The Problem They Will Not Name
We are living through the tragedies of a country in self-inflicted free fall, a dizzying storm of dread, white, patriarchal supremacist wrath, and manufactured decline
Eight human beings senselessly cut down.
As soon as we see the breaking news we’re already aware of at least some of the details without having to read further. Some white man, probably younger, probably lost in a maze of conspiracy theory nonsense, some motivation that either lies in white supremacist paranoia, hatred of women or people of color, maybe both. Guns that were either legally obtained through some means that should’ve been shut a long time ago or illegal measures that could have been prevented.
On Tuesday night, a 21-year-old man killed eight people in three spas in the Atlanta area. Six of them were Asian, seven of them women. Already investigators are chalking this up to “sexual addiction” and downplaying the racial aspects of the murders, a nauseatingly inept attempt to change the focus and, at best, an ignorant and sad misunderstanding of the politics of sex, race, and power.
Like most tragedies in a declining state locked in a self-inflicted spiral, it’s entirely probable this incident will be misunderstood and eventually forgotten, its implications and underlying causes, not to mention the catalogue of reasons why it is misunderstood and why any attempt at change will be scuttled, all but scattered to the wind.
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As an empire begins to fall, there is an enormous weight and suck and pull. Its heft is incredible as it plunges into the abyss and drags its people under. There are several stages of this tragedy, and most often it begins, as loss does, with denial. Notions of exceptionalism are trafficked, exultations of great beginnings and purpose that oftentimes coalesce into needless wars and proud oppression.
But then reality sets in. In this stage, the citizens of empire question why their experiences aren’t those of their parents or forebearers. In America, this is the realization that the Dream of advancement and progress has been a lie all along. The canaries in the coal mine have been white men, who bristle at even the hint of their privileges being denied them. For decades now we have been subject to their hostilities upon waking from this dream. They were supposedly inheritors of a great legacy, of a great empire, and to realize this was a lie sent them running for weapons in order to bolster their flagging masculinity and inflict their rage on the rest of us, particularly populations of color.
Mass shootings have been treated as aberrations, strange moments of wrath carried out by “lone gunmen” and the insane. Their frequency has inspired a cottage industry of media spectacle wherein networks converge on the sites of their tragedies, cover the shock and horror of the communities, provide a tailor-made television program that wraps a bow of healing around the gaping wound and then lights off to the next eruption. All the while, we continue to look away from the obvious facts: white men are arming themselves and lashing out against a world they believe has betrayed them.
This process finds them carrying out mass shootings, but it also leads to joining fascist organizations, including terrorist cells, and organizing in the growing fascist movements on the Right. That our media and politicians are so hesitant to either recognize or speak on this incontrovertible fact is an indictment of their positions and the means by which they have come to power and privilege.
Our problem is easily diagnosed. White supremacy helped create an empire built on oppression and now that the wealthy and powerful have ascended, their intentional undermining and exploitation of America has created a crisis that is being viewed through past, misleading mythological lenses and which is only going to result in more and more of these senseless tragedies and a fascist moment of reckoning.
The only thing more nauseating than that fact is the continued denial of it.
I am already exhausted and it isn’t yet noon. The press conference about this tragedy was a disgusting affair with officials butchering the reality of the situation and continuing to coat these obvious problems with easy and convenient explanations. Here was an unwell young man, bothered by “sexual addiction,” who believed his only way out was to eliminate the temptation these women represented.
Already, the victims are being categorized, shuffled into the annals of history as temptresses who, in an unspoken way, got what they deserved. Because they worked at spas, many will see them inherently as sex workers and, undoubtedly, some, still drowning in conspiracy theories of QAnon and the lies of the Evangelical Right, might even see this as an understandable side-effect of rumored human trafficking or cultural decay.
Because Donald Trump and the Republican Party scapegoated their own cruelty and indifference in the Coronavirus Pandemic on China - it has to be said that these white supremacist strategies have contributed to an alarming number of anti-Asian hate crimes and will have social and political ramifications for years - the way this tragedy is viewed will probably be affected, leading some to see it as a less-than notable blip on the radar.
We’ll do this again. A white man, poisoned by political, social, and historical nonsense, will feel aggrieved. Maybe it’ll be women who have turned him down and denied him the sex he feels he deserves. Maybe it’ll be immigrants or people of color who threaten white supremacy. Maybe it’ll be random interlopers he associates with the “stolen election” of 2020 or the threat of “satanic cabals” or whatever nonsense they make up to keep themselves from understanding they’ve been raised on lies.
He’ll pick up a gun.
He’ll wire a bomb.
He’ll march on the Capitol.
He’ll slide on an armband or wave a flag or join the others in a salute.
And so many people will continue to wonder how in the world it could have ever happened.