Are white men particularly prone to carrying out the all-too-familiar mass killings of which last week's Aurora shooting is just the latest iteration? Is there something about the white, male, middle-class experience that makes it easier for troubled young men to turn schools and movie theaters into killing fields? In a word, yes.
Not every mass murder in recent years has been committed by a middle-class white guy. But as Jamie Utt pointed out in the hours after the Colorado theater massacre, in those rare instances where a man of color is responsible for a shooting spree (as in the 2007 Virginia Tech killings or the 2009 Fort Hood rampage), the popular reaction is to search for connections between the race or religion of the murderer and his act. After Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in Blacksburg, media attention focused on the likelihood that a Korean culture unwilling to acknowledge mental illness helped drive the young man to commit the worst mass murder in U.S. history. After Maj. Nidal Hasan carried out the Fort Hood shootings, his Muslim faith became all the public needed to know about his motive.
It seems likely that Islamic extremism did lead Hasan to kill; it's possible that Cho's cultural background did mean that his psychological problems were particularly likely to be ignored. Ethnicity, faith, and social class are key parts of the modern human identity; they are always part of the explanation for why we think the way we think and act the way we act.
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