America the Beautiful, America the Violent

Antoinette Tuff performed miracles on that crucial day at an Atlanta area charter school. Talking an obviously distressed and irrational young man down from what would most assuredly be another catastrophe of America’s young children at the hands of a man with mass casualty weapons. Listening to the 9-1-1 recording and her interview with Anderson Cooper, the nation saw just how close these school officials and students escaped tragedy. And even more astounding is that neither Antoinette herself nor the intended shooter lost their lives. It was indeed a miracle. But what touched many of us through this ordeal was exactly how Ms. Tuff handled the situation. She did not use special operations 101 or psychological training in crisis management, nor did she fight violence with more violence to defuse the situation. She used the principle of love to save lives. Tuff was able to connect in that brief moment with the shooter, conveying to the young man that he mattered in the world and was loved. Where others had likely failed to convince him otherwise, Tuff got through. She penetrated the man’s soul, and by that, the plan was averted and the nation was spared.

We are in the midst of a national crisis—a fight to recover the souls of young men lost, caught in the throws of a self-deprecating patriarchy and its stratified emphasis on race, class and gender. These particular interlocking social constructions of a manufactured reality have not served the emotional well-being of our young men especially well. If you are a young man in our society and you are black, mentally ill, poor, homosexual, or emotionally traumatized from early childhood experiences (whether it be from a fractured home or abuse)—you are among those at greatest risk of killing or being killed. We care very little about those who are outside the norm of white, middle-class, mentally/emotionally healthy, heterosexual males. And yet we emphasize that their masculinity is of utmost importance.

Our society places emphasis on masculinizing male children by withholding affection (in comparison to females), consigning to them gender-appropriate toys, and communicating calculated signs of “appropriate” forms and displays of affection. This image of masculinity is only hastened by the over-exposure of violence to our culture (and young men), which reaffirms their image-conscious masculine identities. In other words, what it means to be a man is further manufactured by media outlets including Hollywood films, sports broadcasting, hunting & fishing shows, and video games—all which commodify maleness, branding it for profit.

Interestingly, we expect our children to decipher and understand the difference between “good” violence (hunting, defending the country in times of war, sport shooting, etc.) from that of “bad” violence. This task is difficult enough by loving, informed and concerned caregivers . Without positive and influential role models, these young men not only lack the ability to categorize violence, but they also lack effective coping strategies.

These same young males who emerge with little guidance, are the same ones who believe in their mind that (whether real or imagined) they matter very little in the world and often feel left out and left behind, particularly young men of color (our most vulnerable resource). This can evoke the deepest sense of pain, driving many young people to make life-altering decisions with dire consequences. Enveloped within our nation’s narcissism, we pretend that human conflict found in the popular saying “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” cannot hurt as bad as physical pain. We now know this could not be further from the truth. It matters greatly that we humans feel loved, affirmed and empowered in ways that allow us to flourish in productive ways rather than destructive ones.

These “random” acts of violence are not entirely individualistic actions and maybe not so random after all; they were created and maintained due to our unapologetically and grossly unequal society, predicated on the status hierarchy of white over black, male over female, Christian over non-Christian, and wealth over poverty. The inequality in our country serves to make these men feel emasculated as they often relate manhood to material objects like cars, ostentatious jewelry, neighborhoods, shoes and women, which may explain why disrespect, humiliation and shame are often triggers of violent acts.

When men of all stripes do not have an equal voice, they have few options. Between our emphasis on patriarchy and our skewed definition of masculinity combined with our lack of direction for these souls, it is no wonder they turned to destructively violent means when they feel unheard or threatened. Many turn to affirming themselves by “being a man” and resorting to violence, chaos and self-destruction. Others who feel unheard, make the world see them through a horrific and monumental event. Either way, the lack of positive, self-worth-promoting entities in a patriarchal society make the affirmation of self through violence all the more likely.

Antoinette Tuff accomplished something that few others could have done. She was able to divert another potential Sandy Hook and national tragedy by showing genuine concern and love for the shooter. (That is not to say that anyone could have reasoned with the other mentally ill individuals who have killed our children and loved ones in other mass shootings. I wonder if the strong souls who lost their lives were even given a chance to do so. But in this case, one person was given a chance—and it was the right person.) She practiced the convictions of her faith in Jesus who taught his followers to love our enemies; she was able to affirm to Brandon Hill that he mattered in the world. She let him know that he was loved. And she meant every word.

