When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them

In the wake of the horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton (ahem–not Toledo), President Trump robotically read the sort of statement Presidents are supposed to issue in such situations.

When questioned, Trump denied that his rhetoric had anything to do with the increase white nationalist violence, despite the fact that his language was echoed in the “manifesto” posted by the El Paso killer. According to media reports, Trump’s reelection campaign has run 2,199 Facebook ads referring to immigration along the US-Mexico border as an “invasion,” the same word used in the manifesto.

The massacres have re-ignited efforts to pass sensible gun regulations, regulations that are critically needed. They have also highlighted the connection between gun violence and the white supremacy this administration encourages.

The Guardian recently reviewed a book describing that link.

Why does the United States refuse to pass new gun control laws? It’s the question that people around the world keep asking.

According to Dr Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist at Vanderbilt University, white supremacy is the key to understanding America’s gun debate. In his new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, Metzl argues that the intensity and polarization of the US gun debate makes much more sense when understood in the context of whiteness and white privilege.

According to Metzl, white Americans are attempting to defend their status in the racial hierarchy by opposing gun control, healthcare expansion or public school funding. Of course, to sane people, that makes no sense; those are positions that end up injuring white guys as much or more than they hurt people of color.

The majority of America’s gun death victims are white men, and most of them die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In all, gun suicide claims the lives of 25,000 Americans each year.

In an interview, Metzl explained the link.

So many aspects of American gun culture are really entwined with whiteness and white privilege.

Carrying a gun in public has been coded as a white privilege. Advertisers have literally used words like “restoring your manly privilege” as a way of selling assault weapons to white men. In colonial America, landowners could carry guns, and they bestowed that right on to poor whites in order to quell uprisings from “Negroes” and Indians. John Brown’s raid was about weapons. Scholars have written about how the Ku Klux Klan was aimed at disarming African Americans. When African Americans started to carry guns in public – think about Malcolm X during the civil rights era – all of a sudden, the second amendment didn’t apply in many white Americans’ minds. When Huey Newton and the Black Panthers tried to arm themselves, everyone suddenly said, “We need gun control.”

When states like Missouri changed their laws to allow open carry of firearms, there were parades of white Americans who would carry big long guns through congested areas of downtown St Louis, who would go into places like Walmart and burrito restaurants carrying their guns, and they were coded as patriots. At the same time, there were all the stories about African American gun owners who would go to Walmart and get tackled and shot.

Who gets to carry a gun in public? Who is coded as a patriot? Who is coded as a threat, or a terrorist or a gangster? What it means to carry a gun or own a gun or buy a gun – those questions are not neutral. We have 200 years of history, or more, defining that in very racial terms.

Metzl noted that the period after a mass shooting is often very telling; if a white man was the shooter, the narrative focuses on the “disordered” individual. When the shooter is black or brown, the disorder is cultural and the narrative is about terrorism or gangs.

Or invasions and “caravans.”

Trump and his voters have told us who they are in no uncertain terms. The 2020 election will tell us how numerous those voters are–and how many of the rest of us are sufficiently concerned to vote.


  1. Just saying, in this era of dangerously escalating polarization, that I think it important to avoid ascribing “intent” to unconscious drives. This allows us to see that the problems are not ideological but cultural. Most people are not overtly racist, but implicitly racist, meaning that they don’t even know that their emotional/gut reactions are racist and part of white supremacy. Literally! They don’t get it.

    Part of the reason they don’t get it is simply human nature, which has a deep vulnerability to distorted worldviews via cognitive dissonance. People believe that they aren’t racist and just have to do a whole lot of emotional and insightful work to recognize that the culture (and theirselves) is white supremacist. Many have not gone very far in that work.

    When we believe that people are being intentionally racist, rather than subconsciously racist, we more easily see evil and become deeply angry, promoting polarization that short-circuits any actually helpful communication. When we recognize that implicit bias is strong, we see a lack of self-awareness, low self-esteem and ignorance. These are more capable of peacefully being addressed without getting angry and using the ineffective educational devices of shaming and blaming.

    Building sensitivity and awareness are different from combating evil and less likely to provoke violence than the kinds of polarization that are prevalent today. To someone with strong not self-detected implicit biases, there is a tsunami of white-shaming and male-bashing going on. This causes the individual to hunker down in their beliefs rather than encouraging them to open their minds and hearts to their own dark side.

    So, my main pitch is to be sensitive to the way in which liberals and progressives are righteously waging holy wars against racism and sexism in ways that help rip society apart – rather than respecting the worth and dignity of those who carry largely implicit and un-self-aware bigotry. If the goal is a civil war, we are on the right track.

    If the goal is changing our culture to protect and empower people of color and women and non-binary gender/identity people then we’d better try something more effective than shaming. And, we’d better recognize our own sense of self-righteousness that prevents us from relating to the large numbers of humans who are not evil, and rarely do evil things (microaggressions are not true evil), but just don’t know better.

