whites have engaged in genocidal warfare against Native Americans. As the victor in this war, whites took land and natural resources not rightfully their own and corralled the surviving Native Nations onto reservations and forced them into inequitable treaty agreements, before attempting to make them disappear entirely through programs of forced assimilation. And ever since, it’s been part of white identity to celebrate white settler history and tout U.S. exceptionalism in spite of the fact that this nation is founded upon genocide.

Whites enslaved Africans – they invented race as we know it for this purpose. Even after a war was waged to end slavery, whites invented convicted leasing. Through this system, they unjustly imprisoned Blacks for the purpose of re-enslaving them. By doing so they not only created a pool of free labor, they terrorized the mass of the Black community of the South into remaining in poor jobs, often for their former masters and their descendents, for fear that they would be imprisoned since unemployment was a crime for Blacks in some jurisdictions. And where Blacks are concerned, much more followed, including Jim Crow and our current war on drugs (notice how I bring that up constantly? I think you should, too).

Whites vilified, persecuted, and alternately exploited and then excluded Asians and waged a war against Mexico and forced them into an inequitable sale of territory that includes all or part of seven U.S. states. And there was Jim Crow, lynchings, mass race riots targeting Black and Asian laborers, and more, and largely with impunity. I would go on, but I think you get the point.

The whole of the U.S. experiment in democracy is marred by incidents of racist brutality, violence, and warfare, and the legal diminution, dehumanization, and exclusion of people of color.  In fact, it is what most characterizes race relations in America.

If an attempt were made to racially profile whites, the picture we would come away with would be anything but pretty. So I’ve been wondering lately, why is it that in spite of the fact that very nearly every modern mass shooting is committed by white males there is still no white racial profile of the mass shooter. One would think that a population, defined by race by their own choosing, that has for so long condoned mass murder, especially in the name of their race, would be, therefore, suspect every time an act of terrorism and mass murder took place in America. But they aren’t.

There is also no federally commissioned Report on White Families that parallels the Moynihan Report. When we think of welfare, we don’t see white people even when welfare was created for white people. When we think of drug crimes, we see Black people in spite of the fact that whites drive the illegal drug trade in the U.S. And we don’t just see them, we arrest them, prosecute them, and imprison them en masse.

A Race Files reader sent me an article by Tim Wise about the 2001 Santee, CA mass school shooting resulting in injury to 13 white children and the deaths of two, asking the same question. In it, he says:

…once again, we hear the FBI insist there is no “profile” of a school shooter. Come again? White boy after white boy after white boy, with very few exceptions to that rule…, decides to use their classmates for target practice, and yet there is no profile? Imagine if all these killers had been black: would we still hesitate to put a racial face on the perpetrators? Doubtful.

In the wake of last Sunday’s mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (by no less than a self-professed white supremacist) I think the question needs to be asked again. Why is there no white profile? I’m not saying it’s just, nor that racial profiling is the solution, but as long as law enforcement is going to continue to racially profile people of color, I think we need to create an echo chamber around this issue and say it again and again, white is a race, it has a history and tradition, and mass murder is by no means outside of it, so why aren’t we talking about this?

The Case for Gun Control

7 Aug

The July 20th theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado and last Sunday’s shooting at a Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin has put the issue of gun control back in the news. The fact that the shooters in both cases used legally purchased guns strongly suggests it would be a good idea to change gun laws. But pro-gun activists argue that the problem is not guns but murderous people.

On the surface, it makes sense. Guns are only tools. If someone wants to kill someone, there are lots of other ways. If we could only mitigate the motivation to kill, we wouldn’t need to be concerned about guns. Some have even gone so far as cite the fact that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, managed to murder 168 people and injure 800 more without using a single gun, suggesting that people bent on murder will conjure other means if guns are unavailable.

Others argue that there is no consistent correlation between the rate of gun ownership and rates of violent crime across societies. One of the more powerful arguments of this sort was made in Bowling for Columbine. Remember that movie? In it, Michael Moore suggests that violence is a cultural problem. He offered the example of Canada where gun ownership is far higher per capita than in the U.S. but that has much lower rates of violent crime to make his case.

If you buy that argument as I do then gun control isn’t a cure for violent crime.

Yet, in spite of these arguments, I remain a gun control advocate. I think hand guns should be banned. I’m not just talking about waiting periods and screening. I mean totally banned. Same for assault weapons.

Here’s why.

First of all, if, as many have argued, the problem is not guns but a culture in which too many people want to use them to do harm to others, the case for gun control is that much stronger. If we are violence prone, we should limit access to tools specifically designed to accomplish violence, especially those that allow violent people to act quickly, even repeatedly, and from a distance, making it more possible for a murderer to act with impunity.

