Elliot Rodger was/is a white man.
For some people, this fact is very controversial and upsetting.
As I wrote in 'The True Alpha Male': The Santa Barbara Mass Shooting, Elliot Rodger, and Aggrieved White Male Entitlement Syndrome, when the bad behavior of white people is publicly called to account, said person’s relationship to “Whiteness” is rarely discussed.
To be forced to include white mass murderers, madmen, and Right-wing domestic terrorists as part of the tribe is very uncomfortable and disconcerting.
This is understandable: what reasonable person would not want to excommunicate them from their community and affinity group?
Only white folks have such a luxury in the United States: a black rapist, thief, or murderer is de facto a representative of “the black race” with its “bad culture” and “pathologies”. There is no parallel for whites. The white murderer, thief, rapist, or mass shooter is an outlier, “mentally ill”, or some type of deviant whose behavior reveals nothing about white people en masse.
The boundaries of Whiteness and white privilege are heavily policed: bad people are “them”; good people are “us”.
Part of the appeal of “race” as a heuristic device and decision-rule is how it offers simple answers to complex social questions.
Despite what white supremacists and their allies would like to believe, race is a social construct with little to no biological basis. There is one race: the human race. Human beings have not existed long enough to be divided up into distinct breeds like dogs.
In the West, a person’s “blood quantum”, phenotype, or skin color has been, and continues to be used to calculate their location within a society’s racial hierarchy.
Stereotypes and assumptions related to behavior can also be neatly triangulated relative to race as well.
The question “what are you?” is often less an existential matter about consciousness and agency, than an effort to locate a given person within a society’s racial order.
The phrase “he or she ‘looks’ ‘Asian’, ‘Black’, ‘Hispanic’…” is a quick shortcut and decision-rule for slotting people into an arbitrary racial group—with the incumbent benefits and liabilities that come with that group membership.
Thus, the frustration/fascination when a person’s perceived racial identity does not match up with the stereotypes and expectations that dominant society projects onto them.
Race is complicated. Race and racism have a history. Both are inventions. They are not natural arrangements of power between groups of human beings. Consequently, race is a combination of law, day-to-day practices, “common sense”, arbitrary distinctions, habits, culture, “science”, and norms which have power over life chances.
As such, conceptions of race and racial identity reflect the political and social questions of a given era: they are a type of social witchcraft and mysticism.
For example, because of the “one drop rule”, a black American can get on a plane, fly to Brazil, and then magically be transformed into a “white” person because that country’s racial norms dictate that “one drop” of white blood makes you anything but “black”.
Likewise, during the American slave regime and then Jim and Jane Crow, a “black person” could move between races (literally crossing over from black to white and back to black again) by crossing state lines.
South Asians are darker in complexion than many if not most Black Americans. Yet, they are considered “white”, i.e. “Aryan” in terms of racial classification.
Over several generations “non-white” European immigrants such as the Irish, Italians, Slavs, Poles, Jews, became fully “white”. In the present, new research is calling attention to how Hispanic-Americans are increasingly choosing to identity themselves as “white”.
How do we locate Elliot Rodger within this complex story of race and identity?
Like gender, race is a type of performance.
It is a performance which can be sincere, authentic, stereotypical, deviant, natural, subversive, grotesque, beautiful, or ugly.
For example, there are about 40 million different ways to be black. This includes the young person who has internalized the ugly lie that he or she is “acting white” by being a serious and responsible student. By comparison, “acting black” also includes the studied grace, dignity, and black respectability of Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America.
There are likely as many ways to perform race (and ethnicity) as there are people in the United States.
The immigrant who is going to assimilate by being even more “American” than his native born fellow citizens, the “white negro” who acts “black” in order to upset his parents or to be “cool”, the Sikh who dresses up like Captain America in order to challenge narrow conceptions of who counts as an American, the Red State rural white voter who drives a pickup truck, watches NASCAR, and displays the Confederate flag, as well as the white suburbanite who is desperate to earn their WASP bonafides by joining a country club and going to the “right” schools, are all, in their own ways, performing race.
Race, gender, class, and sexuality are the dominant socio-organizational categories in American and Western society. They are the social and political air we breathe; to ignore how those categories influence our lives and personal identities is to deny empirical reality.
