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White Men and Mass Murder: Did a Sense of "Aggrieved Entitlement" Lead Adam Lanza to Kill 26 People at Sandy Hook Elementary School?


Ultimately, many are so invested in protecting Whiteness and White Masculinity from any type of critical interrogation about such identities' relationship to horrific mass murder in the United States; here, White Privilege trumps sanity, safety, and commonsense.

An aberrant variety of pathological White Masculinity, as embodied by mass gun murders such as Adam Lanza and John Holmes, is killing people--the vast majority of whom are white. Nevertheless, many in White America do not want to ask basic questions about the processes leading to these horrendous outcomes.

White racism, white privilege, and Whiteness, more generally, hurts white people. How so many are running away from hard conversations about those concepts, and their relationship to white crime and violence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, is proof positive of that fact. Instead of protecting the lives of white children, many would rather ignore an obvious social evil that lies at the heart of Whiteness and its intersection with American gun culture. I can think of no greater example of how Whiteness is a type of property that is toxic to its owners.

There are some good folks asking hard questions about the relationship between Whiteness, White Masculinity, and gun violence. For example, William Hamby has offered up a great piece that is well worth reading.

There, he makes good use of a concept called aggrieved entitlement:

Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It's called "aggrieved entitlement." According to the authors, it is "a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine." This feeling was clearly articulated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre. Harris said, "People constantly make fun of my face, my hair, my shirts..." A group of girls asked him, "Why are you doing this?" He replied, "We've always wanted to do this. This is payback... This is for all the sh*t you put us through. This is what you deserve."

At the risk of getting too existentialist, I'd like to propose a very simple and elegant explanation for not only school shootings but a host of other barbaric acts in recent years: White men are having a crisis of both aggrievement and entitlement. One need only look at the 2012 election season to see less brutal but equally mind-numbing examples of white men going mad because they are losing their power. The "Republican Meltdown" is a perfect example of men who previously had all the control escalating to madness when that control was lost.

Hamby continues:

Until the 1980s, when semi-random spree murders "inexplicably" became the province of young white men, there was no need for young white men to resort to this kind of thing. Whatever happened in society, they would be the winners. These days, it's still not the worst thing to be a white male -- not by a long shot -- but it's not nearly as cushy as it used to be. Women's rights have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years. Marriage has become more advantageous to women than men since no-fault divorce and custody policy favoring women have become the norm. We have... (gasp)... a black president. If someone grew up indoctrinated into the God and Country of the White Man, it's easy to understand how regardless of personal circumstance, feelings of entitlement and superiority could already be on shaky ground. One need only look up any of the hundreds of "Men's Rights Movement" websites, which are often thinly veiled hate groups, to see examples of (usually white) men who seem to be feeling very emasculated and powerless.

I want to say this next bit very carefully. It is absolutely true that white men have lost a lot of power in the last few decades. Inasmuch as these shooters are angry about feelings of powerlessness, their feelings are at least understandable. However, white men needed to lose a lot of power. Without exaggerating, one could say that a history of America is a history of white men lording power over... pretty much anyone who wasn't a white man. If America was ever going to truly be a land of equality, white men needed to lose their power.