Veteran teacher Bob Fecho, now a reading education professor at the University of Georgia, writes about young men, violence and guns in the wake of the Newtown shooting:
I am a white male. I’ve been in education for nearly 40 years and for 24 of those years I taught in three different secondary schools in Philadelphia. The students in all those schools came from working class and working poor black families.
When I would tell other whites who I’d meet casually—a taxi driver or a sales clerk, for example—where I worked, I’d hear anything from the coded “It must be hard teaching them kids” to the bald “You should get a medal for teaching there.” I suspect they imagined a school running amok, with fights breaking out daily, gangs terrorizing teachers, and mayhem rampant. Such was never the case.
Instead, I would see how the young men I taught were frequently vilified in local media, how black on white crime was plastered across the 11 o’clock news, despite its low occurrence rate relative to other crime. My students would tell me about policemen who would pat them down merely for standing on a street corner, about store clerks who followed them from the moment they entered a store until the moment they left, and about whites who, when seeing them approaching, would cross the street.
In America, we seem to live in fear of black males.
On Dec. 14, a white male killed 27 victims — most of them children — in a school in Connecticut. In July of this year, a white male murdered 12 people and injured 58 more in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Before that, U. S. Representative Gabby Giffords and 18 other people were shot by a white male. Six of them died, including a child and a federal judge.
Mother Jones magazine, in a report on mass shootings in the United States, indicated that since 1982 there have been at least 62 such shootings. The magazine went on to report that 43 of the killers were white males. Of the remaining 19 shooters, fewer than 10 were African American.
Rather than avoiding black males in hoodies, it would seem to be wiser to keep white males from carrying Glocks.
Yet we don’t.
In fact, we continue to make it easy for white males, and anyone else with the ready cash to buy weapons that facilitate such mass and random violence.
And it’s the randomness that is especially troubling. When I taught high school in Philadelphia, there would be fights from time to time. You put 2,000 adolescents in a relatively small space and there will be fights. But the violence was always focused. Someone disrespected someone’s mama or made moves on someone’s girlfriend. The offended sought the offender and the incident rarely spread beyond that.
But mass shooters—who are overwhelmingly white males—might start with an intended victim but then it becomes killing for killing’s sake. Anyone is a target. Anyone is free game. You turn a corner at the wrong time or open the wrong door and you’re a victim.
And curiously, we white males might be the greatest danger to ourselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for white males 24-64 are far higher than any other combination of gender and race, except for Native American males. And the rates for older white males, those beyond 64 years of age, skyrocket.
The suicide method of choice tends to be guns. A Harvard Public School of Health Study showed that suicide rates trended higher in states with high rates of gun ownership and lower in states with lower rates of gun ownership.
We as a nation see the statistics. We wring our hands over the wasted lives. We send money to the families of victims. Yet a U.S. Congress that before the last election was in the neighborhood of 85 percent white and 83 percent male continues to drag its feet on any kind of substantive and pervasive gun control legislation. And we, the voters, let them.
Worse, we allow different standards to exist. If 43 of 62 mass shootings had been perpetrated by black males or Latinos, particularly if whites had been the targeted victims, I can only imagine the punitive legislation, the mandated sentences, the investigative commissions, and the building of even more and larger prisons that would have occurred. We would see these murders as some form of collective uprising that needed to be quelled.
But because white males commit the wide majority of these horrendous crimes, we choose to view them as isolated incidents —sad and tragic— but isolated, nonetheless. We refuse to acknowledge that we as a society create the easy access to weapons of widespread violence and the alienation that often leads to the use of such weapons. We continue to shirk our responsibility in terms of how we facilitate the purchasing of weapons of mass violence and how we ignore the needs of those so alienated that they resort to the use of such weapons.
As one white male to all the others, we need to look in the mirror; we have to begin seeing the realities around us. Whether we are carrying semiautomatic weapons, access keys for electronic voting machines, or legislative briefs in the halls of the U.S. Capitol Building, we provide the American people with far more to fear than any minority in this country.
We can continue in this self-destructive vein or we can re-envision a more compassionate and safer world. I suggest we take the initiative and do the latter. If not, as the last election suggested, all who aren’t white males will not so gently shove us out of the way.
Banning weapons of mass violence and seeking greater support for the families of children and young adults struggling with depression and alienation would be a good place to start.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog