A Closer Look at White Male Privilege
Although White individuals made up 69.2% of arrests for crimes in 20111, Black men still account for the majority of the prison population, more than six times as likely to be incarcerated than White men. Black men are also subjected, according to Lawrence Grossman, former President of CBS News and PBS, to media stereotyping where TV newscasts “disproportionately show African Americans under arrest, living in slums, on welfare, and in need of help from the community.” However, men of color do not represent the majority of school shooters or mass murderers.
Recent studies reveal that most school shooters are White males, with 97 percent being male and 79 percent White. Over the last three decades, 90 percent of high school or elementary school shootings were the result of White, often upper-middle class, perpetrators. These shootings are a direct reflection of White male privilege and the consequences that occur when groups like the NRA control influential conservative leaders.
Before his May 23rd premeditated killing spree, Elliot Rodger2 posted a YouTube video saying his intention was to “slaughter every single spoiled stuck up blonde slut I see” inside a sorority house, because they “all would have rejected [him] and looked down upon [him] as an inferior man if [he] ever made a sexual advance towards them.” These chilling comments cannot be simply regarded as nonsense from a “madman,” because they actually represent the deeply entrenched manifestation of our misogynistic society. Furthermore, the case of Elliot Rodger exposes the prevailing intersection between gender and race of gun violence.
There is a pattern in these school shootings that has been coined as “suicide-by-mass-murder,” and seems to be an almost-exclusively young-White-male phenomenon. Michael Kimmel, a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University and founder of the academic journal Men and Masculinity, has been conducting research on the intersection between race and gender of American school shooters, and observed that “victims of [young men of color] are usually those whom the shooter believes have wronged him. And it rarely ends with his suicide. .. White men, on the other hand, have a somewhat more grandiose purpose…’If I’m going to die, then so is everybody else,’ they seem to say. Yes, of course, this is mental illness speaking: but it is mental illness speaking with a voice that has a race and a gender.”
This “suicide-by-mass-murder” is a reflection of a combination of both White and male privilege—the ideology that White males have social, economic, and political advantages granted to them solely on the basis of their sex and race. In Elliot’s case, he believed he, as a White heterosexual male, was entitled to women and sex, and that their disinterest was “an injustice, a crime.” Misogyny is still alive and well in American society, provoking many men to still believe that women owe them obedience and adoration. Manhood and masculinity are defined and shaped from the early years of when a father or sports coach tells a boy to stop crying and “Man up, you sissy!” Boys become ‘men’ and gain respect from their peers when they lose their virginity or win their first fist-fight. Pop culture and movies drive home these not-so-subtle themes to young male audiences, teaching them that masculinity revolves around having a nice car, violently punching the bad guy, and saving the girl who would be nothing without their hero.
On top of all of this is the additional element of White privilege, furthering the notion that White males, as society tells them, are the alphas. These two elements combined invoke a sense of entitlement to jobs, education, power, and women. This embedded privilege within White American men becomes dangerous when they don’t get from women what they’ve been told they deserve or are entitled to. In many cases, this leads to incidents of domestic violence or rape. In cases where the man also suffers from mental illness, as was the case with Rodger, the feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts drive a desire to reassert his presence and power above women before dying, by doing something catastrophic that will garner media attention.
White male privilege is evident, but it is not something that is often pointed out or discussed. Perhaps it is easier to notice the disadvantages of racial minorities or females rather than the advantages of White males. Perhaps it is because they are taught not to recognize it because of the guilt or consequent self-doubt that comes with societal privilege. Nevertheless, as a result, school shootings are increasingly frequent and studies continue to reveal the correlation between guns and race and gender.
In the wake of the Elliot Rodger shooting, in which he allegedly exacted retribution against women for paying him no romantic interest, Congress passed a bill on May 29th that aims to increase funding for criminal background checks in a 260-145 vote. This is the only gun control legislation that has been considered since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, after powerful lobbyist organizations like the NRA cast any opposition to gun violence as opposition to gun ownership and successfully lobbied against gun control laws. In fact, at the behest of the NRA, Congressional Republicans passed a law in 1996 that prevents the Center for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funding to research the effect of guns. Republicans are now targeting the National Institutes for Health for funding research on public health issues of guns.
If change is to come about, schools and parents should start facilitating conversations about race and gender in the 21st century, because our society is not past racism or sexism yet. Or perhaps we should start with illuminating how the NRA, with 5 million predominantly White male members and $205 million in annual revenue, blocks most of the attempts for gun control legislation for their own agenda purposes. 47 percent of males and 33 percent of Whites in America own guns, while only 18 percent of non-White Americans possess firearms. Rick Ector, a NRA-credentialed Firearms Trainer, readily admitted that “the NRA has not made any significant progress or inroads towards increasing the number of black people in the organization and its annual conventions. By my own personal accounting, I met twelve black persons in attendance at the conference in St Louis.” There were 86,000 total attendees at the conference and they were primarily older white men, “the gun-loving sector of American society,” as The Economist describes.
The NRA’s lobbying efforts to support gun ownership truthfully supports White male privilege in America as well. It’s not enough that economic, social, and political inequalities exist in society. It’s not enough that Congress, as it did on April 9th, block the Paycheck Fairness Act for the third time so that women can continue to receive a lower wage than men. Americans must also own guns so that people can protect their White male privileges and, consequently, allow for anyone to wield these weapons and punish others when these men do not get what they are promised by society.
Please refer to Guns and Racism: The Critical Issue We’re Not Allowed To Discuss for further information.
2. After this article was published, information became public that Elliot Rodger was of mixed race heritage. However, he self-identified as “half White.”