Elliot Rodger constructed an identity for himself as “Eurasian” and proceeded to internalize American society’s cues and lessons about power, privilege, race, and gender. He then lived out his own particular understanding of what it means to be white and male in the United States.
Elliot Rodger demanded and expected power and control over others. He saw respect from others not as something earned but rather as a birthright. Elliot Rodger’s life is the very definition of unearned privilege and advantage. In his desperate search for validation and affection from his white father, he projected and acted on a particular type of elite, dominative, aggressive, white masculinity and sense of entitlement.
While some would like to focus on the fact that he has an “Asian” mother as leverage for discounting his Whiteness—one of the intellectual weak spots of the White Right and the race science crowd is an obsession with “pure races”, which are non-existent, yet remain an intellectual fixation for white racists—Elliot Rodger was performing white masculinity as he understood it.
Whiteness is an identity based upon maintaining a superior power relationship over people of color.
Whiteness is not just a reflection of “biological race” or assumed racial group membership by virtue of parental or family lineage. Whiteness is a political project with its own set of values and normative assumptions about how society should be organized.
Elliot Rodger’s diaries contain numerous examples of white racial animus and hatred towards people of color. He wrote that black people were a lower type of human being:
“How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more.”
He was disgusted that his “racial inferiors” had access to white women. People of color were basically “kaffirs” to him--inferiors to someone of his racial stock.
Elliot Rodger wrote online how:
"Today I drove through the area near my college and saw some things that were extremely rage-inducing. I passed by this restaurant and I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls. He didn’t even look good. Then later on in the day I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and saw an Indian guy with 2 above average White Girls!!! What rage-inducing sights did you guys see today? Don’t you just hate seeing these things when you go out? It just makes you want to quit life."
Elliot Rodger also felt no sense of linked fate or affinity with Asian-Americans: his identity as a “white” man, with “white blood” pulsing in his veins, elevated him above those he considered “lowly” Asians.
He also disparaged an Asian man who posted pictures of himself with a white woman:
"Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly and white girls would never go for you. You’re just butthurt that you were born as an asian piece of shit, so you lash out by linking these fake pictures. You even admit that you wish you were half white. You’ll never be half-white and you’ll never fulfill your dream of marrying a white woman. I suggest you jump off a bridge."
Elliot Rodger’s particular version of white male identity dictated that he was superior to people of color in all ways—and the greatest offense was their not respecting his control over and access to white women’s bodies. Dominance and power over people of color was one of the central ways that Elliot Rodger understood his identity as a man.
Elliot Rodger both idealized and idolized Whiteness and White Masculinity.
Rodger wrote in fawning and obsessive language about his desire to be accepted among the “superior” white men who had sexual access to the white women he coveted. Elliot Rodger dyed his hair blonde in order to look more like a white person.
In describing that experience, he wrote how:
"This revelation about the world, and about myself, really decreased my self-esteem. On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with. I envied the cool kids, and I wanted to be one of them. I was a bit frustrated at my parents for not shaping me into one of these kids in the past. They never made an effort to dress me in stylish clothing or get me a good-looking haircut. I had to make every effort to rectify this. I had to adapt.
My first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde. I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful. My parents agreed to let me do it, and father took me to a hair salon on Mulholland Drive in Woodland Hills.
Choosing that hair salon was a bad decision, for they only bleached the top of my head blonde. When I indignantly questioned why they didn't make all of my hair blonde, they said that I was too young for a full bleaching. I was furious. I thought I looked so silly with blonde hair at the top of my head and black hair at the sides and back. I dreaded going to school the next day with this weird new hair.
When I arrived at school the next day, I was intensely nervous. Before class started, I stood in a corner franticly trying to figure out how I would go about revealing this to everyone. Trevor was the first one to notice it, and he came up to me and patted my head, saying that it was very "cool." Well, that was exactly what I wanted. My new hair turned out to be quite a spectacle, and for a few days I got a hint of the attention and admiration I so craved."
He was happy that his hair and features were not like that of those other racially marked, and to his eyes, inferior “full blooded” Asians. The first victims in his murder spree were his Asian roommates, men whom he considered weak and vulnerable. In many ways, Elliot Rodger’s manifesto is a love letter to Whiteness and white people. Like a spurned lover or obsessive fan, Elliot Rodger turned on them because he did not feel fully accepted by his racially idealized and idolized community as a “real” white man.
The cultural economy of sex and race played an important role in Elliot Rodger’s obsession with white blonde women.