  2. The only way Republicans get elected is by inventing faux issues that stir up outrage amongst their base. Transgender bathrooms, wedding cakes, birth certificates, Muslim presidents, and yes, gun control are all in their well-worn playbook. What better way to keep the focus off the fact their party of choice is screwing them? As the old saying goes, if you’re sitting at the poker table and you don’t know who the chump is, it’s probably you.

  3. Sheila, first I want to thank you for that “Dayton (ahem–not Toledo)” comment. I have had no idea if that was a typical Trump screw up or a closed captioning error and have seen no other reference to that slip of Trump’s forever wagging tongue; was beginning to doubt my memory.

    “The massacres have re-ignited efforts to pass sensible gun regulations, regulations that are critically needed. They have also highlighted the connection between gun violence and the white supremacy this administration encourages.”

    While the “efforts” to pass sensible gun regulations may have been “re-ignited”; the demands and begging from the general public has been ongoing but ignored by both parties. There is money to be made and lobbyists to keep happy and constituents be damned as the death count mounts. How many Republicans and Trump supporters have been among the death counts? The father of that baby who lost both parents while protecting him in El Paso was a Trump supporter and apparently the baby’s uncle who brought him from home to “meet the President” remains a Trump supporter. When a white elected Republican official such as Scallisi, who was almost killed in a park baseball field by a white Democrat using a bump stock enhanced weapon continues to support the sale of bump stocks, we may be fighting a losing battle. We appear to have brought a knife to a gun fight when the criminals are more heavily armed and have more protective body armor than all public safety officers and first responders trying to save lives. When weapons are banned on our military bases and posts and troops cannot be armed; there is something drastically wrong with this government, deep in its very soul. Forget logic, common sense and protecting lives of any American going about their daily…or nightly…lives; let’s just keep the NRA happy.

    PLEASE vote in 2019 November elections to take a first step back to democracy, Rule of Law and protecting our Constitution. I am a former gun owner with a permit to carry for protection; when I no longer needed the protection I sold my handgun, I am not anti-gun ownership.

  4. Over 2,000 FB ads along the border communities. Was the target audience just those communities or were other market specifics targeted?

    My post on FB was a rhetorical question about how fast we’d be talking about gun control measures if illegal brown people were killing white people. How fast would we hear, “F*** the NRA!”

    Cowardice or white supremacy?

  5. I agree that those who are racist seldom think of themselves as racist. However, 150 years after the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves, they still are not “woke”. How long should we wait to begin calling racists racists?

    Recognizing that we all have our prejudices, we absolutely have to decide who we are as a people and I’m not talking the “shining city on the hill” crapola that Reagan spouted. I just want us to be a decent, relatively moral country. The only way to do that is to confront who we are and who we have been. Racism has been called our original sin. Isn’t it time to call it out and deal with it? Like addicts, we can’t fix ourselves until we admit we have a problem.

  6. If controlling gun ownership was the solution to our violent society we would by now be far down the road toward a better world. Gun control is only part of the solution. The more difficult part remains, as it always has throughout history.
    How do we control the violent tendencies in ourselves and others? Why in this era do people, mostly men, gravitate toward violence in order to dominate others? Why do so many women cheer on such men? Why do so many of us live in fear of our neighbors? Has our system of government which was meant to bring about stability instead brought about constant changes in the laws and uncertainty about our safety? Are we trapped in a system of laws and religion that is so tangled that society is strangling itself to death one shooting at a time?
    Early this morning, two blocks from my home, a child was shot and critically wounded as he walked to the bus stop to go to school. I, for one, long for peace.

  7. In 2017, just three people were killed in shooting incidents in Japan.

    According to the Gun Violence Archive, a US-based survey group that collects information on gun violence, there were 15,612 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2017. This means that on average 42 people were killed each day in the United States as a result of gun violence, which is just under the total of 44 gun-related deaths in Japan over the past eight years.

    Japan, which is known for its strict firearms legislation, has historically had relatively little gun crime by international standards. In 2008, the number of shooting crimes fell below 50 for the year and has remained at this level ever since. https://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00178/gun-crimes-in-japan-remain-rare.html

    The part of the equation the NRA and their Elected Puppets never want discussed concerning gun violence is gun control. They will deflect the conversation to mental illness, violent video games or lack of God.

    Texas governor Greg Abbott, gave a speech at the NRA’s 2018 convention in which he said that the root cause of shootings is “not guns, it’s hearts without God”. Dan Patrick, the Texas lieutenant governor, blamed violent video games and a lack of prayer in schools after last Saturday’s slaughter.

