White Men as the Major “Social Problem”

Journalist and commentator David Sirota has an interesting piece about the reaction to some statements about the role of white men as the typical killers in the mass murders like the ones in Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown which he made in an MSNBC commentary and interview with Chris Hayes:

I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.

Calling out white men, and most especially elite white men, as a/the social or political problem is something I have written and lectured on for many years now, but it is still very rare for anyone, commentator or researcher, to even go as far as Sirota does in this important Salon article.

Toward the end of the article even he starts backing off on some of the logical implications of calling out white men and insisting that he is not calling for racial profiling of white men as potential killers. He notes that the current tempered and nuanced conversation of these mass killings is only occurring because “white guys” are the (usually unremarked upon) demographic so dramatically involved:

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.

In my White Men on Race (With E. O’Brien) and The White Racial Frame book (soon out in a second edition in February) I have argued that these discussions such as Sirota raises barely begin to raise the issue of the role and significance of white men, particularly elite white men, in creating and maintaining our system of racial oppression, and the supporting social, political, and economic institutions that operate to protect that systemic racism and its white male regulators.

Here is a very brief overview of some historical points I make in that white frame book about that political background and current political reality:

The “founding fathers” created a U.S. origins narrative that was (and still is) substantially mythological, a story in which a mostly anti-democratic, often slaveholding, group of elite white men were said to be heroes championing ideals of equality and democracy for a new United States. These elite leaders created an imagined community, that is, a heralded “democratic” society in which all Americans supposedly shared comradeship. However, contrary to this mythology, the U.S. Constitution did not create a democracy where most adult Americans had the right to participate substantially and freely in political institutions. Native Americans and African Americans, constituting at least a fifth of the population, were excluded. (So were all women) As Vincent Harding has put it, the U.S. constitutional convention was “more like a poorly attended dress rehearsal, with most of the rightful and necessary performers and creators barred from the stage.”

From the beginning, the democratic rhetoric was usually more about public relations and the interests of the white elite than about creating actual democratic institutions. The new U.S. society was highly inegalitarian, with extreme inequality across the color line. The new United States was mostly led by white men who were overt white supremacists. It was a society that had no sense of shared comradeship among its white, black, and Native American residents. In 1843 no less a figure than former president and then member of Congress, John Quincy Adams, asserted in a congressional speech that the United States had never been a democracy because it had long been effectively controlled by a few thousand slaveholders. In this founding era U.S. political institutions were often openly proslavery, and an overtly white supremacist framing and dominance were asserted by many white leaders through these institutions until the ending of Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s.

Things mostly did not get better over time, as (especially elite) white men stayed completely in control of major institutions:

During the slavery and Jim Crow eras, the Supreme Court was a clear manifestation of white dominance, for only elite white men served on it. Examining the justices’ decisions on racial matters during most of the legal segregation era, one finds that they regularly reflect the dominant white-racist framing and routinely ignore or dismiss the civil rights counter-frames of Americans of color. Between the 1870s and the 1930s, Supreme Court decisions regularly eroded the civil rights that African Americans had theoretically gained under the 14th and 15th amendments that were added to the U.S. Constitution in the Reconstruction era. In the influential 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, a nearly unanimous court (one dissenter) upheld a Louisiana law requiring white-black segregation in public accommodations.

Things changed only because of centuries of protest by Americans of color, and then only as allowed by elite white men once again:

To the present day, the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court decisions interpreting it—almost all made over centuries by elite white men—have greatly shaped the basic contours of the legal and political systems, as well as other societal institutions. Important changes in the system of oppression, such as the official ending of Jim Crow in the 1960s, have come only when many whites have believed those changes to be in their group interest—that is, when there is what Derrick Bell has called “interest convergence” between the interests of the racially oppressed and the interests of whites, especially some in the white male elite.

When will any of the mainstream media call out and discuss various (elite) white male “social problems,” including problems of mass violence like at Newtown, as often and openly as they now do for non-white-male groups?


