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The white privilege within terrorism

Michael Dawson

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On October 1st at 10 pm, a gunman by the name of Stephen Paddock, perched from a hotel room at the Mandala Bay casino in Las Vegas, used an illegal semi-automatic modification to murder 59 people and injure more than 492. This marked the deadliest shooting in American history. 

In spite of all of this — all of the lost lives, the weeping families, widowed partners, parentless children — this is not going to be an indictment on the state of gun control in America. And worse, this is not even going to be an indictment on white America. White America, an entity that will not ever wake up in fear and worry that their own race will become a target for aggressive politicization and racial violence, that will find unity in tragedy without considering the very privilege that helps create this unified identity. White identity. 

The news media outlets refer to Stephen Paddock as a “crazed lone wolf” or “a troubled man,” or refuse to label him as a “terrorist” as they do to non-white criminals. When the President of the United States gives warm condolences to the murdered victims of a white male terrorist attack, yet blames all Muslims for an isolated Islamic act of violence, white unity is at its strongest and most terrifying. 

Stephen Paddock, like most white terrorists of his pedigree, was quickly disassociated from White America and tossed to the side. The face of a murderer was not a brown one, as often peddled by White America’s largest and most vocal proponents, but one of their own. A schism was created between ‘regular’ white people and those like Paddock that commit atrocious acts of violence. But one does not need to pull the trigger to put in effect the circumstances that create many a Paddock. 

The National Rifle Association proudly plasters its organization with one of America’s oldest, unchanged, and most treasured amendments: the right to bear arms. So embedded within the collective American psyche is this decree that even the smallest alterations to it are met with fierce opposition.

 It’s also no surprise that the NRA’s strongest support comes from white conservative allies. These are the same white conservative allies who push forth pro-gun policies such as open carry, which exist mainly to benefit gun-owning white men and to punish black gun owners severely. They are the first to vocalize their fear of armed black men and push forward the myth of rising black crime, yet do nothing to stem the tide of unarmed black bodies shot down by police officers drunk with black paranoia. 

They tell Americans to protect themselves from foreign immigrant bodies, but not the white bodies who disproportionately commit the same crime of domestic terrorism. In short, they stand for a ‘safer’, whiter America, and taller borders to keep out those that are statistically less likely to harm you than those inhabiting the white cozy spaces of white America. The NRA is one of White America’s largest proponents, as it prides itself on tenets just a few steps shy of full-blown white supremacy. 

This margarine-butterized version of white pride tells White America that Stephen Paddocks do not mean there is a flaw in our system, in a system that has historically allowed violent white men to get away with crimes that don’t indict whiteness as a whole, but serve as an  estranged pocket in “lone wolf” mentality.

It tells White America that it is ok to blame all Muslims for the act of one, that a brown face is the largest threat to the red, white and blue. It tells that what is not white is biologically primed towards a path of destruction and violence. Whiteness allows white media to prioritize scapegoats, to focus on white terrorists being a “caring person” , and investigate psychological triggers of white terrorism, without ever questioning the role of white privilege. 

All tragedies, regardless of color, are equally horrible. But perhaps what we don’t ask ourselves often is what deeper, long-term, racialized tragedy underlies these acts of human cruelty. What kind of country are we, what American freedom is available to everyone, when black and brown faces find relief in seeing the white face of a mass murderer on the news, happy to not be blamed for another national tragedy? What injustices against black and brown bodies are at play when such psychological dissonance is the norm for black and brown America on a daily basis? This is a psychological war on black and brown lives that white people will never feel. 

Michael Dawson is a senior majoring in English. His column runs biweekly. 

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