  8. Earon and JoAnn have explored this love of firearms culturally and practically better than I ever could, and I appreciate their offerings, but however we arrived at the state of things today with a divider in chief exploiting anything and everything available to maintain power, we have to do something about it, and the fact is that we are drowning in a sea of guns, deaths, and thousands if not millions of the deranged with patchwork state regulations where some can walk down the street or into Wal-Marts heavily and legally armed, and that their right to do so has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. So now what?

    I suspect that aside from the demented we have the John Wayne sorts who want to live in their imagination on the frontier again, but this time substituting those of other races to include liberals or the hated of the day in lieu of the Indians about whom, I think it was General Sheridan, once stated that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Thus “racism” has been expanded beyond color as white liberals and rich and poor become targets of “racists,” suggesting that hate can extend beyond color or other distinguishing marks such as “I hate you, blue eyes, because you are (fill in the blank) a Republican, a Democrat, a bully, or favor a zoning ordinance that will reduce my property’s value etc. etc. etc.

    At my age I must of necessity leave solution of this politically-charged issue to others, and I don’t envy them their task. The rest of the world has expressed surprise and disbelief at our reluctance to end a policy that kills so many thousands of Americans via homicide, suicide, accident, crime etc. We Americans should also be in a state of continuous shock as well but have become numb to this killing cancer due to NRA and political propaganda. To do: Keep pounding away and advocating for a return to the Supreme Court’s position in a 1939 case in which the court found that (per Madison) militia meant militia. Uh. . .

  9. Yes. The sure way to get gun control through Congress is to sell every black male in the U.S. and AR-15. Those pathetic Republicans would be crawling over each other to get laws on the books and enforce them. You want gun buyback? The same solution would apply.

    Well, maybe that wouldn’t work. The white goobers would end up buying anti-aircraft guns.

  10. Eaton thx for sanity- putting people in hard boxes as the “other” is getting into The Duck’s gutter with him.

  11. A. S. Davis:
    The decision not to care enough about the manifestations and consequences of one’s inner biases to examine them and/or control them is also evil. To be unaware of one’s racism indicates an attitude that is almost worse than intentional racism .

    Overt racism is directed primarily at only a percentage of the population, but the I-don’t-care-what-my-psyche-is-driving-me-to-do attitude is a threat to everyone.

    I view the idea that we should excuse unconscious racism to be just another manifestation of the Permissive philosophy–the hold-no-one-accountable idea that soils the rest of us Liberals and Democrats with such a negative reputation. Are we to be bleeding hearts for unconscious racists, too?

  12. We have two problems (well, we have many but today we seem to be focused on these two) an incompetent corrupt President to get rid of and sensible, Constitutional gun control laws to bring about.

    The incompetent and corrupt President is appropriately addressed by democracy and Election Day next year and all of the hoopla before that we must survive. Annoying but necessary.

    The other problem is Congressional. Specifically it is the Senate and Mitch McConnell, assistant to the assistant dictator. There are signs that he will fold under intense public pressure. So the solution is intense public pressure like we see in other places most notably today, Hong Kong and Russia.

    Perhaps we need to divide our anger between Trumpence and McConnell.

  13. Earon — thank you for your explanation of why I keep pissing off relatives and friends without wanting or meaning to — I just want them to see what white privilege is and “GET IT!” So far I have not done an effective job & this definitely explained why.
    Thanks for helping me to continue to look at my own blind sides and feel kinder towards those I love and care about. I am so glad your post was first.

  14. We spend way too much effort unveiling the “racist” in others.

    For example, I think Metzl statement, “Carrying a gun in public has been coded as a white privilege” is an unproven and probably unknowable assertion.

    I agree with Mr. Davis that shaming doesn’t work but disagree that they “just don’t know better”.

    I think “differential association” takes us to a greater depth toward the understanding of their views, but also reflects the enormity of our undertaking.

    But certainly merely shouting “racist” at them won’t change them or make us more righteous

  15. John, I would agree with you: But certainly merely shouting “racist” at them won’t change them or make us more righteous.

    I believe in much the same manner calling these people deplorable’s, or White Nationalists is not a very good move. These people who identify with these labels, take it as Badge of Honor. It may give them more reasons to vote.

    This racism that exists in the USA has long history from when slaves were first brought here. The end of the Civil War ended legal slavery. Jim Crow introduced a different form of 2nd class citizenship. Legally, Jim Crow was attacked defeated by Brown vs the Board of Education and later by the Civil Rights Act.

    These legal triumphs did not bring to an end the attitude of Jim Crow. The new Jim Crow was dog whistled in various ways.

    My own recollection in the Chicago area was when integration could not be stopped in schools, housing or the work place a backlash happened. The “quota” system for hiring or admittance to schools was angrily denounced as favoritism. Forgotten of course by perhaps many White people was the roughly 300 years of slavery and the Jim Crow built into the system of segregation which kept Black people as second class citizens in the work place and in schools.

    This redressing of past 2nd class citizenship was not looked at as an appropriate remedy for the past, but as an attack on White People.

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