Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aurora, Colorado killer, James Holmes: "gunman" or "terrorist"?


. Judy Goos, center left, hugs her daughter's friend, Isaiah Bow, 20, while eyewitnesses Emma Goos, 19, left, and Terrell Wallin, 20, right, gather outside Gateway High School where witnesses were brought for questioning Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo. [Source for photo and caption: here]
Revised later in the day with additional analysis:

Through the sadness and disgust, I am paying attention to how the corporate media portray the white male terrorist who killed a dozen people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Generally, a white man gets called "gunman", a term that comes from 1950s and '60s TV-Westerns where the killer is a loner. James Holmes is being described both as a "gunman" and as a "loner".

The concept of the loner is loaded with racist and sexist meaning: the advantage of being white is that one's race is generally invisibilised by whites, who control the largest systems of power in any white-ruled nation. It is to the advantage of whites to keep our race invisible and out of the realm of political scrutiny. One of several ways this is accomplished is by viewing white people, especially men, as only individuals.

How many times I've heard white men complain about how I categorise white men in terms of their race and gender. They will argue, using very similar lines of argumentation, that "I am not the White Man you speak of. I am just myself, an individual," as if anyone who is white or male doesn't benefit greatly by being a statused/destigmatised member of raced and gendered classes. The claim reveals the privilege and power: he need not know exactly to what degree he benefits in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy by not being of color or female.

The concept of the white male loner is well-told in white men's myths about themselves. The Lone Ranger was considered alone even while he exploited the fictional assistance of Tonto. In the 18th and 19th centuries, white male trappers and genocidalist settlers in the U.S. relied on Native Americans or on the ways of Indigenous North Americans in order to survive. Men are considered alone, and consider themselves to be all alone, even while they exploit the labor and support of women throughout their lives.

Black or Brown people, women or men, routinely and systematically get identified by whites in terms of their race and how such races of people allegedly commit crime indiscriminately. We do not hear much about Black and Brown people as "loners", and when someone Black or Brown commits the kind of crime whites consider to be "criminal", s/he is always understood to be a criminal in part because s/he is Black or Brown, not in spite of it. This way of understanding humans-as-dangerous means we must ignore who, really, perpetrates atrocities against masses of people and the Earth.

We must ignore how overwhelmingly rich, white men organize and order the mass slaughter of Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous people, including, over the last decade, in Iraq and Afghanistan but also within the boundaries of the U.S., where genocide is on-going. And patriarchal war crimes target women and girls for particular atrocities, from sexual assault to sexual slavery to sexualised murder. Such grossly terroristic mass murders are never reported in those terms by corporate media because "terrorist" must be linked in the racist U.S. imagination with "not white", and as if the power men hold over and against women isn't a determining factor.

Current mass media stories of this most recent Colorado horror will exploit this, and are doing so right now. Where did James Holmes learn that men are entitled to direct hostility violently and terroristically against people who are unarmed? I am thinking now of efforts by some feminists to teach women how to operate firearms as means of self-defence, so that at least some men won't assume that women aren't capable of defending themselves with guns.

The sale and distribution of U.S. firearms and military weaponry within and beyond the U.S. is but one way for this country to ensure its dominance. Teaching the most powerful members of society to believe that the powerful have a right (if not also a responsibility) to violently aggress against the oppressed is another approach. James Holmes grew up in a society in which white men get to be terrorists without being called terrorists. In this same society, Black and Brown people of any sex are predetermined to be criminals; one recent publicised tragedy is the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Among whites I know who fly on planes, Arab Muslim passengers are predetermined to be terrorists and any Arab person or Muslim person is assumed to be a threat to them, simply by not being white or Christian or Jewish. (I'm reluctant to write that without adding this: white Christian men in the U.S. carry far less stigma and have much more institutionalised status and power, including economic power, than do white Jewish men or women.)

My question is:
Beyond what has occurred over the last several centuries in North America and globally, how much more terrorism has to be committed systematically and individually by white, European-descended men for white men to carry the stigma of being a distinctly advantaged and governmentally protected terrorist group?

"Gunman" keeps James Holmes in the realm of heroic anti-hero. Naming him a "terrorist" wouldn't have this effect.

My heart goes out to the loved ones of those killed by James Holmes and to the loved ones of the thousands of people terroristically murdered annually by xenophobic and white male supremacist U.S. police forces and imperialistic and white male supremacist military leaders, aka terrorists.

For more, see this:


qrratugai said...

:) Thank you for writing this! I've seen a couple of other blog posts in which the writer makes similar arguments and illustrates the obvious (I've done the same in a recent blog post as well), and this sort of response makes me very happy and hopeful.

And, although I didn't hear this myself on NPR, friends tell me that they referred to Holmes as a terrorist! Boy, was I delighted or what. He has terrorized the whole nation, just like all other killers and murderers do regardless of their motives, and he should be recognized as such.

Julian Real said...

Hi and welcome, qrratugai,

I just checked out your blogs and want to thank you for doing what you do to visibilise Pashtun people.

Thank you so very much for your supportive comment. Until you wrote, the only other comment I got was from a very hostile white guy who said people with views such as mine are better off dead. Needless to say, his comment won't be published.

And, yours is! :)

Christina said...

This just proves yet again that strait white males are not viewed as terrorists. They cause so much suffering all over the planet and despite all these atrocities people often see them as the solution to problems and not the cause of them.

Julian Real said...

Exactly, Christina.

Because in the West, it is white het males who define reality, define danger, define terrorism, and define defence.

It is striking to me how white het male cops and white het male soldiers are viewed as unambiguously "good" by white het men, but for everyone else, including white female cops and soldiers, LGBTIQA people, and Black and Brown people, these WHM people are systematically dangerous and terroristic.