However, there are several conversations that will likely not occur. It is unlikely that the aftermath of the Colorado shooting rampage will be a moment when we as a country reflect upon the relationship between masculinity and violence. There most certainly will not be a “beer summit” about how accused shooter James Holmes is one more entry in a long list of mass killers who are white, male, and young.
As folks have worked through many times before in the common “what if?” game of race in America, if James Holmes were black or brown this would be one more signal to the existence of a “pathological culture” among said group. If James Holmes were Muslim American the Colorado shooting would be a clear act of “terrorism,” and an example of the Islamic bogeyman next door who has occupied the dreams and nightmares of the “heartland” since September 11th.
These narratives would be accepted as common sense; few qualifiers or critical interventions would be offered by the mass media, the pundit classes, or the general public.
Consider the following list for a moment: with a few exceptions, most of those men who have committed mass shootings in the United States have been white.
The freedom to kill, maim, commit wanton acts of violence, and to be anti-social (as well as pathological) without having your actions reflect on your own racial group, is one of the ultimate, if not in fact most potent, examples of White Privilege in post civil rights era America. Instead of a national conversation where we reflect on what has gone wrong with young white men in our society–a group which apparently possesses a high propensity for committing acts of mass violence–James Holmes will be framed as an outlier.
That is a mighty comfort to have–all of one’s deficiencies are ignored as those of an individual; all of one’s abilities and gifts are taken as positive attributes and credits to one’s race.
As comedian Louis CK has joked, it sure as hell is good to be white and male in America! If given a choice to re-up every year, who the hell wouldn’t sign up to be white again?
In America, folks often ask, “what the hell is wrong with black people?” In the aftermath of the Colorado Movie Massacre, Columbine, and many other incidents, we need to ask, “what the hell is wrong with young white men?
Sadly, that question will not be asked on a national stage. White privilege is blinding. In the case of James Holmes, it also mutes a much needed national conversation about the ties between (white) masculinity and violence.