Dr. Darron Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Follow him on twitter @drdarronsmith.


  1. cordoba blue

    “This task is difficult enough by loving, informed and concerned caregivers . Without positive and influential role models, these young men not only lack the ability to categorize violence, but they also lack effective coping strategies.”
    No kidding! So what does this have to do with race? It’s up to families to take care of their children, not society. If your father doesn’t want you (and this is the case now in almost 75% of black households. That’s a huge number and surpasses all races in America combined) then what can society do to compensate for this deficit? Please answer this and stop avoiding the elephant in the room.
    It has become the norm for black men to get their teenage girl friends pregnant and then leave. Everybody knows this. Black teenage pregnancies are at an all time high. Black high school drop-out rates are at an all-time high. Al Sharpton called it an educational crisis. But who’s responsible? Within the black community, it’s now perfectly acceptable to father children and then never speak to the mother again, burdening a society that can least afford to be burdened.
    You want white people to fix this? So African Americans have babies indiscriminately and then white people are supposed to virtually raise them? What other race in America expects this? The Latinos don’t. The Asians don’t. Native Americans don’t.They want equal opportunities and less discrimination, but nobody in these communities expects whites to raise their children. If you can’t afford children, use birth control.
    If you do have children, then it’s the responsibility of HIS PARENTS to love and support that child, and please stop pretending it isn’t. Anybody can pop out a baby. It takes dedication and a sense of responsibility to raise one though. If you can’t put the time into it, then don’t get pregnant. So simple.

    • Seattle in Texas

      You’ve said a lot of very cruel and hateful things on this site cordoba blue, but I think this one has to top the cake. Maybe not, but it’s definitely up there. It’s almost like a call for a Black Holocaust, and if you include class, a lower SES to poor Holocaust that just cleans the U.S. society up from all the trash apparently white society and middle+ class society should have no responsibilities or obligations to. (maybe working towards abolishing things like capitalism, racism, some of the status hierarchies noted in the post etc., might be a better idea…)

      I think you missed the point of the main post. A very, very well done and important post.

      Eugenics…when will it go away? Or will it?

      • cordoba blue

        Everybody uses birth control Seattle. That is not advocating a holocaust! Where are your powers of logical reasoning? Again, they have flown the coop and you on another rant that terminates in one ridiculous conclusion: Black people have absolutely no control whatsoever over their lives. Here we go again.
        I know,,,”Some poor poor poor black people have no access to birth control”. Like they can’t use condoms? Is that your next argument?
        Using birth control, which is advocated all over the world (yes, even in Africa)is a world-wide practice. Here’s how it works: everybody wants sex. But not everybody wants babies. So,,with birth control you get to have sex without the babies. It’s really a very simple concept.
        Because what’s happening in America today is lots and lots of black men are getting black women pregnant, and then leaving these women to struggle alone to raise fatherless children. See, that ain’t good!
        And crime and absentee fathers are very closely associated. Get it? So far so good? See, cause, kids without fathers have no guidance and love and sense of direction. And kids do need this,,,believe me. Not to mention, it hurts when you find out your Daddy doesn’t want you. Did your father want you? Then you’re lucky!
        And foster homes and following street gangs is no substitute for black children who need THEIR OWN REAL FAMILY. Did you live with your own real family? You’re lucky!
        I hope I explained this issue to you in terms you can understand. I hope it was on your rudimentary level. Simple question. Simple answer. Birth Control. And it don’t mean genocide. No connection. Non whatsoever.

    • Seattle in Texas

      I don’t have time to read whatever stuff you since left–don’t need to. It’s all too predictable…and old.

      And what’s old is constantly attacking black men on this site, and taking the topics of the main posts and trying to shift the focus onto black men as being America’s greatest “social problems.” Uhm…it’s more like white men? Hello?

      Also very old is the habit to overgeneralize other groups, or non-black groups with positive stereotypes and assumptions. As if they do not have shared problems, as with men having children and not being fathers, etc. Women can figure out if they wish to raise children on their own or not. It takes two to make a child, not just one. Nobody has any right to say who should and who should not procreate and especially the gull to suggest that some children are worthy of being born and others are not. For anybody to suggest some children are more worthy than others or should not be born in the first place is truly sick. People of color and living in oppression already know how people like you feel cordoba, and no, they don’t want “you” or people like you near their babies. Certainly don’t want folks like you “raising” them either. A bit delusional there to say the least. I suppose people gotta do what they gotta do to flatter themselves and try to exert their own sense of superiority though. Whatever. Things as the government, state, and taxes, for example, are supposed to help all people, not just some through systemic privilege while burying others through systemic racism and discrimination, etc. Society has an obligation to its people–all, not just some.

