Your loved one was just killed by an angry white man with a gun. OK?

August 4, 2019

When will it end? After Columbine. After Sandy Hook. After Las Vegas. After Parkland. After El Paso. #YOURCITYHEREstrong

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I was preparing for an interview on CNN about the slaughter in El Paso when the news broke about another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. Another white male with a gun and the weekend body count climbs. Imagine if all these victims had been killed by someone shouting “Allah Akbar!” There’d be some action taken then. But when it’s a white guy, hey it must be the fault of video games or Satan or something.

I’ve been writing about mass shootings since the 1990s. My co-authored 2000 book, Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws, took on the wave of school shootings that ended the twentieth century. Since then I’ve written about the topic ad nauseam, including the specter of right-wing violence that was likely behind the kill zones in both El Paso and Dayton.

I’m so weary. There is a void in leadership. Trump is propped up by the gun lobby and his white nationalist base that not so silently cheers the slaughter of innocents. There must be a parallel universe America where Trump and Moscow Mitch McConnell are hung for sedition and the leadership of the NRA is put on trial for war crimes. But having to stomach another wave of these assholes’ “thoughts and prayers” circle jerk is no longer possible. These are your people, Trump. Tell them to stop and say it like you fucking mean it. WASPs demand that Muslim people disavow Islamic terrorism every single day. I want every freakin’ white man to tell these shooters to stop and I want to hear them do it constantly, 24-7-365. Wake up out of your sleep and tell these white men to stop killing us!

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Here’s where “great” America is now. I know that if I take my family to the movies, to the park, to the mall, to a house of worship, or to any school, there’s a chance a white male, angry at the world over some perceived loss of some perceived right, may kill them in front of my eyes. Because my family is brown, I know that elevates the chance they will be ripped to shreds by some human turd who hangs out on 8chan reposting articles about the “white genocide.”

This is the reality. I’m at a show and I’m keeping my eye on the exits in case the shooter comes in from the back. When my Mexican wife is teaching her students how to conjugate verbs in Spanish, I wonder if some fan of the president is going to come in, screaming, “Go back to where you came from!” and spray the class with his moronic rage, slicing her in half with “legally bought” ammunition. When I drop my daughter off at school, I wonder if some young man, inspired by the Sandy Hook shooter and his soft targets, will go for the “Fuck the World” glory and I’ll have to identify my precious child from all her friends at the morgue. Isn’t America great?

Here’s my promise. Any candidate that promises to use every tool legally available to shut down the NRA and the terrorists in the gun lobby has my full support. I don’t care if it’s Marianne “Huh?” Williamson. It’s sure not Joe Biden. I know the ice caps are melting and people are tweaked on opioids, but bullets are flying in God’s houses and the people’s streets. I’m not a fan of binaries, but it’s time to draw the line. Which side are you on? If you are not acting to defend my family from gun violence, you are in bed with the terrorists who want to destroy our basic right to safety.

I’m so tired of writing about this. I’m tired of our complacency and our stupid hashtags. I’m writing a manifesto of love, but if you aren’t onboard to stop these white men from killing families like mine, don’t expect much love from me.

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At which mass shooting will your loved ones be killed?

November 8, 2018

Cozy and I were at the zoo this week and she was really excited to see the fruit bats. To get to the Oregon Zoo’s bat cave we had to pass the giraffe enclosure. She was so focused on the bats she could have cared less about the giant giraffes. “But Cozy, there are two huge giraffes right there! Let’s stop and look at them.”  She looked back at me, like “meh. I’ve seen those giraffes before.”

Her blasé attitude about giraffes is how America feels about mass shootings. So what?

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When I went to school in the UK in 1980s, people would often be amazed that, as an American, I didn’t live in constant fear of being killed by a mad gunman. “Aren’t you terrified you’ll be in a McDonalds and some guy will walk in and just start shooting?” This is the world’s picture of the United States. It’s a shoot out at OK Corral every day as boys and men unload their sacred weapons into soft targets at schools, synagogues, and college bars. “Meh,” we say, as the bodies stack up. Some of the victims of last night’s shooting in Thousand Oaks were also at last year’s shooting on the Las Vegas strip. How many mass shootings will you survive? Or not?

It’s more than disgusting that this is the hallmark of American culture. We are a nation of boys and men who see homicidal violence as an appropriate way of expressing pain and anger. Most of these boys and men are suicidal so the “good guy with a gun” myth only fits into their plan. Another day, another mass shooting in America. I have written about this too many times and the need to focus on the masculinity-gun violence connection. There will be so many more shootings, so many more grieving family members on TV. And then the next shooting will happen. This is America.

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Pioneering sociologist Georg Simmel (1858-1918) foresaw the “Meh Effect” in his 1903 essay, The Metropolis and Mental Life. He wrote of a relatively new phenomenon he called the blasé attitude. Life in the city had so much stimuli that we become overwhelmed and just tune everything out as sort of a coping mechanism. I remember the first time I saw a homeless person laying on a sidewalk, I jumped out of friend’s car to help. I thought they were having a medical emergency. My friend grabbed me and told me, “That’s just a homeless person. You see it all the time in the city.” Meh.

