This is a bitter topic. Is the media’s portrayal of white heterosexual males as having some sort of a “triple privilege” actually contributing to acts of mass gun violence? There is no legally enforceable advantage to being a white heterosexual male.
I read an article recently on a website “vice.com,” that noted that it was a privilege to be white, heterosexual, and male. This is juxtaposed with the statistic that, according to the site, about 63% of mass shooting are at the hands of white heterosexual males, a disproportionate rate relative to their composition of the total population. The author of the article attributes this to the alleged fact that white heterosexual males all have feelings of entitlement to have well-paying jobs as a birthright, and that there is a serious blow to the psyche if that is lost, which leads to mass shootings. I do not agree with that premise that there is some sort of triad of toxic masculinity which makes someone better than someone else, I do not believe that white heterosexual males by and large benefit from any sort of legal benefit over the rest of the public. I condemn mass shootings. I am intrigued about the statistic, if true, that mass shootings are primarily done by white heterosexual males.
I hear this same rhetoric against white heterosexual males on the television, by political commentators, and even around some of my distant family members, but I am not aware of any tangible advantage of being white, male, and heterosexual. Just writing those three words immediately makes my heart flutter with a twinge of fear of being prejudiced, or worse, attacked. I happen to be white, heterosexual, and male. Am I that different from everyone else? Actually, the answer to that question really doesn’t matter. The real question is whether I get to play the game of life with the same rules as everybody else. I think I do.
I think mass shooters are individuals who lack self-control, esteem themselves and their feelings too highly (which may be a societal issue), are morally corrupt, and in a few but not in all cases, have worked themselves up to having some sort of mental health issue. At the end of the day, it’s a series of choices, and these mass shooters chose their path. I think this makes them bad people.
This is my distilled story as a white heterosexual male.
Like most people in the United States, my family immigrated in some way from outside the United States. My father’s side of the family came from Europe. My grandfather (white heterosexual male) was an orphan and started with nothing in life, not even an elusive “white heritage” (whatever that is) to instill in him. He married my grandmother (white heterosexual female), who was born nearly deaf, and grew up owning nearly nothing and picking cotton with her mother on somebody else’s farm. My grandmother budgeted every penny she owned in order to feed herself, pay for hearing aids, and every once in a while, she could buy a pack of gum (she actually kept very detailed record of all of this; my heritage). Together they started a family, and a business selling auto parts out of the back of a car. The entire family worked in the business in those days. One of their children, my father (white heterosexual male), married a Kiwi from New Zealand, my mother (white heterosexual female), who applied for citizenship, saved up to pay the fees, studied for the exam, and immigrated legally into the United States. Ironically, I think she knows more about United States history than I do.
Then there’s me. I’m a white heterosexual male, apparently of European decent. My schooling years were “normal” as far as I know. I went to public school from K-12. I had all the usual classes and could pass or fail an exam just as every other student could. I was unaware of any reason why someone’s skin color, ethnical background, economic status, sexual orientation, etc., made any difference, except that I enjoyed having a mixed bag of friends. I was a fairly average B+ child academically. I liked girls, probably too much, which may have had an effect on my GPA. Most of those that did better than me academically were of a different ethnicity, but I won’t say which one. I played basketball, horribly, mostly because I was not as tall or as coordinated as some of my team mates. Most of those that did better than me physically in any sport were of a different ethnicity, but I won’t say which ones. I enjoyed the swim team, and I excelled there, but mostly because there was not a lot of competition. I met some fantastically interesting and colorful people in the theater department, and I still consider those people to be some of my closest friends. In any respect, no matter what I was doing, the rules were enforced equally. The same opportunities to participate were available to everyone. Aptitude varied.
Applying for college is when I first noticed that I was being treated differently from anyone else. This is when I first discovered affirmative action, which is legally sanctioned racism. The rule is that given that student X and student Y are the same in every respect in terms of GPA and entrance exam score, but differ in skin color, then the school may choose one student over the other based on the school’s preferred skin color, or to meet some statistical bell curve reflective of a sample of the local population. This has now expanded to include sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious preference, and just about any other agenda on the map outside of academic aptitude. It applies to job searches. Spooky really, but the reasoning behind it originally was (is) to correct a historical pattern of having mostly white males enrolled in colleges, which affects job qualification, which affects income, which can affect influence. To be clear, white males working is not a bad thing. It’s just that the idea of “siphoning the pipeline” is a value the Supreme Court has imposed on the U.S for a time. It’s utopian, and it assumes everyone functions the same way and that college actually makes the difference. For some of the wealthiest people I know, that’s not true, it’s tenacity, but I digress.
I know for a fact that I was adversely affected by this policy, the proof of which I only discuss discreetly. I know for a fact that some institutions were not applying the actual rule of law when applying affirmative action but were skipping the first step (given that the original candidates were the same on paper in their GPA and entrance exam score). Thus, it was no longer conditional racism, it was just pure.
Still, I went to college. Scholarships and my grandmother paid for college, God bless her. I married a white heterosexual female. I went on to law school and got a masters in finance at the same time. Scholarships and my wife paid for those years, God bless her. I could not get a job after graduation, so I started my own business (I suppose that’s my heritage), first at a table at a coffee shop, then a storage room of a law firm, then a shared office in a law firm, then at my own rented office space. Some clients pay, some do not, and it doesn’t matter what sex, race, orientation, or ethnicity.
First, I do not know what it means to be white. Humans all over the planet have fair-skinned people regardless of whether they come from Europe, Africa, Asia, or the Americas. I tend to object to the classification of “white” as a defined group of people because it’s ambiguous. If anything, “white” is pretty close to “other” on any questionnaire.