White women are among the most protected classes of people in the United States. White women are also represented as the most desirable and attractive type of woman by the mass media. Elliot Rodger’s fixation on “blondes”—as an idealized female form—reflected the lessons about race, sex, and desirability that he learned as a young man in American society.
It is important to highlight how Elliot Rodger was not obsessed with women in general. He did not fixate on black women, Asians, or Latinas. Rodger’s fetish for white blonde women reflects broader (white) American (and global) cultural norms: colorism remains a powerful force in black and brown communities around the world.
Elliot Rodger’s sexual obsession exists within a broader social context. Recent research at UCLA-Berkeley has revealed how black women are considered the least desirable potential partners on online dating sites such as OK Cupid. And although black women are more likely to be victims of kidnapping and assault, crimes against them (and other women of color) are grossly under-reported by the mainstream news media. By comparison, what has come to be known as “missing white woman syndrome” is a trope that dominates news coverage.
Elliot Rodger’s obsession with white blonde women was an extension of a type of white masculinity that views white women and white femininity as prizes to be desired, protected, objectified, and controlled.
Wait a minute! Elliot Rodger’s mother was Asian! How can he be white!
These predictable (and tired) objections reflect a desire for simplicity in how race is conceptualized and discussed.
Whiteness is malleable.
Elliot Rodger is a white man with an “Asian” mother. Allowing for how race is constructed in a very different way for African-Americans, Barack Obama is a black man with a white mother. Moreover, Rodger’s Asian ancestry would be of no concern if he did not commit mass murder: there would be no reason for those who police the boundaries of Whiteness and white privilege to jettison him from the clan.
However, Elliot Rodger’s “Asian” identity could be central to solving the puzzle that is his violent and murderous masculinity.
Asian men are routinely depicted in a feminized and asexual manner by American popular media. In the American racial imagination, Asian men have variously been the source of moral panics about “white slavery”, stereotyped as alien Others and traitors, or as sexual deviants (see the recent Hangover movies and the "Leslie Chow" character). Historically, American masculinity has been inexorably tied to a particular type of “rugged”, “independent”, and “robust” type of white male identity.
Elliot Rodger, as detailed by his manifesto, was enraged that he could not reach the epitome of white masculinity that American society has constructed as unattainable for someone racially marked (and stigmatized) as Asian.
Roger’s search for “alpha male” status left him in a state of racial limbo.
He embraced Whiteness as a set of values, habits, and beliefs; Elliot Roger thought of himself as a type of white man.
African-American literature has a stock character called the “tragic mulatto”. In some ways, Elliot Roger is a parallel type of figure: he lacked a properly integrated sense of racial self and identity. He was/is a tragic “mixed race” white Asian who worshiped Whiteness, yet could not attain it in the manner, and to the degree, he desperately desired.
Most important, Elliot Rodger embodies the worst aspects of American society.
He was easily able to purchase a gun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition which he then used to kill six people. Once more, the fetish for the gun, and a perverse gun culture that links gun ownership to masculinity, led to murder.
Elliot Rodger was a misogynist and a sexist.
Elliot Rodger’s hatred of women drove him to kill because he felt denied his “natural” right to control women and men’s access to their bodies.
Elliot Rodger was a racist. He felt that he was superior, by virtue of his parentage and over-identification with Whiteness, to African Americans and other people of color. Elliot Rodger’s embrace of Whiteness—as de facto white supremacy—fueled and legitimated, in his mind, a murder spree because his racially privileged rights of birth were denied him.
Elliot Rodger was empowered by classism and a profound sense of entitlement and power over those he deemed “beneath” him. Just as some members of the American 1 percent believe that they are imperiled, and thus facing some type of “Holocaust” and “oppression” at the hands of the “takers”, Elliot Rodger was the ideal-typical spoiled brat, born on the 3rd base of life, yet angry at the world because he thought that he in fact had hit a home run.
Elliot Rodger was rageful because he was denied, at least in his mind, his natural place in the American social order as a rich white man. Aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome led him to commit murder.
As an astute commenter wisely noted on the social media site Twitter, there are many landmines in America who are similarly primed and ready to explode.
Are the American people ready and prepared for more Elliot Rodgers? And how will too many of its citizens explain away the ugly synergy that is racism, classism, guns, and sexism when it kills again?