      And I’ll be sure to tell my own serial sperm donor that he is apparently an anomaly to his group rofl, give me a break. Oh and he, unlike blacks, only want equal opportunity and don’t expect white people to raise his/their children, etc., etc., etc. Actually, he didn’t expect whites to raise any of us…will be sure to tell my half-sister’s stepfather, who was an undocumented gentleman that his commitment was all in vain since apparently there was supposed to be an expectation by our father that whites were supposed to raise her lmao. Good grief, this could go on forever. Will be sure to tell everybody I know, including my own mother that they all should have had abortions, etc. Will be sure to let all the black fathers who are raising their own children or raising the children of others, or doing what they can to pay child support, etc., that it’s all in vain. You are out of your mind to truly think that black men do not care about their own children and ridiculous things as, blacks don’t want equal opportunity… It’s so far beyond ridiculous. I don’t even have words for such, bull shit. That’s exactly what it all is. BS.

      What’s sad though, is you’re a product of your culture and history. The privileged spoiled middle class or higher, etc. culture/society. It would be nice if you were just an outlier, but your a representation of that majority on both the right and left. A good example or demonstration of how deeply permeated things as the white racial frame, white supremacy, etc., is in what is considered to mainstream white, “post-racial” (?) society in the U.S. They could put up a post about a grain of white rice on a piece of white paper lying in white snow and you would make it about black men somehow. It’s so beyond old.

      Again, read the main post and try to see if you can get a gist of what it’s about. Maybe, you might see that it’s also a contrast to privileged white folks who lack the ability to help others as did Ms. Tuff. Too often it is people of color who are there on the front lines helping others in times of great distress–helping all others, not just their own. Unlike, whites who too often only watch out for number one and only care about crises that involve white people, etc. Ms. Tuff got very little attention and recognition for the work she did–but so do most. And given the post is about issues of masculinity, etc., also, maybe you could think further on that too…but maybe not.

      A nice pamphlet here too:

      and back to studying/working…

      And while I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again–not reading any more of your posts. Usually I skip them and once in a while read one, only to come across the same advocacy for hatred, eugenics, holocausts, etc., etc., etc. in the name of elitism and white privilege. *vomit*

  2. cordoba blue

    “The inequality in our country serves to make these men feel emasculated as they often relate manhood to material objects like cars, ostentatious jewelry, neighborhoods, shoes and women, which may explain why disrespect, humiliation and shame are often triggers of violent acts.”
    So let me get this straight. If our “society” honored black men more, even though their own fathers won’t acknowledge their existence, everything will be just fine? You really believe this?
    I’ll tell you what’s emasculating. The fact that their own father won’t acknowledge their existence makes these men feel emasculated. The fact that the only person they can confide in when they want to discuss guy stuff in the home is their Mama,,,cause Daddy doesn’t exist,,makes them feel emasculated.
    Young men need a father they can love who loves and needs them. No white “Big Brother” from the Welfare Center can replace a kid’s own flesh and blood father. These kids don’t need a “father figure”, they need the real flesh and blood actual paternal father. Not a “father figure”.
    Again, you’re asking that governmental abstract up in the sky known as “society” to be surrogate parents. That is what you’re asking, correct? But the real father is off the hook? He doesn’t have to do diddly because he’s black and he has every excuse you can think of (all very legitimate of course) why he should not have to even admit he has kids?
    Well, why should taxpayers of other all other races pay for the indifference of black men toward their own offspring? Why should any man work to pay for his own family’s needs AND pay to raise unwanted black children too? Where does the responsibility of black men begin? This thinking is a formula for a continuing downward spiral if there ever was one.

  3. cordoba blue

    Excuse the language, but I found this on my facebook page written by a girl my son used to date. She was a typical crazy irrepressible teenager until she got married and had two kids. Now she understands all too well the pressures of being a parent and why her own parents yelled at her and “gave her a hard time” when she was growing up.
    Nothing like havin’ kids to mature a person!It’s a revelation to see how this young woman has changed from rebellious teen to “fightin’ for her kids mama!” All her child-like views of life have changed. Now she knows all the hardships and stress of raising children and she is a staunch advocate for EVERYBODY TAKING CARE OF THEIR CHILDREN. Here’s what she wrote on my page. Again, forgive the swear word, but it illustrates her vehement appreciation of the emotional cost of parenting. It ain’t easy!
    “Fuck all the deadbeats and a big shout out to all the men/women that go above and beyond for their kids and or step kids. .. it’s up to us to lead our children to do good and become proud of who we are and who we represent..” This is called maturity Seattle. You should try it some time!

