Since last Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many have been wondering how we can prevent another mass shooting from occurring. While most of the conversations have centered on gun control and improving our mental health system, David Sirota, a writer for Salon, had an interesting observation: white men are getting a pass for their actions.
On an appearance on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes, Sirota said that if the perpetrators of mass shootings belonged to another racial, ethnic, or religious group, that subset of people would be been relentlessly profiled under the guise of preventing another shooting, but because those who commit mass shootings have been overwhelmingly white and male, no such profiling will ever take place.
Let’s review: any honest observer should be able to admit that if the gunmen in these mass shootings mostly had, say, Muslim names or were mostly, say, African American men, the country right now wouldn’t be confused about the causes of the violence, and wouldn’t be asking broad questions. There would probably be few queries or calls for reflection, and mostly definitive declarations blaming the bloodshed squarely on Islamic fundamentalism or black nationalism, respectively. Additionally, we would almost certainly hear demands that the government intensify the extant profiling systems already aimed at those groups.
Yet, because the perpetrators in question in these shootings are white men and not ethnic or religious minorities, nobody is talking about demographic profiling them as a group. The discussion, instead, revolves around everything from gun control, to mental health services, to violence in entertainment – everything, that is, except trying to understanding why the composite of these killers is so similar across so many different massacres. This, even though there are plenty of reasons for that topic to be at least a part of the conversation.
Predictably, after Sirota wondered why no one ever seemed to consider the race of most mass shooters, he was attacked by several Conservative media outlets that accused him of race-baiting.
But Sirota has a point.
Had the Sandy Hook shooter been black or Latino or Muslim, the conversation about why he committed such a horrific event would have been tied to his troubled childhood or violent neighborhood or religious beliefs. But because the killer was a well-off white man, we are talking about improving our mental health system and banning assault weapons.
But the point here is that those tempered and nuanced conversations are only able to happen because the demographic at the center of it all is white guys. That is the one group in America that gets to avoid being referred to in aggregate negative terms (and gets to avoid being unduly profiled by this nation’s security apparatus), which means we are defaulting to a much more dispassionate and sane conversation — one that treats the perpetrators as deranged individuals, rather than typical and thus stereotype-justifying representatives of an entire demographic.
To be clear, racial profiling doesn’t work. But Sirota’s argument—that the only way we are able to talk about something other than the shooter’s race or upbringing, and instead focus on mental health and gun control—is because Adam Lanza was white is definitely an intriguing one.
What do you think?