In recent years, the United States has seen a surge of white supremacist mass shootings against racial minorities. While not always the case, mass shooters tend to be young white men.
This argument is not surprising. Throughout U.S. history, white men’s anxieties over their manhood and social class help explain many violent attacks on Black people, whom the perpetrators blame for denying them their rightful privileges.
Such was the case with Dylann Roof, a then 22-year-old white supremacist who was convicted and sentenced to death in the 2015 deaths of nine Black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
In another case involving a racist mass shooting, Payton Gendron, a white supremacist who believed a slew of racist conspiracy theories he discovered online, was sentenced to life in prison after his convictions on the 2022 murders of 10 Black people at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
“Though finding solutions is not an easy task, recognizing the link between white anxiety and racial violence is a first step in addressing the problem,” Colin Kohlhaas writes. Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash
One such unfounded conspiracy that then 18-year-old Gendron frequently cited was the “great replacement theory,” the false idea that a group is attempting to replace white Americans with nonwhite people through immigration, interracial marriage and, eventually, violence. Such ideas reflect white-supremacist beliefs, but they also reveal deep insecurities about white men’s social status in America.
It’s my belief as a scholar of U.S. history, labor, ethnicity and masculinity that Roof, Gendron and other recent mass shooters in racist attacks share similar insecurities with their historical predecessors.
Though finding solutions is not an easy task, recognizing the link between white anxiety and racial violence is a first step in addressing the problem.
Class, Masculinity and Violence
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