ONTD Political

"Time to profile white men?" | David Sirota calls out ~political correct~ conservatives like a boss.

10:55 pm - 12/26/2012
My interview with MSNBC ignites a conservative media firestorm -- and exposes America's dangerous double standard.

Yesterday, during a cable news discussion of gun violence and the Newtown school shooting, I dared mention a taboo truism. During a conversation on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes,” I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.

My comment was in response to U.S. Rep. James Langevin (D) floating the idea of employing the Secret Service for such profiling, and I theorized that because the profiling would inherently target white guys, the political response to such an idea might be similar to the Republican response to the 2009 Homeland Security report looking, in part, at the threat of right-wing terrorism. As you might recall, the same GOP that openly supports profiling — and demonizing — Muslims essentially claimed that the DHS report was unacceptable because its focus on white male terrorist groups allegedly stereotyped (read: offensively profiled) conservatives.

For making this point, I quickly became the day’s villain in the right-wing media. From the Daily Caller, to Fox News, to Breitbart, to Glenn Beck’s the Blaze, to all the right-wing blogs and Twitter feeds that echo those outlets’ agitprop, I was attacked for “injecting divisive racial politics” into the post-Newtown discussion (this is a particularly ironic attack coming from Breitbart – the same website that manufactured the Shirley Sherrod fiasco).

The conservative response to my statement, though, is the real news here.

Let’s review: Any honest observer should be able to admit that if the gunmen in these mass shootings mostly had, say, Muslim names or were mostly, say, African-American men, the country right now wouldn’t be confused about the causes of the violence, and wouldn’t be asking broad questions. There would probably be few queries or calls for reflection, and mostly definitive declarations blaming the bloodshed squarely on Islamic fundamentalism or black nationalism, respectively. Additionally, we would almost certainly hear demands that the government intensify the extant profiling systems already aimed at those groups.

Yet, because the the perpetrators in question in these shootings are white men and not ethnic or religious minorities, nobody is talking about demographic profiling them as a group. The discussion, instead, revolves around everything from gun control, to mental health services, to violence in entertainment — everything, that is, except trying to understanding why the composite of these killers is so similar across so many different massacres. This, even though there are plenty of reasons for that topic to be at least a part of the conversation.

Recounting the truth of these double standards is, of course, boringly mundane, which means my comment on television summarizing them is an equally boring and mundane statement of the obvious. However, as evidenced by the aggressive attempt to turn those comments into controversial headline-grabbing news over the weekend, the conservative movement has exposed its desperation — specifically, its desperation to preserve its White Victimization Mythology.

In this mythology, the white man as a single demographic subgroup can never be seen as a perpetrator and must always be portrayed as the unfairly persecuted scapegoat. In this mythology, to even reference an undeniable truth about how white privilege operates on a political level (in this case, to prevent a government profiling system of potential security threats even though such a system exists for other groups) is to be guilty of both “injecting divisive racial politics” and somehow painting one’s “opponents as racist” — even when nobody called any individual a racist.

In this mythology, in short, to mention truths about societal double standards — truths that are inconvenient or embarrassing to white people — is to be targeted for attack by the right-wing media machine.

Of course, just as I didn’t make such an argument yesterday on MSNBC, I’m not right now arguing for a system of demographically profiling white guys as a means of stopping mass murderers (that’s right, the headline at Beck’s website, the Blaze, is categorically lying by insisting I did make such an argument, when the MSNBC video proves that’s not even close to true). After all, broad demographic profiling is not only grotesquely bigoted in how it unduly stereotypes whole groups, it also doesn’t actually work as a security measure and runs the risk of becoming yet another Big Brother-ish monster (this is especially true when a lawmaker is forwarding the idea of deploying a quasi-military apparatus like the Secret Service).

Additionally, I’m not saying we should avoid the complex discussion about myriad issues (gun control, mental health, violence in Hollywood products, etc.) that we are having in the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy. On the contrary, I believe it is good news that those nuanced conversations — rather than simplistic calls for punitive measures against a demographic group — are able to happen, and it’s particularly good news that they are persisting in the face of pro-gun extremists’ best effort to polarize the conversation.

But the point here is that those tempered and nuanced conversations are only able to happen because the demographic at the center of it all is white guys. That is the one group in America that gets to avoid being referred to in aggregate negative terms (and gets to avoid being unduly profiled by this nation’s security apparatus), which means we are defaulting to a much more dispassionate and sane conversation — one that treats the perpetrators as deranged individuals, rather than typical and thus stereotype-justifying representatives of an entire demographic.

While such fair treatment should be the norm for all citizens, the double standard at work makes clear it is still a special privilege for a select white few. That’s the issue at the heart of my comment on MSNBC — and it is a pressing problem no matter how much the conservative media machine wants to pretend it isn’t.

