Saturday, March 30, 2013

Post-Newtown, We Still Need to Have That Conversation About White Masculinity

After the horrors of Newtown, I hoped that it would not become yet another blip in our national consciousness and get sucked down the memory hole.  Sadly, what's happened has actually been worse.  Responding to the public outcry and the revival of the gun control movement, the NRA and gun proliferators have hit back so hard that the new gun legislation actually makes it EASIER to get them.  This week I was glad to see the president and brave loved ones of the victims of our gun violence epidemic call on the nation to do something, and that Michael Bloomberg has been using his money to push the issue in campaigns across the country.  Maybe we can actually get something done.

That said, there are issues even deeper than gun control which desperately need attention, but are pretty much being ignored.  I was reminded of this today through a chilling and thoughtful article in the New York Times Magazine by Jay Caspian Kang.  He discusses one of the many forgotten massacres in this country, the one that took place last April in Oakland at a nursing school.  Instead of being the usual post mortem, however, Kang discusses the feelings in the Korean-American community about the fact that the shooter in Oakland One. L Goh, and the murderer at Virginia Tech, Seung-Hui Cho, were both Korean immigrants.  Kang wonders whether the tendency to repress emotions and feel intense, barely-suppressed rage in Korean culture might have played a part.

Reading this piece, I was struck at how little white people in this country have done to ask themselves why it is white men who are overwhelmingly and vastly disproportionately the ones to massacre large numbers of people with firearms.  One of the great powers of whiteness is that it bequeaths individuality to its holders.  If you are white, you are an individual person, judged only on your own standards.  Your actions do not reflect on other white people, or are interpreted as part of a larger pattern of white behavior.  Korean-Americans, on the other hand, do not have this status, and hence are more capable of asking difficult and soul-searching questions in the aftermath of shooting tragedies.

After Sandy Hook, I wrote about the dysfunctions of white American masculinity, and how they contribute to violent shootings.  A few other folks -namely David Sirota and Chauncey DeVega- did too, but that conversation quickly petered out, or was treated with outright hostility.  It is good that gun control is back in the public eye, but if we really want to prevent future Newtowns, we need to have a serious and meaningful conversation about the problems of white masculinity in this country.

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