OPINION: The Killing of Eight People Wasn’t Just ‘A Bad Day,’ So Stop Excusing The Killer
Do you remember when Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people engaged in prayer at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, and the officers who arrested him stopped to get him McDonald’s? Or how Brock Turner was portrayed as an all-American swimmer gone astray when he sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster? Or that time Rolling Stone had Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover looking like a rock star?
Or how about when everyone’s favorite former president watched a bunch of folks gather in a literal hate rally that resulted in the death of a human being, stood on the world stage and said there are “very fine people on both sides?”
The protection and commodification of; and deference to, white maleness in America is insidious and pervasive as time immemorial. It’s conscious, subconscious and unconscious. And everyone is in on it.
The latest example of white male coddling came courtesy of Capt. Jay Baker of Georgia’s Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office during a press conference regarding the arrest of 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who confessed to killing eight people at three Atlanta-area spas.
Baker said of Long: “He was pretty much fed up, and kind of at [the] end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” Baker also conveyed Long’s apparent suggestion that it wasn’t a hate crime, but one that was motivated by his hyper-sexualization of Asian women, who comprise six of his eight victims.
I don’t know what was swimming in Baker’s head, but his language came off as entirely too benign considering the gravity of Long’s actions. Not only does “really bad day” give the suggestion that any of us could turn to mass murder since we all have bad days, but it’s also likely inaccurate: Long was apparently headed to Florida to do some more killing had he not been caught – dude had chaos all mapped out.
The fact that most of Long’s victims were Asian women – along with the apparent uptick in violence against Asian-Americans – doesn’t seem to square with his claim that his actions weren’t racially motivated. But how often do we see a Black or Brown assailant even given space to convey their own narrative to the public? And how often do you see anything resembling a sympathetic read from the arresting officers?
Baker has said he regrets “heartache” over his comments, but that’s likely because he’s being flamed on social media, and less likely because he’s looking inward. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that internet sleuths dug up some racially insensitive inappropriate Facebook activity from Baker, which got him booted from the Baker case.
We’ve spent our lives watching white sympathy play out on camera. When I was a kid, 30 years ago this month, I watched Rodney King get beaten into the ground by the LAPD in one of the first viral videos, only to watch the officers all acquitted of their crimes and Los Angeles erupt in riots as a result. Decades later, we’re still watching grand jury after grand jury acquit white police officers caught on camera being aggressive toward brown bodies.
Hell, even social media is in on protecting white maleness: We all know a person of color who wound up in “Facebook Jail” for posting politically charged speech in opposition to racism, while hate groups get to run wild with racism that’s more thinly veiled than snowfall in California. This is not in your imagination, and there’s entirely too much money and well-paid wonks at these companies for it to all be a mistake.
Like I said, we’re all in on it: I’m sure many folks of color, regardless of how they feel about his actions or racism in general, look at Long’s Hobbit-esque face, consider his age and feel sympathy for a “wayward soul” who “sadly” ruined his own life by taking the lives of several others. They see a “kid” who could have been on his way to big things had he made better decisions.
His victims…? A bunch of people whose stories we don’t know and with different-sounding names, who are dehumanized as a result. I’ll bet all the cheese in Wisconsin that Fox News or another righty publication will somehow bring up illegal immigration in connection to the victims.
I cannot say I’ve never been guilty of protecting white maleness – white supremacy is a hell of an opiate. But my eyes open a bit wider all the time, and I hope yours do as well.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at wafflecolored.com.