School Shootings and White Denial Are the Ultimate Doom Loop


It happened again, and, as always, people were shocked.

Not solely because of the awfulness, but also because of where it happened: a nice, safe place, not unlike all the other nice, safe places it’s happened before.

Springfield, Littleton, Newtown, Parkland, Santee, West Paducah, Jonesboro, Edinboro, Pearl, or Moses Lake, to name a few.

Yet another mass school shooting, four more dead, and another teenage killer who opened fire on his classmates and teachers — this time in exurban Oxford, Michigan, about 40 minutes north of Detroit.

After initially fleeing the area, the shooter’s parents were also arrested because their actions helped facilitate their son’s killing spree.

First, Ethan Crumbley’s father bought the gun for his son a few days before the shooting — a gun he wasn’t old enough to buy himself.

Then, the day before the shooting, a teacher informed his mother that Ethan had been looking up ammunition on his phone.

Rather than call the school back, she texted Ethan, telling him, “lol, I’m not mad at you,” but, as she put it, “you have to learn not to get caught.”

LOL, good one, mom.

The morning of the shooting, Ethan’s parents were brought to school to discuss drawings in his notebook about shooting people, with captions like “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and “my life is useless.”

When teachers suggested that the parents take their son home and get him counseling within 48 hours, they balked and assured officials that Ethan was fine.

They didn’t ask him if he had brought the gun to school.

They didn’t mention the gun to school officials.

So their son returned to class.

Soon after, he emerged from a bathroom and opened fire.

After news of the shooting got out, his mother texted him: “Ethan, don’t do it.”

LOL, too late, mom.

Whiteness, school shootings, and the de-racialization of violence

Some of y’all aren’t gonna like what comes next, but stick with me. There’s a point to what follows — an important one.

This shooter and his family are white, as have been the clear majority of mass school shootersover 70 percent, and even higher depending on the methodology used for a given study.

Although mass shootings, in general, have been pretty racially-balanced relative to population sizes over the years, the ones that take place in schools have been overwhelmingly white affairs.

Here’s why that’s relevant.

Can you imagine if this shooting had been carried out by a Black kid 40 minutes south in Detroit? Or if any of the other mass shooting incidents referenced above had been committed by a Black male in those communities?

Or if Black parents had responded as nonchalantly to school officials who had expressed concern about violent drawings by their son?

Especially a Black single-mother, if she had texted “lol… don’t get caught,” in response to an alert about her child’s behavior?

We all know what the commentary would have sounded like.

It would have been non-stop.

“What is it with Black families nowadays?” Not with this particular family. But Black families, generally, in America.

Because we collectivize the pathology when it has a Black or brown face, and we individualize it when that face is white.

Right-wing pundits regularly talk about Black families in cities as uniquely dysfunctional, mired in a culture of poverty that glamorizes violence.

But when whites kill, especially in such grandiose fashion, in precisely these kinds of places — suburbs, smaller towns, and exurbs — we are treated to yet another round of “this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen here.”

Not, this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, period.

But it’s not supposed to happen here.

Where the good people live.

Is there something wrong with white culture? Middle-class suburban culture? We never ask

But it keeps happening there, over and over.

Yet we never ask if perhaps something is wrong, not with the urban “culture of poverty” or the Black family, but the culture of the white middle-class.

Maybe something is wrong in the places where so many of us live.

Perhaps thinking of gun ownership as some rite of passage for young boys has something to do with it.

Black parents in the city don’t think that way.

They don’t buy weapons for their children.

But white parents in outlying areas and small towns do. All the time, like it’s nothing.

Pathology means a deviation from a normal and healthy state.

And giving your teenager a gun when they aren’t old enough to drive, vote, or possibly shave, is a definite deviation from normal and healthy.

It’s also white as fuck.

But we never collectivize the blame and call out the white, suburban, or small-town family for this.

White violence is always mysterious to us

We never can quite figure out white violence. It’s like we don’t even know how to process it.

I remember how folks responded after Kip Kinkel killed his parents and classmates in Springfield, Oregon, in 1998.

Pundits offered up dozens of reasons for what had happened. Among them:

  • video games;
  • music (either rap or metal);
  • anti-depressants;
  • taking prayer out of school; and
  • a “culture of death” created by legalized abortion.

