Jeffrey Dahmer: Sociopath. And White.
John Allen Muhammed: Sociopath. And Black.
Richard Ramirez: Sociopath. And Mexican.
Seung-hui Cho: Sociopath. And Korean.
Do we see the commonality here?
Upon first hearing about the tragedy at Fort Hood, my first thought was that intra-army conflict is terrible for morale in the face of two wars being waged abroad. When members of a volunteer army start shooting bases up, that is not a good. Sporadic reports of the aftermath flowed in until the mother lode came through: the suspected gunman’s name.
Nidal Malik Hasan (which was first reported at Malik Nadal Hasan)
My eyes rolled in such a way that I’m surprised they remained in my head. My only thought: Good grief.
As a person of color/member of a “minority” group, I saw the horrible ways this would be run with without knowing any facts at all. Nadal, some would assume, had lost his mind and gone all Islam on an army base. After learning that he was an American-born Palestinian who had been in the Service since 1995 and was a psychiatrist, the assumption was abridged (assuming, of course, that these elements were brought into consideration at all):
Nadal was a Muslim army psychiatrist who went all Islam on an army base.
My brain hurt just thinking about it. One of those elements is germane, while the other is but window dressing. Unfortunately, more than people like freedom, they like window dressing.
There’s nothing in the Koran that says “You should go crazy and kill people if you disagree with the wars your army is fighting.” It doesn’t say that anymore than the Bible says “If you don’t agree with the practices of an abortion doctor, you should totally blow his brains out.”
When people who are not well do heinous, not well things, their frame of mind is infinitely more crucial than their ethnic makeup.
White, Black, Asian, Arab, Polka Dot… crazy is crazy. And in the case of heinous group action, they’re still a collection of troubled individuals who act in accordance with what they think.
But that’s the trouble. We tend to lack specificity in these matters if there’s window dressing we like to be afraid of, window dressing that is, more often than not, incongruous with the dominant culture. Shorter Pitts-Wiley: Stuff that’s not White.
Allow me to be specific here. In America, the dominant culture is of European, namely Anglo-Saxon, bent. While the cultural is becoming more diverse in fits and starts, the rulers of the roost are still European. The cultural cues many of us take, regardless of ethnicity, are determined by this dominant culture.
The determination of dominance and power is filtered many ways, but can be corralled under the umbrella of Otherness; a distinction reserved for those of us who are not straight Christian White men.
In the realm of Otherness–where submission to the dominant culture is the name of the game–individuals become monolithic and general; lacking the ability to be seen as an individual, one’s actions speak for the group, especially those sensational and unattractive actions that seem to confirm intrinsic difference. The thinking, for many, is “Yes; that is tragic…but that’s kind of what Others do.”
A Hasan shot up an army base? Tragic…but come on. He’s a Hasan for crying out loud!
In the case of the sensational and unattractive actions within the dominant
culture, the offending individual is cast out not to the realm of Otherness, but simply, outside that which is considered ‘decent’. Oddly enough, these individuals become more unique, more individual as people try to understand “what went wrong.”*
*A notable exception here is, of course, homosexuals, whose preferences are so anathema to the dominant culture–at least publicly anyway–that they exist in almost an Others Others in which people puzzle over why they do what they do, not unlike space aliens.
Few within the dominant culture have pondered the heinous acts of Jeffrey Dahmer and questioned aloud, “What is this saying about White people?” Sure; many in profiling him and other White serial killers will make mention of his White nice, but the mention is detached, factual. The fact that’s he’s White is seen as little more than a characteristic, a piece of a puzzle.*
*Plenty of people of color have certainly said “Of course Dahmer was White! White folks are serial killers!” This is foolishness that I once took part in until that fateful day my freshman year of college when I found out the DC snipers were Black. I remember sitting on my dorm room couch feeling hurt on two levels: My socialized collective conscience forcing me to feel shame that wasn’t actually mine and the hurt I felt at not being able to say ‘White people are serial killers’ anymore. Alas, this is how we grow.
Before this seems like an attempt to blame the dominant culture for all the ills of the world–though of course it deserves its fair share of humble pie–recall that many Others follow the tone set. It’s a domino effect of sorts in which every group needs, in some way, to be just a bit better than another. Shorter Pitts-Wiley: It’s not just White people who are saying wild things regarding Islam and the Fort Hood shooting.
So where do we go from here?
Let’s fall back from the inarticulate terrorist rhetoric. If this was indeed an act of terrorism–which has not been determined up to this point–let’s stay on topic. Let’s try to recall that terrorists, or freedom fighters, or patriots or people who get it poppin’, are only speaking for themselves and people who agree with them. And the people who agree with them cannot be classified as “Anyone and everyone who looks like they do.” They’re not speaking for everyone who looks like them or has a name like them. And they’re not agents of God either.
A Muslim army officer committed a disgusting act of violence.
Nidal Malik Hasan. Maybe crazy, definitely snapped. And Palestinian.*
*Originally, I had ’sociopath’ as a nice bookend, but as I looked into the definition, I realized such a determination couldn’t be made at this point. Is he a sociopath? That remains to be seen, but chopping down forty-three people who you don’t know like that–and killing thirteen of that number– requires both planning and being on some other stuff.
**Check out the follow-up to this post: “Killing in the Name Of”
Jonathan Pitts-Wiley is a news aggregator and contributor for The Root. You can check out his personal blog at pittsindeed.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pittswiley. Jonathan currently resides in New York City.