  4. cordoba blue

    VERY IMPORTANT BLOG POST from the BLACK GIRL THINKING blog written by a 17-year-old black girl who has a baby.This is what teenagers (black or white) need to understand because in poorer communities, especially, teen pregnancies can undermine progress to a better life with more financial security and stop the cycles of poverty.And children raising children within the black community is in epidemic proportions. This black girl speaks honestly about the heartache she suffered and attempts to warn other teenagers to think about their future. AND IT IS THIS TYPE OF THINKING THAT WILL SAVE THE BLACK COMMUNITY FROM WITHIN.

    “When I first found out I was pregnant, I felt like a ton of bricks had been literally dropped down on me. After the pain of the bricks came the numbness of failure. I remember standing in the doctor’s office with my mother who had taken me in to see the doctor because she had a feeling I was pregnant after I had thrown up several times over the weekend. Normally that would have been assumed as a stomach bug but there must have been something my mother “felt” that led her to the pregnancy prediction because early Monday morning we were at the doctor’s office and within an hour the doctor returned with a positive result for my pregnancy test. When he said “Yes mom, she is pregnant,” my mother almost crumpled to the floor. Her eyes got teary and she made a sound that sounded like it was supposed to form a yell but came out more like a yelp. Sadness was written all over her face and I couldn’t concentrate on my own disappointment because my mother’s disappointment and sadness crowded the room. The doctor comforted her as I stood near the table looking lost and afraid. I will always remember that day in my life because it was the first time I had ever seen my mother crumple. It was the first time I had ever been so at a lost for words that I wished I could just vanish into thin air. It was the beginning of my adult life and I was only seventeen years old.

    So how did I get pregnant? How did an honor roll student, which goals to attend college and own her own business end up knocked up her senior year of high school? It is simple, I was immature and irresponsible; very irresponsible. I had been doing all of the things I shouldn’t be doing and lying the whole time about it. All of the sneaking and lying was now out in the open. I won’t tip toe around words, I didnt’ t use condoms. Taking the precautions to not get pregnant was not a major part of my agenda and honestly even though I knew the risk of unprotected sex, I didn’t take heed to them. They may as well have been yesterday’s news because they went in one ear and out the other. I was in a serious, committed relationship, I was having sex and I was being a damn fool. Simply said I was what many young girls are today lost and irresponsible, and yes many of them too are damn fools.

    I hate to sound so harsh, but we didn’t get pregnant by mistake. Anytime you make the conscious decision to have sex with no protection/birth control you are not making a mistake you are making a baby. People need to wake up and realize that you can give teenage girls and boys all of the sex education classes you want, but at the end of the day how many of them are going to practice safe sex each and every time they have sex? Hell how many adults are practicing safe sex each and every time they have sex. And for those that say what about abstinence, let’s just be real, with the number of teen pregnancies in the United States it is quite obvious that most teens are not abstaining from sex. If anything they are having more sex and more of it unprotected.

    As I read this story today, straight from my hometown, about a high school here where ninety girls at the school are pregnant or have given birth this school year, I took a minute to digest the information. 90 girls at one school pregnant or have given birth this school year and this is just January…wow! This is shocking news, even to me, but it shouldn’t be because each and every day I see tons of pregnant teenage girls. I see them wobbling down the halls of the clinic waiting to be seen by the doctor. I see them walking slowing with their bellies poking out, some with other babies in tow. I see them with too little tops on laughing with friends who also have protruding bellies.

    Teen pregnancy has become an epidemic. I hear people say that parents need to talk to their children earlier about sex and safe sex and that schools need to offer sex education classes earlier, but guess what? Most of these teenage girls who come up pregnant know about birth control, condoms and other forms of protection. If asked they could rattle off to you from the top of their heads all of the different forms of birth control that is available to them that unfortunately they have chosen not to use.

