Black Americans have known for centuries that domestic terrorism is a far greater issue than any foreign group mainstream media has posited as a threat to democracy. But because those domestic terrorists share the same face of the privileged and the powerful, their threats have always been downplayed as isolated incidents, mental breaks, or outbursts stemming from a traumatic event. However now that mass shootings have become more than a weekly occurrence and the victims are no loner just minorities and the poor, its time for America to talk about the real threat facing society: white male terrorism.
That’s the focus of this poignant essay in The Nation which sums up the issue on our hands perfectly in the opening sentence: “Everywhere I look lately, there are signs of white men panicking about their supremacy over American society.”
The Black community has always known this panic; it’s been a part of our daily lives since we were brought to this country and subjected to laws specifically enacted to ensure we would never attain equal status in society. And just as the biggest crack in the glass ceiling manifested itself in the form of President Barack Obama’s election, white people’s fear of losing that supremacy showed up in the over-policing and outright murder of black men and women all throughout the country by white male cops employed to protect the ones to whom which they pose the biggest threat.
But now it’s not just black people getting too big for their britches that has white men riled up. It’s reproductive rights, it’s immigrants (with a particular interest in those south of the border), it’s non-violent Muslims seeking the same religious freedom this very country was founded on. But that’s not American was founded on. Fear runs deep in white people’s veins; it’s what caused them to overtake and essentially wipe out an entire group of people living on this land before they arrived. And ever since that time, those white immigrants and their descendants have implemented every measure possible — including cultural, racial, and religious genocide — to make sure no one will ever to do them what they’ve done to others for centuries. As Max Berger wrote, in his quest to understand why “at this particular moment, white American men seem to be losing their minds,”
I have come to believe the fears of white Americans are really just reflections of the things that white supremacy and empire have done to others. White America has not been terrorized by people of color; we have terrorized people of color. Black wealth is not based on stealing from white people; white wealth is based on stealing from black people. Instead of confronting the reality of our history and what our country has become for most people, too many Americans would rather kill those mourning their dead and send orphans and widows to a hellscape we created — all in order to preserve the myths of whiteness, masculinity, and empire.
I have to imagine the white men who commit these egregious acts of terror do so out of a silent, personal fear that the myths of whiteness and masculinity engender in themselves. The dehumanization white supremacists perpetrate on others has to be, in part, a projection of the dehumanization they feel themselves. The sad men that hang out on 4chan plotting the destruction of innocent others don’t believe they can be the strong, virile, white male dominators they are prescribed to be. No one who feels good about themselves talks as much as Donald Trump does about how he is a “winner” and other people are “losers.” No one who is confident of their humanity would deny acceptance to a 5-year-old orphan refugee.
And yet, these white, American men are taught they must be silent in considering their fear, because to even admit they feel it would be to undo the myths of whiteness and masculinity they cling to.
And there you have it. The white man’s eureka. If white men were as competent and fearless and intelligent and strong as they perpetrate there’d be no need to suppress other ethnic, racial, or gender groups because their mythical inherent superiority would be no match for it. But beneath the bravado, white men know their superiority is a construct as ingrained in society as race, and if they want to keep that myth alive then they must dominate any man, woman, or child whose real strength could pose a serious threat if the systemic racism and gender and religious biases set in place ever allowed for it.
Berger has hope that the new leaders of color will encourage white people to follow suit in their quest to uproot white supremacy but he’s far more optimistic than I. It’s against basic instinct to show anyone your weakness, and to think white people would one day choose humanity over racial hierarchy, which has served them so well thus far is, sadly, far-fetched. That’s why gun control remains the central focus of discussions on mass shootings rather than the image of the white male villain — a racial trope we’ve never even seen alluded to in cinema, let alone on the 6 o’clock news. And yet, that is the man I’m most afraid of now. He’s always on my mind when I step into a movie theater and the lights go dim or I attend a sporting event or take any type of public transportation, not Isis. But we all know why one of those things is talked about more than the other. White men will never give up the myth of their whiteness and as long as they can disguise the threat they pose by villainizing everyone around them, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities will forever live in the shadow of their terror.