Something terrible happened this week. A young white supremacist went to a historical African-American church in Charleston, attended a Bible Study session, and then killed nine people. I am omitting his name because he is a disgrace unworthy of the attention that his pathetic actions warranted. Most of us, perhaps, have one chance in life to really be remembered for something, and he chose the worst possible route.
I think I understand his motives, however, and that troubled me. So here I am today.
Based on his statements so far, he believes some truly wild things. To wit:
Witnesses to the killings said the gunman asked for the pastor when he entered the church, and sat next to Mr. Pinckney during the Bible study.
They said that almost an hour after he arrived, the gunman suddenly stood and pulled a gun, and Ms. Washington’s cousin Tywanza Sanders, 26, known as the peacemaker of the family, tried to calmly talk the man out of violence.
“You don’t have to do this,” he told the gunman, Ms. Washington recounted.
The gunman replied, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”
This eerily resembles the manifesto of the Santa Barbara shooter, who similarly deserves to remain nameless. Sexual frustration seemed to drive his shootings too.
It all has to come to this,” Mr. Rodger says, his voice at once placid and chilling. “Tomorrow is the day of retribution. The day I will have my retribution against humanity. Against all of you. For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men but never to me. I’m 22 years old, and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I have been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. All because girls have never been attracted to me. In those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness.”
“I do not know why you girls aren’t attracted to me,” he said, “But I will punish you all for it.”
These jackasses have a profound sense of entitlement. They feel entitled, apparently, to women’s bodies. Charleston Jackass feels specifically entitled to white women’s bodies, while Santa Barbara Jackass has a less specific desire to be found attractive by women. They did not find him attractive, and this enraged him enough to kill 6 people.
And I can relate to this feeling of entitlement. I don’t like to admit to it, but it’s there. I’m not sure it’s possible to be raised as a white American male and not feel at least a little of it.
When I was growing up, there was an expectation that I Would Make Something Of Myself. My parents had done so, after all. I was their child, and I was a citizen of the Greatest Nation On Earth. Saint Reagan’s Utopia of free enterprise and opportunity.
You can still see a lot of this expectation levied upon millennial graduates in general, I think. A sort of bemused wondering why they haven’t been successful relative to their parents yet. If they are, it’s often with a significant leg up from those same family members. But millennials, unlike the Greatest Generation or the Baby Boomers, just can’t get their shit together. They’re hung up on trigger warnings and gay marriage and other trivial bullshit. What is their problem?
Well, let’s look at recent history a little bit.
In America, following World War 2, there was a virtual firehose of money directed at white men. The GI Bill subsidized the education of many returning (white!) veterans, who then used their new college degrees and business education to capture an enormous share of the money heading to America from the vast number of nations devastated by World War 2. It was an unprecedented time in human history for white men. If you were a white male business graduate or perhaps an Ivy student graduating in the late 1940s, the world was quite literally your oyster. There were limitless opportunities.
One of the most important factors, perhaps, was public subsidization of education. College degrees were useful, and dirt cheap. This is obviously not the case in 2015, where the proliferation of degrees has rendered them simultaneously essential (everyone has one!) but not particularly useful as a signifier of skills, knowledge or talent. Bloomberg states that college tuition and fees have risen 1120 percent since 1978. Incomes have, of course, not risen by the same percent.
Housing costs, too, are substantial, and have soared well past the inflation rate for decades. A new term has come up recently (the “sharing economy”) to describe the fact that ownership of assets is simply out of the reach of most millennials. This too is significant, because most middle-class family wealth is tied primarily to their home’s value. If you can’t afford a house, you can’t play the game.
So now, if you’re a privileged white guy graduating in 2015, you have a bit of a problem. It’s entirely possible that your father with an English degree (or maybe even a HS diploma) walked onto a job that paid enough for him to buy a house, two cars, and even invest a bit in the stock market. The situation waiting for you is not as rosy: college is very expensive, housing is often out of reach, and you even have to be careful which degrees you try to aim for. The factors that led to success in 1945, or 1965, or 1985, are just not the same as in 2015.
But you live in America. You’re privileged. You believe in the American Dream. Is the problem that you’re a screwup? Or did someone else–like a minority, or immigrants–take that dream away from you?
And so, with the proper conservative upbringing and just enough privilege to not realize that the American Dream is oversold, you get angry. What changed since those golden years in the past? Was it offshoring of manufacturing? Was it women entering the workplace in large numbers? Perhaps it was immigrants? Or maybe it was ethnic minorities finally achieving some measure of equality?
Here’s the thing. A lot of people, when faced with that sort of coming-of-age dilemma, will not turn violent. I didn’t. Most won’t–they’ll accept that the causes are complex and that they need to adjust. But some start looking for explanations in the wrong places.
I’m not saying that a conservative upbringing is going to lead you to white supremacist beliefs. But conservative beliefs are practically essential for the formation of white supremacist beliefs. It’s like the joke about Fox News – not racist, but #1 with racists.
Here’s the thing, too. As news comes out, it appears more and more likely that a lot of people knew about his incredibly racist beliefs as well as his plans to start shooting, but didn’t think this was remarkable enough to notify anyone.
The suspected gunman who massacred nine people inside a historic black South Carolina church Wednesday got a gun for his 21st birthday in April and bragged last week about his plans to “kill a bunch of people,” sources said.
How comfortable with poisonous beliefs do you have to be, to not report a suspected mass shooting of African-Americans? This wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t unavoidable. The shooter held some incredibly common beliefs, and took them one step further.
Sure, he was raised to be a racist. He just did racist homework, on Rhodesia, and South Africa. He took his beliefs to their awful conclusion.
Maybe his family was just a little racist. Maybe they were ironically racist. Maybe they just loved the Stars and Bars. It doesn’t matter now, because he took those beliefs, ran with them, and now nine wonderful people are dead.