Spilled Tea
ericadawn16 27th-Dec-2012 04:41 am (UTC)
So, what happens in the next few decades as they become the minority?

Will they lash out in violence more?

Will we start blaming them as a group the way we can't now?
ladypolitik 27th-Dec-2012 04:46 am (UTC)
So, what happens in the next few decades as they become the minority?

Will they lash out in violence more?

Alas, that's already been repeatedly implied about the last 3 or 4 mass shootings at the hands of white dudes (i.e., "white people are The New Minority"/"OBAMA'S AMERICA SHITS ON EMASCULATED WHITE MEN").
aviv_b 27th-Dec-2012 05:47 am (UTC)
Not to mention the rise in Militia groups, Neo-Nazi and White Power Organizations, and yes, the Tea Party since the election of President Obama. All of this is a reaction to the perceived loss of power by white men.

When the reaction to the election (and re-election) of President Obama is to run out and buy guns and ammo and stockpile your basement with canned goods, the drums of irrationality are already beating a steady tattoo.

But you couldn't get this reaction unless you demonized the President. (Because really, who would be afraid of Harvard Law Graduate Obama, or Constitutional Law Professor Obama, or Community Organizer Obama).

So the white right wing media political establishment labels him a 'socialist' and a 'secret Muslim' and says that he 'hates America' and he's not a natural born citizen and all the other nutuckery that goes with their fear and anxiety that they don't have all the power anymore.

And this is when they still have the vast majority of seats at the table. I dread to think what's going to happen when they actually do lose power.
schexyschteve 27th-Dec-2012 05:07 am (UTC)
I'm not sure, but I really don't want to find out. :\
silver_apples 27th-Dec-2012 05:38 am (UTC)
While I agree with everything he said, I think he's missing one point. White men are the "normal" group. This ties into their privilege, of course, but I think the refusal to profile them isn't just White Victimization, but a fundamental view of the world. Admitting that most mass shooters are white men means admitting that either being a mass shooter is normal or that "white man" is not the standard for normal. So the first thing people try to do is figure out why the killer is not normal--mental illness, divorced parents, plays violent video games, bullied, introverted (all of which are normal, but not what is taught to be "normal"). And when there isn't something people can point to and say "there, that's what was wrong with him", the story goes away much faster.

we are defaulting to a much more dispassionate and sane conversation — one that treats the perpetrators as deranged individuals, rather than typical and thus stereotype-justifying representatives of an entire demographic.

The conversations about gun control and mental health are good, but we still aren't treating the killers as individuals, just as part of a different group that should be feared and controlled--autistics or teenagers in trench coats, there must be some reason he wasn't "normal".
baka_tenshi 27th-Dec-2012 05:53 am (UTC)
this is a good comment and you should feel good.
tiddlywinks103 27th-Dec-2012 06:22 am (UTC)
harumi 27th-Dec-2012 06:33 am (UTC)
hinoema 27th-Dec-2012 06:44 am (UTC)
Admitting that most mass shooters are white men means admitting that either being a mass shooter is normal or that "white man" is not the standard for normal.

IMHO it means admitting that the capability for this kind of violence is not confined to 'inferior' non-white men, and is not something you can hand-wave as a complex problem in whites while labeling it as a pathological norm in non-whites.
ebay313 27th-Dec-2012 08:23 am (UTC)
I was thinking sort of the same thing as your first point. White men are considered the default, and as such I think typically aren't even seen as a specific group or demographic, they are simply seen as the standard norm. As you said, it is an issue of their "fundamental view of the world".
kagehikario 27th-Dec-2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
hammersxstrings 27th-Dec-2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
Perfect, A+ response. I agree with everything.
4eyedblonde 27th-Dec-2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
gosh this is a great comment
poetic_pixie_13 27th-Dec-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
This is a very good comment that I like a whole lot.
tabaqui 28th-Dec-2012 02:22 am (UTC)
+1 million.
lizzy_someone 27th-Dec-2012 08:11 am (UTC)
Can't take their own medicine, I see. Profiling's not so much fun when you're the profilee, huh?
metanoiame 27th-Dec-2012 09:03 am (UTC)
This is a great article. I think it also explains what made me feel strange about those "What's wrong with white men?" articles I've been seeing. It seems easy to slip from an analysis of privilege (good) to profiling an entire demographic group (bad). Nuanced discussions are better, even if this one is only possible in mainstream media because of the shooter's identity.
oudeteron 27th-Dec-2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
Glad that some of this has been said in the otherwise completely unconstructive mainstream media at all, to be honest.

And lol, conservatives can get ~stereotyped~ all day long for all the "good" they do.
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