White Boys to Terrorist Men: Pointless Male Violence and Charleston

June 19, 2015

Seems like I’m having a hard time just writing a blogpost about the baby and/or gender. The news keeps punching me in the gut. My mom and nephew are visiting from Georgia and we were planning a day trip to the Oregon coast when the news broke about the mass shooting in Charleston. My heart sank for so many reasons. Since Trayvon Martin it seems like an almost weekly assault on black America in this supposed “post-racial” America. What must it be like to be African-American in 2015?

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But I also knew it was most likely one of “my guys,” the racist boys and men I’ve been studying for 30 years. When I posted my theory on Facebook, one of my old (white) friends from Stone Mountain, said it was probably just a personal matter. “I am so tired of everyone taking every opportunity to make it a race thing,” she said.

Usually I go into full media mode when mayhem breaks loose. I knew there would be requests for perspective and I might be able to add something of value to the chatter. But I made a promise to the family and I was really looking forward to a little getaway. I got calls from the local stations and Al Jazeera, but I wanted to stay focused on the beautiful sunshine in Cannon Beach and Cape Kiwanda. I checked the updates while I held Cozy and tasted Andrea’s clam chowder. The news just got worse and worse.

Probably the most well-read piece of scholarship I’ve published is a 2001 article in American Behavioral Scientist entitled, “White Boys to Terrorist Men: Target Recruitment of Nazi Skinheads.” It was based on my research on how boys get involved with the racist skinhead subculture. It is the research that brought me to feminist theory and it’s why I can say something about Dylann Roof. He’s the 21-year-old white male who shot nine African-Americans, old and young, male and female, in the sanctuary of their Charleston church.

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Roof was a petty criminal from a low-income background who was a fan of the Confederacy and South African apartheid. His friends say he supported segregation and joked about killing black people and starting a civil war. “He had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” one said.

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This where I come from. The land where the Confederate battle flag is ubiquitous and you can hear Charlie Daniels sing, “Be proud you’re a rebel because the South’s gonna do it again.” In the late 1980s, I was on tour with Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ and we were in a truck stop in Arkansas or Alabama or Appalachia. There was a big bearded bubba with red t-shirt. On it was a Confederate Flag with “The South will rise again” under it. I used it as an opportunity to play my favorite parlor game, Asshole With A Cause. So I asked him,

“Excuse me sir. Can I ask you about your shirt? I’m from Stone Mountain….”

“Grunt.” Approval, I assume, from being from the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Um, yeah, and I’ve heard that saying a million times. The South will rise again.”

“Grunt” A bit of chaw falls out his mouth.

“I just wonder what that means. Because the South has risen economically. All the good jobs are in the Sun Belt now. It’s risen politically. You don’t get into the White House without the Southern vote. And it’s risen culturally. Everybody is listening to Country music or hip hop from the South.”

“Grunt.” He was clearly agitated. “Well, it just means the old ways.”

“So a purely agrarian society.”

“Yeah, like it was.”

“With slavery.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

What an idiot. I kinda wish they’d tell white people like this that slavery was suddenly legal so black people could just shoot these crackers. “Woo hoo! I’m gonna go into this house and get me a negro!” Bam! It’s not 1815. But that would be wrong. Peace and love, right?

My point of telling this story is that there is a white MALE mentality that is popular in the South but is common everywhere that says, things were better back in the good old days, when minorities knew their place, women stayed in the kitchen and “them queers” stayed in the closet. Even mainstream Conservatives blather about “restoring America.” We can only presume that means to 1954, about five minutes before the passage of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka. Roof himself reflected this when he told one of his victims that he “had to” shoot them. “You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

Of course, white women are overwhelmingly raped by white men and the black population as a percentage of the whole has shrunk according to the 2010 census. But you can’t talk reality to a white male who feels he is entitled to always be the unchallenged king of the hill. How dare these people exist and think they deserve the same rights as me??? The New York Times reported a quote from a black Charleston resident who summed it up perfectly. “We’re not worth the air they don’t want us to breathe,” he said, feeling the shooting was just an extension of what black people face at hands of local whites every day.

I saw this over and over again in the hatred of the racist skinheads I studied in the 1980s and 1990s. THEIR jobs were being taken away by immigrants, minorities and Jewish conspirators. THEIR women were being taken away by feminists and lesbians (and sexy black men). THEIR generation was being polluted by hip hop, homosexuals and really delicious Mexican food. How do you get it back? How do you “restore” America? With the tool men have always used when their backs are against the wall – unholy violence.

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I think it’s clear that Dylann Roof intended to die on Wednesday. He was going to go out “like a man,” guns blazing in “valiant” attempt to jumpstart a “civil war” and go down a hero for the “Southern cause.” I’ve seen variations of the theme a hundred times among racists. The most bloody was Wade Page, who killed six people in a Wisconsin Sikh temple in 2012 before turning the gun on himself. Sorry, Wade. Dylann just knocked you off the throne.

When will this end? There’s a larger conversation about how white people need to FUCKING ACKNOWLEDGE THAT RACISM IS STILL A SERIOUS PROBLEM IN AMERICA, and stop whining about Al Sharpton being on TV. Nothing changes until you own this truth!

But my part here is the issue of straight white males believing they are entitled to anything. We live in a democracy. We’re all working hard to make it work. If you can’t handle the fact we’re trying to make if fair for people who are not straight white males, move to Russia, I hear being an entitled straight white asshole is very popular there right now.

I have no doubt that Roof pieced his moronic worldview together from peers and the plethora of racist websites that will tell you that America is being destroyed because Whoopi Goldberg is still on The View and gay marriage is coming to a bakery near you. These people are intensely unhappy. They see a culture that is leaving them at the train station and instead of racing to catch up, they are getting out their rocket launcher to try to blow the damn train up. How dare that train not wait for me? Everybody on it must die.

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But these boys and men always fail. Timothy McVeigh hoped his 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people (including 19 children) would spark a race war. It didn’t. It did rally Americans to squelch patriot militia groups that wanted to lead a “second American revolution” against the government. Dylann Roof hoped his slaughter would start a new civil war in America. It won’t. Right now black and white folks in Charleston are holding hands and singing. There is a renewed push to get the stupid Confederate battle flag off the lawn of the South Carolina state capital. Dylann and boys and men like him die for a lost cause that should be renamed the pathetic cause.

The message to all those straight white boys and men is this: Catch up. This is an awesome train to be on. It’s mighty and soulful and delicious and you can dance with your hands in the air and love like you just don’t care. We’ll leave the caboose door open for you. Just leave your gun back at the junction. And then come join my multi-racial family at the Oregon coast. I’ll buy you some chowder and a taco.

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