Today you will probably see one of the many thousands of articles positing the reasons a man took a rifle and opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Arlington, Va. Every cable news pundit will explain how this newly toxic political environment fomented the hate and rage that led to James T. Hodgkinson’s brutal attack.
In every one of these instances, writers, reporters and talking heads will try their best to conjure up amateur and qualified psychological analyses of what triggered Hodgkinson. Maybe he was a victim of the amped-up war between Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps President Donald Trump’s numerous misdeeds so frustrated Hodgkinson that he just snapped.
This is indicative of the benefit of the doubt that the media and the public extend to all white men.
Unlike in the case of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, reporters aren’t wondering when Hodgkinson was radicalized. I dare you to find an article looking into his religion. Even people in the street interviews have refrained from offhandedly calling Hodgkinson a thug.
Despite the fact that he was living a secret life in the same manner as the 9/11 terrorists—off the grid, scouting his targets from a van—no one has referred to Hodginkson as a terrorist. You could scour the newspapers all day and you wouldn’t find a mention of the Islamic State group, or ISIS, in the first paragraphs of stories about the Arlington shooting. There isn’t anyone—Democrat or Republican—wondering why Hodgkinson hasn’t been referred to as a “radical extremist.”
Here are a few passages from today’s stories:
“I didn’t really talk to him too much,” said neighbor Aaron Meurer. “He was a Democrat, and I was a Republican, so we didn’t have too much to talk about.”
In one sentence, Meurer offers up a snapshot of American partisanship: For many Americans, their political affiliation is a central component of their identity. Meurer’s statement suggests that he and Hodgkinson saw themselves as partisans first and neighbors second.
This isn’t to pick on Meurer—this sort of worldview is widespread and becoming more common in the United States.
—Christopher Ingraham, the Washington Post
James T. Hodgkinson, the man identified as shooting a Republican member of congress and four others on Wednesday morning, was a small business owner in Illinois who defined himself publicly by his firm support of Bernie Sanders’ progressive politics—and his hatred of conservatives and President Donald Trump.
This is based on CNN’s review of Hodgkinson’s Facebook profiles, public records, and three years of impassioned letters to his local newspaper [...]
“He didn’t seem scary,” George Manson said, “he just seemed out of it.”
—Jose Pagliery, CNN
The 66-year-old Illinois man who opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers and their aides at a Northern Virginia baseball diamond was a living portrait of simmering anger and sometimes strange behavior, neighbors and family members say.
—Aamer Madhan, USA Today
Notice that none of these articles dismisses Hodginkson as “hating our freedoms.” Even though he committed one of the most un-American acts a human being can commit, he isn’t being cast as a traitor or even part of the growing movement of radicals who commit acts of violence because of their ideology.
Let’s be clear: James T. Hodgkinson is a zealot who was radicalized online. James T. Hodgkinson tried to kill people because of his hateful ideology. James T. Hodgkinson is a violent radical extremist who carried out a well-planned terrorist plot against innocent Americans.
One of the greatest advantages of being white in America (besides walking, driving and living anywhere you want without the threat of being stopped, harassed, cast out or noticed because you don’t belong) is that whiteness gets to exist in the singular tense. Whenever a white man commits an act of terror—and make no mistake, that is what this is—he gets to be “troubled” or a “victim of the political atmosphere.”
Being white means you don’t have to automatically bear the weight of a skin color, a religion or an ethnicity. White people aren’t automatically assumed to be gangbangers, hood niggas or jihadists. They always get the benefit of the doubt; therefore, when white people do something heinous, the world begins a frantic, desperate search for a valid explanation of their actions.
Black people? Not so much.
That’s why it’s believable that 17-year old Trayvon Martin would jump on someone who weighed 50 pounds more than he did and was carrying a gun. It’s why no one finds it odd that Michael Brown just willy-nilly decided to reach inside a squad car and grab a police officer’s gun. It’s why they can watch unarmed Terence Crutcher walking away from Police Officer Betty Shelby as she opens fire on his back and still believe that she feared for her life.
When whiteness shoots up a school, it must have been the violent video games. When whiteness opens fire in a movie theater, it must mean the person was off his medication. When whiteness goes ballistic on a college campus, they will discover how many days since the shooter saw his therapist, because it must be something that causes whiteness to explode.
It must be the cable news. It must be “affluenza.” It must be trouble at home. It must be political rhetoric. It must be gun laws. It must be the National Rifle Association. It must be the mental-health system. It must be a lack of attention. It must be the divorce. It must be his childhood. It must be bullying. Because whiteness is logical. Whiteness is never evil. Whiteness is never just plain crazy. Whiteness is bulletproof.
It must be nice.