Secondly, most murder is not of the sort recently committed by Timothy McVeigh, nor the shooters in Aurora and Oak Creek. While sensationalist media focuses mainly on murder cases involving famous people who fall prey to murderous plots, or bizarre murders committed by aberrant individuals or groups who plot and plan their crimes, most murder is, in fact, an impulsive act of passion.  And while our retributive criminal justice system likes to paint those murderers as heartless, soulless monsters, most who commit murder are pretty ordinary people.  So ordinary, in fact, that they’re usually remorseful. They wish they could take it back.

So where violence is concerned, the better-safe-than-sorry code of conduct should be founded on the principle that every confrontation will rise to the level of violence possible no matter who is involved. If there’s a gun present, it will be used. Take the gun out of the equation and the possibility of a shooting is eliminated. That piss you off? Punch me. Go ahead. Just don’t shoot me.

Finally, I’ll offer this. I used to train people to work on a suicide hotline. Part of my training rap involved talking about relative rates of suicide among men and women. Men, I informed volunteers, commit suicide more often than women. Why? Not because they try more often than women. It’s because they use guns more often.

Suicide, like murder, is usually an impulsive act. Guns make that impulse a whole lot deadlier. When it comes to killing, it’s exactly the right tool for the job. So just as I would offer trainees the advice that in homes where someone is often depressed or suicidal they should probably not have a gun around, my advice for managing violence in a violence prone society is to make rules so that fewer people have guns.

Why History Matters

6 Aug

A while back I wrote a post referencing Japanese American internment during WWII. A number of people have responded by asking why this bit of history matters to us today. The implication was that Americans (and by that I assume they meant white people) aren’t so naive anymore. Such a thing could never happen again.

That mass internment may never happen in the U.S. again is not a prediction I cotton to, though I’ll allow that it’s unlikely. So why tell and retell the story of internment during WWII?

Because we are still afraid. The color of the demons under our beds are still black and brown. And when racism and fear combine, particularly in times of crisis, the mixture is too often lethal. Lethal to our rights, our freedoms, even to our lives.

That we continue to be afraid of those we label The Other was made tragically evident by this weekend’s shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The shooting resulted in the deaths of 6 people. And according to Mark Potok and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the suspected shooter is “a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” 

Many of the details aren’t known to us. I won’t comment further until they are except to say that bigoted violence is trending upward, especially toward those targeted as Muslims (and Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims though they are not, nor are they a related religion). Also trending upward is the number of organized white supremacist hate groups. Based on the upward trend of conservative Republicans who believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim (double since his election in 2008), I’m guessing racist conspiracy theories are also on the rise.

History tells us that these phenomena are connected. History also shows that encouragement of bigotry in the form of scapegoating, racist pandering, and fear mongering on the part of visible mainstream leaders makes matters worse and may even be the glue the holds all the other trends together – word to Michele Bachman.

So maybe a reminder of history is in order.

During WWII, 120,000 Japanese Americans (JAs) were interned in the name of national security. These 120,000 were pulled out of a population of 127,000 JAs then living on the U.S. mainland. When Japanese Americans were ordered to camps, almost no one spoke up for them. Like the post-9/11 persecution of perceived Muslims by fearful vigilantes and the federal government 60 years later (not to mention the equally irrational declaration of war on Iraq), internment during WWII was deemed reasonable through the fog of fear.

881 Alaska Natives were also interned. Confined to damp, crowded conditions without medical care, one in 10 died in camp. Again, almost no one spoke up.

Yet virtually no evidence of espionage existed. Internment was justified by a better safe than sorry attitude that put white interests and white fears before the civil rights and civil liberties of Alaska Natives and JAs. And I do mean white interests and not national security interests. After all, internment largely excluded German Americans at a time when we were also at war with Germany.

Racism is driven by many things, not the least of which are greed and disdain for difference. But fear is what gives racism it’s dynamism. It is what can, in an instant, turn suspicion and resentment into violent repression.

Today, fear is turning extreme Christian nationalists into jihadists in a new war against infidels, and ordinary Americans into timid bystanders, aware of the growing wave of Islamophobia but afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled apologists for terrorism. Worse, we defend racial profiling, saying it’s not about hate. We just think it’s better to be safe than sorry.

But will whites become fearful and suspicious of white racists if, in fact, Wade Michael Page, the suspect in the Oak Creek, Wisconsin shooting, is proven guilty?

I doubt it. History is, again, informative.

I saw no noticeable uptick in fear mongering concerning white Christian extremists when militia members Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols committed the 1995 terrorist bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. When whites commit acts of terrorism they are considered anomalies. But when brown and black people commit acts of violence, whole communities are pathologized as terrorists.

So it’s time for us all to start speaking up. And I don’t mean about fear alone, but about the way that fear and racism combine to create an explosive brew that has, repeatedly, resulted in violence and persecution.

This is why history matters.

Japanese American and Alaska Native internment, lynching, and the many other violations of human rights throughout our history serve as a reminders that of the power of fear when combined with racism. This is the thread connecting these historical atrocities and, judging by Sunday, that thread remains unbroken.

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