White-on-white gun crime occurs across the U.S. on a regular basis. Its framing, in the wake of the mass murders by white male perpetrators wielding automatic weapons against white victims in California, Nevada and Texas, lacks such naming.
This oversight in part ensures a lack of clarity. What does it mean when a lethal social process is unnamable?
The framing and naming of white-on-white violence relates to where one is along what African American scholar W.E.B. DuBois called “the color line.” Race, or skin color, in a society born from enslaving Africans and eliminating Indians, is a necessary frame for contemporary events.
What accounts for such murderous white rage now? Is it corporate globalization, deindustrializing huge parts of the U.S., rendering members of the working class, whites and nonwhites, superfluous? The economy, which is centralizing income and wealth concentration, is a factor.
One other thing is clear. The current epidemic of white-on-white homicide did not fall from the sky, but evolved historically and socially. White settlers committed murderous violence against darker people on the North American continent for centuries. Meanwhile, the current rash of white-on-white slayings lacks the past motives of labor and land theft by any means necessary.
Yet such history is relevant. Otherwise, how could “Make America great again,” the campaign slogan of Pres. Trump, resonate to the point he got 60 million votes?
Some may call me a self-hating white, perhaps anti-American. Some may call me worse. Personal attacks elide what is at stake and why.
I expect many to disagree with me. I think I understand why.
The past is past, some say. History happened. That was then. This is now.
To the contrary, the past matters and weighs in ways big and small on the present moment. I am hardly the first to say that.
To grasp current social problems without comprehending the outsize role that class, gender and race played and plays is unhelpful. In fact, how the issue of white-on-white violence does (not) evolve in the public sphere is instructive.
Omission speaks volumes. We know that on the campaign Pres. Trump, while he was not scoffing at his prior multiple sexual assaults against women, bemoaned black-on-black murders.
His appeal to “the blacks” for their votes gave the word inept new meaning. Meanwhile, the popular TV magazine “60 Minutes” devoted a segment to the black-on-black homicide problem.
Yet as the recent white-on-white mass gun killings show, perpetrators kill people closest to them. In a segregated society such as the U.S., members of a particular demographic—perpetrators and victims—look alike. This is not advanced math, folks.
Yet when is the last time you heard, read or saw a public figure talk about white-on-white crime? Why is that a taboo topic?
Let me be clear. I mention the race of the shooters and the people they killed and wounded in Nevada, Texas and California as a lens for the present moment.
As a society, we sidestep the narrative of the gendered racial dynamic propelling mass gun violence in American society at our peril. Why go there?
Seth Sandronsky lives and works in Sacramento. He is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.