The most recent massacre, the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, took the lives of six- and seven-year-olds. It has shaken our nation to its core.
The enormity of this devastation is incalculable. There are the small coffins of the victims killed during a holiday season at a tender age. It is also the death of the safety of a Norman Rockwellian belief in a perfect community. We now know that none are safe.
This shooting, like so many others before, has sparked a debate on gun control and the need for adequate health care for our nation’s mentally ill. But glaringly omitted from the national discourse is the motive of these mass shootings that are perpetuated predominately within a specific demographic group: young White privileged men.
“I think we need to examine critically, the fact that most mass shooting are done by young, White, relatively economically privileged males. What is it about their socialization that results in the manifestation of their mental illness in a rage-fueled carnage of this magnitude?
“If we don’t ask these questions, along with all the others, I fear we are missing an important factor in this and other mass shooting tragedies,” wrote an academic administrator from UMASS Boston in an email to me.
The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 involved two young White males, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Both were from an affluent suburb of Colorado. Their massacre of schoolmates called attention to the killers next door, at least for a while.
Loners wearing trenchcoats dominated the news then faded into the background. This oversight in examination might be one of the reasons mass shootings by White young men from middle-class families seems to be happening more frequently.
For example, a list of mass shootings compiled by the online blog “Think Progress” of this specific demographic group reveals, not including Newton, that this year alone there have been seven:
• December 11: On Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts killed two people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon.
• September 27: Five were shot to death by 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, MN. Three others were wounded. Engeldinger went on a rampage after losing his job, ultimately killing himself.
• August 5: Six Sikh temple members were killed when 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran Wade Michael Page opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Four others were injured, and Page killed himself.
• July 20: During the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO, 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58.
• May 29: Ian Stawicki opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, WA, killing five and himself after a citywide manhunt.
• April 6: Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, shot five Black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.
• February 27: Three students were killed by Thomas “TJ” Lane, another student, in a rampage at Chardon High School in Chardon, OH. Three others were injured.
The problem of young White males and mass shootings has been screaming out at us for some time, culminating unfortunately with the recent massacre at Sandy Hook. Getting to the why for these specific types of shootings, predominately from this demographic group, is not as mysterious or elusive as it is purported to be.
Hugo Schwyzer, a Pasadena City College professor of history and gender studies, is a White male who offers a compelling premise. He wrote in his article Why Most Mass Murderers Are Privileged White Men that, “White men from prosperous families grow up with the expectation that our voices will be heard. We expect politicians and professors to listen to us and respond to our concerns. We expect public solutions to our problems. And when we’re hurting, the discrepancy between what we’ve been led to believe is our birthright and what we feel we’re receiving in terms of attention can be bewildering and infuriating.
“Every killer makes his pain another’s problem. But only those who’ve marinated in privilege can conclude that their private pain is the entire world’s problem with which to deal. This is why, while men of all races and classes murder their intimate partners, it is privileged young White dudes who are by far the likeliest to shoot up schools and movie theaters.”
While I contest that the overarching problem is that the construction of most male masculinities perpetuate a violent patriarchal society, Schwyzer’s analysis should invite dialogue. If the men were males of color, poor White males or Muslim these recurring mass shootings would be stereotypically explained as inherent to their make-up, affirming and fueling continued fear of them.
Male violence in this country is too easily associated with poor White males and males of color, ignoring that male violence is, unfortunately, a universal problem regardless of social and economic class. This will continue to be so as long as patriarchy rules the day.
How male violence expresses itself depends on the demographic group. Every country needs to stem the havoc it wreaks.
There is even more tragedy from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Young men need mental health help: young males of color, poor White males, and other marginalized male subgroups in this country, and even young privileged White males.
Is anybody listening?
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.