I am still reeling from too many hours of news coverage of the mass shooting in Buffalo. Ten people murdered for being Black. A white racist, “radicalized” via the internet, conducted reconnaissance trips and selected a target two hundred miles from home. The shooter may be mentally ill but was functional enough to successfully execute a dramatic act of racist terror. He was also ready to die for the cause of reducing the number of Black people.
What are we to make of this and similar incidents of pure hate? More importantly, can we claim to understand what happened and why?
I worry that we are somehow doing something to contribute to the growth of hate and the willingness of some of us, all too often younger White males, to embark on suicidal missions of death intended to somehow stop people of color from taking over the America. Or, better stated, is there something we are not doing that we should be?
One explanation of the Buffalo and similar eruptions of hate is that they are an inherent side-effect of efforts to create a more equitable society. Achieving racial equity and justice means that those subject to past and current disadvantage based on race will get some, and ideally all, of the benefits of removal of those disadvantages. This means that people of color will enjoy a greater share of the national pool of economic and social equity. It also means that Whites will enjoy less. Whites will have less of that equity because it will not have that portion of the equity that reflected White privilege.
The change in both opportunity and economic achievement that is inherent in a more just society is difficult for many Whites to accept. As the Biden administration appoints people of color to top posts in government, for example, some Whites feel resentment and assume the appointees did not merit their jobs. Some of us also balk at seeing people of color serving as judges, corporate executives, doctors, and any other job not involving manual labor or sports. At the heart of this assumption is that most people of color remain “intellectually inferior” to most White people.
The movement towards a more just and equitable society is prompting some White people to vent anger at what they see as “their country” being “given away.” Racism and hate have come out of the closet to degree not seen since the 1960s. In the 1960s there were race-motivated murders and terrorism, but not the mass shootings that we see today, or so it seems.
Why have racists become more comfortable sharing their hatred? One explanation is that racism is more acceptable and public today than in the recent past. Racism today frequently does not result in accountability or punishment, encouraging more racism. And because some of the racists are government officials—like Donald Trump who infamously suggested that Mexicans were rapists and drug-dealers—some racists take pride in “telling it like it is.” Also, unlike in past eras, racists’ beliefs are often “confirmed” by being discussed on cable and other news media outlets. Fox News personalities come to mind-Please don’t call them journalists or any other title that implies they are anything other than propagandists for right-wing, often racist thinking.
Finding a solution to the problem—something to address the race-hate and terrorism—may be impossible, but we must try. The efforts must go beyond trying to identify troubled individuals that have already been “radicalized” or those who are already in the process of planning a mass murder. Instead, we need to try a couple of things. First, all of us need to accept that to achieve equal justice for all, economic inequality based on racism or the vestiges of racism needs to be addressed. This means understanding the history of both slavery and the virulent race-hate that followed it. Second, we need to make sure everyone understands that aggressive action to create racial equity is in everyone’s interest.
If everyone understood that people of color are not “taking over America,” racists might calm down. Their racism is unlikely to disappear, but they will be less likely to feel personally threatened by seeing diversity in business and government. And if they came to embrace the concept that the elimination of inequality and inequity in society will make all of us safer and freer, the race-hate we see around us will start to dissipate.
How might America change the thinking of racists? For starters, purveyors of race-hate need to lose their platforms on the web. Just as the First Amendment doesn’t protect individuals who yell “fire” in a crowded theater, those that foment and encourage violence need to be silenced. The First Amendment is no more of a license to engage in terrorism than the Second Amendment is to shoot people at random.
Action is needed now. The best minds in the country need to be brought together to analyze the trend of increasing race-motivated violence, identify its causes, and recommend a series of actions to address it. Am I naïve to hope that Republicans might join Democrats in supporting this type of effort?
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.