    I know for many of you, it is hard to believe, or you would rather believe that these girls are just so uneducated about sex and misinformed about the outcomes of unprotected sex that they slip up and get knocked up all because they didn’t know any better. I’m not buying it, you want to know why, because I can speak from personal experience and say that I knew exactly what condoms were, how to use them and how to get a hold of them if I cared to do so. I knew the various forms of birth control and yes I knew that the withdrawal method was not considered an effective form of contraception; but do you think that stopped me from using it as my main form of birth control? No it didn’t. And do you honestly believe that the one in three girls in the U.S. who are estimated to get pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20 don’t know about birth control? I would say that the majority of them do know about birth control, and I would even go as far as to say that they have even been offered it by their parent/s and many of them lied and said they were not having sex. I was one of those teens who lied. I was in no way going to incriminate myself by telling my mother that yes I needed birth control. If I admitted that I needed birth control then that meant I was having sex and if I was having sex that mean I was doing what she had forbidden me to do, which meant my freedom would then be decreased because now she would keep an even tighter rein on me because she knew I was having the sex that she had warned me not to have…the same sex that I thought I was enjoying…

    Other times girls are getting pregnant because they think it is cute. Don’t believe me, look at how so many of them are prancing around proclaiming to the world that they are pregnant. Backpack in tow, they smile from ear to ear and say that they are pregnant with such a such’s baby and that they are in loooove. Yes, the big “L” word. Sadly, when it strikes, the condoms get scarce and the sex gets to be more often. So many young girls think that the sudden burst of happiness they feel when they see their boyfriends is love and they think that sex is an acceptable way to show that love. They could care less that this boy won’t give a damn about them six months from now, they are living in the “right now” and right now they are in love and with love comes sex…doesn’t it?

    Of course it does! Isn’t that what almost every show on television and the majority of the songs on the radio are telling them? These programs are saying sex now, then and later and it is a-ok to have sex because everybody does it and that is just how it goes. Teenagers cannot turn on the television without seeing and hearing sex. It is hard not to hear songs about sex, sexing and sexcapades. Sex is everywhere and for those teenagers who want to abstain the media will try to force sex down their throat and make them feel as if something is wrong with them if they are not having sex, after all sex is popular and who doesn’t want to be popular?

    I do agree with the organizations that say that sex education classes need to start before middle school for students. However I do not feel that having these classes earlier in the schools will tremendously decrease the amount of teen pregnancies that we are seeing. In order to see a large drop in those numbers teens are going to have to do something that many of them have so far refused to do and that is be responsible. You can provide them with the information all you want, but the brochure you hand them or the demonstration done in the classroom will not magically place a condom on a penis or drop a birth control pill into her mouth daily.

    Sex education needs to deal with the facts. Teenagers need to know just how many of them are having babies and just how many of them have sexually transmitted diseases. They need to know the proper way to use birth control and they need to know that it has to be used properly each and every time. Teenagers need to learn how to deal with their emotions because too many of them are lusting for love and they have grown to believe that love automatically involves sex.

    We should not be so naive as to believe that our teens do not know what birth control is. We should not dare pretend that teenagers don’t know how or where to get condoms. We definitely should not fool ourselves into thinking that they don’t know the changes that an unplanned pregnancy can bring, after all many of their friends have babies so they know what having a baby is like.

    Let’s be realistic and teach our children about sex. Parents be open to discussing sex with your children because if you don’t they will have it anyway and you will be the only one in the dark about who they are having it with. Sex education classes should include more than books and demonstrations. Bring in speakers who have AIDS or HIV to talk to the children. Let them hear firsthand from someone who made the mistake of taking unprotected sex lightly and ended up with a deadly disease. Bring in single mothers who can tell these young people face to face how hard it is to raise a child when you have nothing. Hell, bring me in, I will talk to them about running in the rain to catch buses while pushing a stroller and dodging puddles at the same time. I will tell them how your social life can be nonexistent and you can work Monday thru Friday only to receive a paycheck that is laughable. I will also tell them that there is no need to rush to have sex, yes it seems that everyone is doing it but guess what, you aren’t everyone else.

    These children need goals. They need plans for their lives before high school. These plans need to be detailed and laid out and teachers, parents and the community need to help these children make their plans become reality. They need activities to keep them busy and organizations to be a part of. They need a village that cares enough about them to frown upon sex before marriage and let them know that it is not their only option. We as the village need to show these children that what they see on television is just that; television. It is entertainment and they cannot base their lives upon what looks good on television. It is made to entertain you and not shape your decisions and direct your path in life.

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