Second, if there is a privilege to being white, it is not a legal one. It would be a perceived privilege and not a true privilege, and honestly, I do not know what it is because I am unaware of it. I hear about it, but I admit, I do not know at this time what it is. My only experience of being white is that others get to value their non-whiteness ahead of me.
Admittedly, it is easier for a heterosexual individual to impregnate another heterosexual individual because that is the natural biological way babies are made in a society that does not reproduce asexually. This is not a privilege, it is the natural order of things. If you want to start a family, but do not have the physiological traits to make a family on your own, then you will need to seek out those parts from somewhere other than yourself. I suppose that’s a little more work than if you only had to find a heterosexual partner, but I do not see heterosexuality as some sort of advantage. It’s part of the status quo for reproduction, assuming that is something society is interested in doing.
On average, I’ve noticed that by adulthood I was taller than most women, stronger than most women, and uglier than most women (the third may be skewed by my heterosexuality). My thinking aptitude seems to be about the same as the women I know. It’s difficult to measure, but from what I have seen through neurological studies, it’s true. If anything, I think a women’s thinking process may tend to be less linear than a man’s, but it does not have to be that way. I bet women have more capacity to be smarter than men. I think women experience emotion more readily and intensely than men. I have no proof of this other than my own life experience.
What does this have to do with mass shooters?
I can not explain why there is a statistic that most mass shootings lately have been done by white heterosexual males. I have had no desire to do it, and I do not know anyone either. All I can think is that it’s a popular trend, perpetuated by mass media publicity.
A mass shooting requires a few key elements: 1) a mass of people, 2) a gun, and 3) someone to pull the trigger of the gun towards the mass. We can solve the problem by addressing any one of the elements individually.
Option one: we no longer congregate in large numbers. Despite being in the digital communications age, this is not practical. At best, we could put up firewalls at concerts, bullet proof glass in schools and public buildings, and compartmentalize ourselves as much as possible even at “large” events. We as a society need to be able to be able to assemble and live, freely, and at will. There is a freedom of assembly for a reason.
Option two: we no longer have guns. If you remove guns, then there’s nothing to shoot, and so the mass shooter problem is gone. Of course, there’s still knives, bombs, chemicals, and a host of other options. The utility of guns could be weighed against the utility of assembly, but this would get nowhere. Guns are an accessory at times, and a necessary “tool” at other times, especially in a crowded place. There is timeless oscillation between those that argue there should be no guns because it reduces violence, and those that would say there needs to be guns in order to promote peace (which sounds oxy-moronic at first). Guns make people-killers especially efficient. Guns are like an accelerant in a killer’s hands, perhaps falling short of only bombs and chemical warfare. Controlling who, when, where, how, and why people use guns makes sense, and without trampling on people’s freedom. Guns in the right hands is a good thing. Guns in the wrong hands is a bad thing. Guns, alone, are necessary so long as there are bad people holding them. Who’s to determine who’s good or bad is a whole other problem. Interesting, if there is a group of people assembled together, perhaps a large crowd, and you give EVERYONE a loaded gun, what happens? You become aware of your surroundings. Some people leave. You consider the importance of the assembled group’s purpose and weigh it against the inferred risk of assembly. You start talking to people to make sure no conflict will escalate. You mind your manners. You show care in your dealings with others and respect other people’s boundaries and things. We don’t think like this usually because we’re a people that have gotten mentally lazy, but shouldn’t we? Thus, guns by themselves are not the problem, though their capacity to cause harm efficiently is duly noted and may need to be tempered on day, if even possible, and assuming no bad guys ever find a way to get around gun tampering; unlikely. In a world of good an evil, there must be some mechanism to protect the good from the evil (and at least match their firepower). You cannot remove all guns, or all weapons for that matter. I do think that there are times when there should be gun-free zones. Using metal detectors and searches may be the best way to accomplish this, and there better be good cause for having to give up those freedoms.
Option three: we no longer have people that pull triggers. Guns usually do not kill people by themselves, people kill people, and it usually takes a person to pull the trigger. In the hands of a bad person, you get bad results. If you remove bad people pulling triggers for bad reasons, then you remove the mass shooter problem. Easier said than done. How do you stop people from pulling the trigger? Educate them, train them, teach them about the important things in life. Love. This is a long process and it requires people being responsible for their actions, to learn how to address conflict, to understand their options without resorting to violence. It’s something every family, if they have one, should embrace. It’s about self-control, morals, ethics, good citizenship, and doing what’s right even when it’s not easy. It’s something every organization should take seriously. It’s about learning how to use a firearm, and how to “diffuse” a firearm. It’s part of your bill of rights, the second amendment, and you should be as fluent in it as you are in your First Amendment rights. Then, sift through to find the weak (background searches are a meager start), and address those quickly and severely that show signs of being bad or mentally ill before things escalate (including punishment for some, taking away a bad person’s right to play along in society, or ever have a gun).
While all three options can be exercised to some extent, option three is really the only option that can definitively change our nation and our world for the better as well as address the mass-shooter problem. It solves a lot of systemic problems really. Step one, monitor guns flow and educate the masses. Starting with teachers. This way they can learn how to teach others too.
This, obviously, requires a societal makeover. It’s time.
Originally published March 17, 2018 by Merrill A. Hanson. This is not nor is it intended to be legal advice. This is an opinion article written by one white heterosexual male’s perspective. It is introductory in nature and Merrill does not claim to have any specialty in the psychology of criminal mass shooters. Read and think at your own risk.
150 E. Meda Ave. Suite 200
Glendora, CA 91741