  1. cordoba blue

    I read part of a book available on Amazon by an FBI profiler of 20 some years. She tells us many people don’t know the difference between sociopaths and pyschopaths.
    Psychopaths come in all colors. The perpetrator of the Sandy Hook killing was a psychopath. O’Toole puts people who commit mass murder, whether they are black or yellow or white, into the category of pyschopath. Adam Lanza was a pyschopath and his behavior was not erratic, but regarding the shootings very well planned. He made sure the victims were children who were unlikely to be able to fight back. He carried enough ammunition to kill the entire school. He smashed all the parts of his computer to the point that it was almost useless for investigators to retrieve information. This, says the profiler, takes planning.
    Adam was also unable to feel physical pain. He was additionally unable to feel empathy or sympathy for other people. After interviewing hundreds of psychopaths, they are throughly disassociated with the pain of other people or animals. If you say, for example, death, they may say “oranges”. Instead of “sorrow” or “pain”. One man she interviewed said he felt sorry after one of his killing sprees. She asked him why and he said,”Because I left too many clues that time.”
    Psychopaths are not made, they are born. They can observe other people’s reactions to events and imitate them because they don’t want to call attention to oneself. But they don’t really feel the pain of others. Killing children is just as emotional to them as crushing a piece of paper. They feel no reaction.
    Sociopaths, like psychopaths, have social adjustment problems. They are made,however, rather than born. They may be anti-social because of parental abuse, poverty, poor treatment by peers (bullying), a handicap that is not accepted (and being black in a white supremacist society could definitely make one anti-social). Being black in a white dominant world is indeed a handicap. Many sociopaths, if they do commit crimes, grieve for their victims. They tend to commit spontaneous crimes rather than planned. They are the ones who “snap” under pressure. Not psychopaths. Psychopaths plan.
    The perpetrators of the recent killings, like the man who bombed the office building in Oklahoma, planned this for months. It was calculated and precise. Not sloppy.
    According to O’Toole,this is not a case about which race has more sociopaths or psychopaths. There does seem to be a discernible plethora of these killings by whites. But most of them were not against other races. They took many of their own race with them. So there seems, at any rate, to be lack of any racial motivation.
    Interestingly, most black crime, whether committed by sociopaths or psychopaths is perpetrated against other blacks. So add that into the equation, and it becomes a confusing sociological issue.
    But the point is there is a difference between the two types of personalities. It’s sociopaths who become spontaneously angry, and they come in all colors. It’s psychopaths who deliberately plan and conceive horrendous crimes with a great deal of meticulous preparation, and they come in all colors also. The name of the book is Dangerous Instincts: Use an FBI Profiler’s Tactics to Avoid Unsafe Situations written by FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole.
    Some definite characteristics of psychopaths she lists are:
    .Grandiose sense of self worth .Pathological lying .Cunning and manipulative .Considers killing an art and is proud of his “work” . Lack of remorse or guilt .Juvenile deliquency .Unrealistic goals in life. Failure to accept responsiblity for one’s actions.
    Anyway, thought I’d share because it’s actually very difficult to identify psychopathic behavior if you haven’t interviewed hundreds of these people as O’Toole has. And race is not a factor, although I believe that white men are committing most of these crimes because white men have more CONTROL within our system. That translates into control over buying guns, home-made bombs, “casing” a building without arousing suspicion etc.
    Alternately, if a black man did this, suspicion is immediately aroused. If a black man pretended he was a building inspector, for example, could he get away with it? No, but a smooth tallking white man could. A white man can slip in and out of the loopholes of detection easier while he plans his crimes. He can check out a college campus and even chat with people in the admissions office all day, while planning to murder everyone in the building.
    Psychopaths are extremely manipulative and metiuclous, and to plan the perfect murder spree,you can’t attract any attention. Thus, my theory anyway, why most of these killing sprees are perpetrated by white men. White people can be invisible, while the racism directed toward non-whites makes authority figures profile them quicker. It’s harder for non-whites to seamlessly carry out these horrific crimes.

  2. John D. Foster

    Change must come from the bottom up; in this case, from the blogoshere from sites such as this. Sadly, “progressive” media outlets like msnbc are still corporate-owned and controlled; i.e., dominated by elite white men.

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