As many of you know, Michael McLendon, a 28 year old White male, went on a shooting spree earlier this week in Southern Alabama during which he murdered 10 people before killing himself. Naturally, there has been much speculation about what motivated him.
Reuters is reporting that McLendon was the sort of person to hold grudges. The Associated Press is describing him as depressed over several life failures. And MSNBC seems to be suggesting he might have been upset over a job loss. Some or all of that might be true.
The question of what motivated McLendon will probably become clearer in a few days. While I find that question important — how are we to prevent these horrors if we don’t learn what causes them — it’s not my intention to discuss McLendon’s motives here.
Instead, I would like to focus on a much different issue, one that might at first seem unimportant in the immediate aftermath of this horrifying tragedy. That issue is racism.
To be sure, there is no evidence that McLendon was motivated by racism, and I wish to make it clear that I am not suggesting he was. But this evening, I came across a post on an excellent blog, “We are Respectable Negroes“, that profoundly pointed out several likely ways in which the tragedy would be viewed differently had McLendon been a person of color. According to the article:
…there will be no great effort to link Michael McLendon’s actions to those of White men, more generally. There will be no moral panic. There will be no outcry for a national conversation about why White men go crazy and shoot up their workplaces, their schools, or become serial killers. White men will not have to worry about being racially profiled or harassed by the police because of McLendon’s actions, nor will a White man be shot because someone was “traumatized” or “made nervous” about White men writ large because of this one man’s cruel deeds.
It turns my gut to reflect that the author is most likely right.
I do not want to distract from the death and suffering inflicted on the people of Southern Alabama this week. But I urge that we take a moment to think about how it is that, whenever a White man commits a crime, many of us tend to fault only him for it, but whenever a Black man commits a crime, many of us tend to associate the crime with every Black man — even now, even in the 21st Century.