But what I never saw mentioned was the possible cultural pathology of the white suburban middle-class family, and if perhaps that had contributed to the crime, or several others that had come before.

If it’s gang violence in a major city, we’re gonna hear about Black single moms, and the absence of Black fathers.

But if it’s mass murder in Pleasantville, and the father was in the house — even if he was buying his son a murder weapon — we have no idea where to begin.

So we start rattling off that list of external factors, like the ones above.

Because we can’t imagine the rot could be coming from within.

We’re so bad at thinking of white pathology that we fail to take decisive action even when it stares us in the face.

In this case, the school was worried about Ethan Crumbley’s behavior. But rather than demand that his parents take him home the morning of the shooting — hell, rather than even search his bag to see if he had a weapon — they let him return to class.

There’s no way a school lets a Black kid back in class who’s drawing pictures about killing folks and talking about violent thoughts that won’t stop.

That kid is being sent home. Cops are being called.

Oh, and if this was a school with a large number of Black kids in it — perhaps like, in Detroit — there would have been metal detectors at the door.

So the gun would never have made it into the building.

But, LOL, who needs metal detectors in a sleepy little place like Oxford?

Columbine, Sandy Hook, now Oxford — We keep sleeping on white deviance

The same shit happened in Littleton, before the Columbine shooting. The shooters there had made a home movie as part of a class project, in which they carried out mass murder at school.

But no one did anything. Surely it’s nothing.

We all know what happened next.

If two of the very few Black kids at Columbine had made that murder fantasy film, what do you suspect would have been the reaction?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Because we see Black pathology. We see it coming even when it isn’t there, let alone when it is. With white folks, we often miss it until it’s too late.

Because whiteness is viewed as normal. And normal means good and decent, right?

How many more communities have to be torn apart because of our inability to spot danger when it looks like us?

This isn’t color-blindness. It’s white-blindness.

All of these communities would have seen danger coming if it was Black. If “too many” Black folks had moved into Littleton, Newtown, Parkland, or Oxford, there would have been plenty of people worried about what that might mean for crime and violence.

Because we’ve racialized danger as Black for generations.

Racializing danger leads to more guns and risk — and we keep ignoring it

This is why Vanderbilt psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl found white Missourians had armed up in the last twenty years as gun laws there — previously some of the strictest in the nation — were relaxed.

They were afraid of “inner-city” crime visiting their communities, about bad guys from St. Louis or Kansas City rolling out to the ‘burbs or small hamlets for home invasions. Even foreign terrorism, they worried, might be visiting their towns.

But what happened after they bought all those new guns?

Did they ward off Black gang-bangers coming in from Ferguson after Michael Brown’s killing in 2014? Or ISIS recruits looking for new infidels to kill?

No. Because those folks were never coming to get them in the first place.

What happened was a startling increase in gun suicides among white men.

This, in a country where, according to CDC data (as Metzl notes), 92 percent of gun suicides are already committed by white people.

How can 92 percent of gun suicides be from one racial group, and no one asks questions about what might be wrong with that group?

Half of homicides are committed by Black folks, and everyone has a theory to explain that.

For the right, it’s broken Black families, or even Black biology (for the really racist ones). For the left, it’s economic conditions disproportionately faced by Black folks and a sense of hopelessness that correlates with violent offending.

But the point is, everyone has a theory for why x pathology in y community is so disproportionate, so long as y=Black or brown.

But if y=white, we forget how to do math.

And we keep looking for the dangerous “other.”

Meanwhile, the danger is sleeping next to you at night, or down the hall.

It’s sitting in your algebra class.

It’s going to the gun store with dad or the shooting range with mom, like Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used to do with his mother before he killed her, along with dozens of children.

And your failure to recognize it for what it is can kill you too.

Stereotypes are deadly, and not just to those about whom they’re believed.

Please, could you write that shit down this time?

This post was previously published on Tim Wise’s blog.


Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.

All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.

A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.

Register New Account

Log in if you wish to renew an existing subscription.

Choose your subscription level

By completing this registration form, you are also agreeing to our Terms of Service which can be found here.



Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.

Photo credit: iStock


The post School Shootings and White Denial Are the Ultimate Doom Loop appeared first on The Good Men Project.