Nothing is shocking anymore. We see so much carnage from random gun violence in this country, it’s barely worth looking up from our phones. It must be how kids in Aleppo respond when they hear another bomb drop on their neighborhood. We are immune. Until it happens to us. Until the deep trauma has dropped on our doorstep.

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Because I do this work, I pay attention to the exit signs. Especially when I am out with my kid. When Cozy and I were wandering around Times Square last month, I made mental notes about where to go if a bomb went off or some guy just opened fire on the crowds. I did not, however, make a plan of how to respond if my daughter had been killed and perhaps I should.

The good news is violent crime in America has been dropping since 1993. The bad news is boys and men who shoot innocent people in orgies of violence has not. You are not safe anywhere. Not the movie theater. Not the mall. Not a yoga class. Not a church. Not a kindergarten class. So you better prepare yourself. If you are not willing to work to change the culture of boys and men who do this, you better be ready for when they do and kill someone you love.

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Masculinity Isn’t Toxic. Toxic Masculinity Is

March 9, 2018

I first started writing about toxic masculinity five years ago. I presented a research paper entitled, “Two Hours Without My Game Face: Inmates Discuss Prison Visitation and Toxic Masculinity” at the annual convention of the Pacific Sociological Association in lovely Reno, Nevada. The term was new and mostly academic. In the wake of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting, suddenly everyone is talking about toxic masculinity and that’s a good thing. Toxic masculinity is about the corrosive effects of the performance of a certain type of male role. It’s not about all men. But trying to explain that gender is a performance makes some people’s heads explode.

Just like the blowback from those who don’t understand the concepts of white privilege or implicit bias (Mike Pence, I’m looking at you), the howls from the right have been predictable. “Masculinity is not toxic!” “It’s open season on men!” “Toxic masculinity is a myth!” Blah, blah, blah. Fragile masculinity at work. I hope these snowflakey blokes don’t own AR-15’s.

The work on toxic masculinity comes out of the research on the experience of men in correctional facilities, most notably by Terry A. Kupers (and later, my own work). Kupers highlights the seven characteristics of toxic masculinity:

  • Extreme competition and greed
  • Insensitivity to others
  • Strong need to dominate and control others
  • Incapacity to nurture
  • Dread of dependency
  • Readiness to resort to violence
  • Stigmatization of women, gays, and men who exhibit feminine characteristics

These characteristics are common among men who are incarcerated. The predatory environment of prison encourages men to be on-guard and ready to fight 24-7. If you are not victimizing someone, you are more likely to be victimized by others. I noticed it among my interview subjects who would put on their emotional armor before reentering the prison population where they never let their guard down or unclenched their fists, even while they slept. It’s emotionally taxing but requires an emotionless willingness to be viscously violent at a moment’s notice.

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These same characteristics are now being used to describe the hyper-masculinity of school shooters. No, their violence was not caused by violent video games, but their obsession with violent media, including video games, is a symptom of this obsession with carnage, devoid of empathy. There are a number of red flags for the boys and men who become mass shooters and all are represented by Kupers’ characteristics of toxic masculinity. Nobody has ever accused a man or boy who has shot up his workplace or school of being a “nurturing” individual.

Most boys learn some version of toxic masculinity the minute they are told not to cry “like a girl,” or throw “like a girl,” or do anything “like a girl.” The devaluing of all things feminine sets boys up on a path of increasingly alienating choices. We encourage girls to be more like boys because that is seen as a path to empowerment but it might also be a path to suppressing what females have to offer, only to have it erupt in the same wanton violence males commit. (When 50% of school shooters are female, will that be heralded as “equality”?)

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Contrastingly, any boy who even starts to “act like a girl” is castigated as a sissy. “Don’t tell me about your feelings, tell me whose ass you want to kick.” “What? You want to be a ballet dancer? Quick! Buy this boy a gun!” Given the fact that women, on average, live seven years longer than men, maybe we should encourage our boys to act more like girls. I mean, if we love them.

Fortunately, there are other masculinities besides toxic masculinity. This includes peacemaking masculinity, integral masculinity, and queer masculinity. Boys don’t have to become cartoon characters of unfeeling macho men, solving problems with their fists. The easiest example is the difference between bourgeois masculinities (“Tennis, anyone?”) and working class ones. And not all working class masculinities are brutish thugs, screaming “Stella!” (Just think of Dan Conner on the sitcom Roseanne, returning to a TV near you.)

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We men have a lot to learn from women who are more relational and less self-repressing. Women suffering from mental distress don’t go on killing sprees. Research shows that women tend to be better problem solvers, facilitating team resources as opposed to men who declare, “I got this!” and then walk off a cliff. Women listen while men are talking out of their asses. Michael Kimmel, in his vitally important book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, urges parents to, instead of raising young males as “just boys,” raise just boys; boys whose masculinity is defined by their concern for social justice.

