White Denial, Mental Health, and Mass Shootings

The reality still remains that mass shooters are disproportionately white and male. I spend a lot of time talking about race in my work, and I often encounter resistance on the part of white people to acknowledge the realities of the ways race, but particularly whiteness and white supremacy impact the context, and the outcome of a given situation.

For me, it’s hard not to notice the ways white suspects are humanized, and their contexts are sought to be understood in ways that explain how they deviate from the norm (ie mental health issues), while POC victim’s contexts are sought to be understood for the purpose of proving why they deserved to die.

I was talking with students the other day who highlighted that since 9/11 we now have increased security presence and processes at the airport. They went on to talk about the ways they saw changes in framing and policy like immigration and other areas when the face of the “threat” had darker skin. (ex. war on drugs vs opioid crisis, thugs rioting vs overzealous fans celebrating their team’s victory, looters vs finders, etc).

I worry that people who need support with their mental health are being further scapegoated, stigmatized and discouraged from seeking help, and I also worry that quiet, introverted kids and adults are also going to be facing some increased scrutiny for being who they are.

For me, it comes back to my frequent encounters with white people who go to great lengths to ignore the impact of whiteness and white supremacy on society, and I will also implicate patriarchy by way of toxic masculinity. There is something insidious in the process of the socialization of men that creates that sense of entitlement, and legitimizes violence and displays of dominance as the only acceptable forms to display emotion. I think those two elements are heavily implicated in all of this.

For me that dissonance; the denial and need to self-protect explains the slowness to act. The denial of the reality on the part of white men that it isn’t some foreign or far away entity that poses an existential threat, but the person in the mirror.

I think it’s easier to scapegoat mental illness because for some white folks, it can be explained away as a neat example of deviation from the “norm” that clearly explains the behavior. It allows them the privilege of protecting their need to be seen as individuals and not as representatives of their entire group; a privilege that is denied to POC. I think the necessary work is for white people, and white men in particular to take ownership of the fact that they are the problem that needs to be solved here.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones

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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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6 Responses

  1. Richard Marquez says:

    Brother Renaldo,
    I was disappointed with this article you’ve written because it appears that you’re racially categorizing Nickolas Cruz as a young white male assailant. In fact, Nickolas Cruz is Latino, mestizo, not white. His mental health disorders and continual alienation, internalized racial and class oppression, adoptive status and significant trauma experiences in his life tragically produced this murderous outcome.

    • Hello Richard,

      My name is actually spelled “Relando”, although I can see how it could be similar to the name you mentioned.

      Although Nickolas Cruz was not named in this post, his racial background does not diminish the fact that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings are committed by white men. Naming the existence of attempts to deny and deflect from that fact as a way of upholding white supremacy is actually what this post is about.

      • Cruz also wrote hateful things about Latinos and other races on his social media and identified with white supremacist groups. He’s a confused mess in denial about his own background. Sincerely, another Latina mix.

  2. Karl Schulmeisters says:

    So curiously FaceBook apparently considers the “disproportionately white and male ” to be hate speech and a violation of its community standards

    I was suspended for posting it

    • Odd that Facebook would suspend a person for something like this with everything else that is posted there. I’m wondering if this is also a reflection of your friend group. Someone you know may have reported it, and in addition to the curiosity I have about why facebook might consider those words to be hate speech, I’d also wonder who among the people you know might you need to have conversations with about the reality that mass shooters are disproportionately white and male.

  1. April 26, 2018

    […] can find my responses to the first two questions in the note: White Denial, Mental Health, and Mass Shootings at Notes from an Aspiring […]

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