Charleston, entitlement, and on being raised conservative

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.

Baltimore

I took a news break for a few days. It was sorely needed.

I have been following the Baltimore news the last few days, though. Twitter has been more useful for following protests than official news outlets: it’s more chaotic, perhaps, but you get a much broader collection of views than you would get otherwise.

Baltimore sun article: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bal-5-things-we-still-dont-know-in-the-freddie-gray-case-20150422-story.html

It’s a familiar story. A young African-American man, 25, entered police custody. When he arrived at jail, he mysteriously had a broken spine. He was “rushed” to the hospital but succumbed a week later to his injuries.

To this point, Baltimore police officials have not been very forthcoming. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bal-5-things-we-still-dont-know-in-the-freddie-gray-case-20150422-story.html

Police said Gray, who was dragged by officers to a transport wagon, should have gotten immediate medical attention. Batts said the department is investigating whether Gray’s injuries resulted from his arrest or a “rough ride” — in which police vans are driven erratically to harm unbuckled, handcuffed detainees. Batts said Gray could have sustained injuries during arrest and transport.

“We know he was not buckled in the transportation wagon as he should have been. No excuses from me. Period,” Batts said. “We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times.”

Oops.

Except, of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened. The Baltimore Sun released an extensive series of articles about ongoing police brutality settlements in the city. Since 2011, the city has averaged about one settlement every other week.

Moreover, economic inequality remains pretty brutal in Maryland. Even though the state borders Washington DC–a metro area offering some of the highest average salaries to be found– black residents are affected disproportionately badly. The NYTimes featured an article about 1.5 million “missing black men” and many of them, oddly, come from this area.

It does not take a great deal of insight to say that there is ongoing violence in Baltimore. But until yesterday, that violence was largely inflicted by society as a whole upon the city’s residents. When the less-powerful start fighting back, well, suddenly the violence is worth reporting.

If you’re wondering why these protests turned violent, well… how much attention did the broader news media pay to Baltimore before yesterday? Did coverage of Freddie Gray crowd out the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Or did it take a burning CVS store to do that?

Ferguson protests and liberal leadership

I think Democrats need to look at the Ferguson protests as a great potential source of liberal leadership. We have people engaging locally. We have people organizing these protests: timing, location, logistics (who will get water bottles, or earplugs or eye protection). We have people emerging as possible leaders via social media, the most prominent being Deray McKesson (@deray on Twitter).

The Democrats don’t need more liberal bloggers. We don’t really need more journalists. We don’t even need many more Harvard lawyers. We need people who can direct peoples’ emotions about some of the horrible shit going on in the world into productive venues. We need people who can round up upset people and get them to protest, and register voters, and even maybe run for (gasp) local offices.

This is not to detract from the actual issue at hand–Black men getting arrested, incarcerated, shot at disproportionate rates. We need to change that. It’s going to be a long process. It’s going to involve a lot of different towns and a lot of different situations. It’s going to be a national issue that is changeable on a local level. But the Democratic Party would be foolish not to identify effective ralliers, spokespeople, and cat-herders, and figure out how to get them to effect change on a larger scale.

(Of course, the Republican Party is also welcome to recruit whatever future leaders emerge from Ferguson. I would welcome that. I just don’t see it happening.)

“Thugs”, black lives

Something I’ve noticed with regard to the ongoing mess in Ferguson: the constant description of Michael Brown as a “thug.” Now, there’s nothing new about this, but look too at the case of poor Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot by police in Cleveland, OH. A few hours after he’s shot and this story comes out: his father had a history of domestic violence, apparently.

That may be. But his father wasn’t the one shot. Why is it relevant?

These sorts of events don’t occur in a vacuum. There is a larger narrative being written. The narrative here is “Tamir Rice was born to a violent abuser and his life therefore isn’t worth as much as a 12-year-old white boy’s life.” He was born into the thug caste and that is how he died.

This is the same reason that Obama’s birth certificate mattered. Nobody gave a shit that John McCain was actually born in the Panama Canal area. His dad was in the Navy. He was white. It was OK. But Obama? He’s from Kenya, because why the hell not. He doctored his Hawaii birth certificate, knowing that in a few short decades he would be a Manchurian Candidate POTUS. Elaborate.

I’m not being particularly brave here in saying that black lives matter. It’s a blindingly obvious point. I just want people to be aware of what labelling someone a “thug” really does. If you think Michael Brown got himself killed because of his actions, okay, I can work with that. But if you start talking about black people or Tamir’s dad or black-on-black violence, you are coming damn close to saying that their lives inherently just were not as worthy as others.

Update: Stacy Patton of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

America does not extend the fundamental elements of childhood to black boys and girls. Black childhood is considered innately inferior, dangerous and indistinguishable from black adulthood. Black children are not afforded the same presumption of innocence as white children, especially in life-or-death situations.