This country is turning a corner. The #metoo movement will drive out our rapist president and his “bros before hos” alt-right henchmen. The antifeminist Proud Boys with their “We venerate the housewife” bullshit will cave in from their own toxicity. Patriarchy still has plenty of sexual harassers and school shooters to offer, but the more we can raise our boys to think and act like girls, the healthier everyone will be, especially the people who won’t be dead because they weren’t shot by some boy or man having an emotional meltdown because their dad once told them not to cry “like a girl.”

It’s time to tax men: Shutting down gun violence

November 7, 2017

I’m so sick of this. I’m so sick of another mass shooting. I’m sick of the gut-wrenching stories of survivors. I’m sick of “thoughts and prayers.” I’m sick of writing another blog about it. I’m sick of doing interviews about it and saying the same damn thing every time. If America wasn’t sick of it after Sandy Hook, it never will be. But I’m sick of it. Feel free to call the shooters “deranged individuals” (if they are white) or “terrorists” (if they are not). But don’t talk to me unless you are willing to say what all these shooters are.

Men.

Boys and men. I’m not saying all boys are men are bad. Certainly the majority of boys and men aren’t opening fire on innocent people. And many men and boys are actively trying to stop the violence (including a few with guns!). This is about masculinity. The toxic masculinity that has been created in our culture that defines gun violence as an appropriate way for men in crisis to express their rage. Men in extreme crisis in Japan hang themselves. The same men in the United States use guns and many decide to take as many people with them as they check out. “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” American masculinity does not allow you to fall to your knees. Not when there is amble firepower available to guarantee a dramatic exit.

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Male violence plagues us. The violence of Devin Kelley shooting five-year-olds in the head in a church in Sutherland, Texas or the violence of Harvey Weinstein’s low-grade war on women. It all has a cost. From coroners to lost work hours, every aspect of violence by boys and men sucks resources out of our society. What is the financial impact of having a family member killed? How about the emotional impact? The makers of pain killers and pain numb-ers might profit, but the rest of us are paying for it in tax-dollars, insurance premiums, and the erosion of the quality of life. What if the evening news reported on a great new work of art at the top of the hour instead of the daily body count? We are less human because we have normalized male violence.

One study in Minnesota found that gun violence in the state came in at a about $2.2 billion dollars in direct costs due to the 900 gun deaths that year. This doesn’t include indirect costs like lost property value and lost business. The famous 2015 Mother Jones study put the cost at $229 billion a year when you factor in the cost of prisons and lost wages. Each gun homicide costs the country $400,000 and we average about 32 gun murders a day.  Just as a point of comparison, the 2018 budget for Trump’s Department of Education is only $68.2 billion.

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In the late 1990s, I began assigning June Stephenson’s book, Men Are Not Cost Effective: Male Crime in America to my criminology students at Portland State University. She forwards the case that, because of the high cost of mostly male crime on our society, it makes sense that all men pay a “sin” tax to cover the cost of policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating male criminals. When we look at the research on female violent crimes, it’s typically the case that women are brought in to criminal enterprises with their male counterparts (“I was just attracted to bad boys, I guess.”) or are responding violently to their male abusers (“Goodbye, Earl!”). Some of the men in my classes balked at the assertion, but the women generally thought it was a smashing idea. And there are more women than men in this country (because men keep killing each other off).

Maybe it’s time to revisit Stephenson’s “man tax.” If shooting kids in a kindergarten class or church at point blank range doesn’t wake men up to the toll of “going out like a man,” maybe grabbing their wallets will. America is prevented from being a more perfect union because of all the economic and emotional resources devoted to dealing with male violence. If we want to make America great, I say let’s hit ‘em where it hurts. Maybe then men will care about how they do maleness.

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We could start simple, perhaps a sales tax on dumb men things, like bullets, Call of Duty video games, and UFC pay-per-view matches. Then we can expand it to anyone with a Y chromosome. And the earlier the better. In the 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas that killed five and wounded ten (all female victims), the shooters were 11 and 13 years-old. As soon as a tween boy walks into a 7-11 to buy a Big Gulp, hit him in the nuts with the man tax.

Then, as boys and men start to get it and gun violence starts to decline, there can be subsequent reductions in the tax. Hey, nobody went postal this month, the tax on camouflage pajama pants is temporarily suspended! How else are we going get men to stop killing us? What politician that isn’t busy licking the NRA’s ass will be bold enough to propose this approach? I’m guessing it won’t be a man.

Other posts on this endless topic:

How to talk rationally about gun control (October 4, 2017)

Owning My White Privilege: Stories I won’t (have to) tell my children (September 21, 2016)

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America (October 2, 2015)

White Boys to Terrorist Men: Pointless Male Violence and Charleston (June 19, 2015)