With the exception of sex and religion, nothing makes people more irrational than race.
Given the bloody history of racial disputes in American life, one would think that responsible news organizations would take particular care in addressing inflammatory topics. Then there’s the Washington Post, which actually ran an Easter Sunday opinion column headlined “White men have much to discuss about mass shootings.”
Written by Charlotte and Harriet Childress, identical twins who describe themselves as “researchers and consultants on social and political issues” with a Ph.D. and four master’s degrees between them, the essay argued that something uniquely wicked about “white male culture” is responsible for tragedies like last year’s massacre of 26 schoolchildren and teachers in Newtown, Conn.
“Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years,” the authors assure us, “not just Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson and Columbine — have been committed by white men and boys.” Yes, the Childress sisters actually wrote that, and the editors of the most influential newspaper in our nation’s capital waved it into print.
Neatly airbrushed out of the picture, most Washingtonians would object, were two of the most notorious mass murderers in recent U.S. history: “Beltway snipers” John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. In 2002, they murdered 10 people in the Washington Post’s primary circulation area for explicitly racial (and entirely mad) reasons having to do with black nationalism.
Also 2007 rampage shooter Seung-Hui Cho, a Korean immigrant who killed 32 classmates and professors at Virginia Tech. Raised in Fairfax County, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington, Cho had been adjudicated “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness” in a Virginia court, but not hospitalized.
This last is important because another of the Childress sisters’ claims is that “when white men try to divert attention” from their collective guilt “by talking about mental health issues, many people buy into the idea that the United States has a national mental health problem.”
Odd, because yet another mass shooting with a Washington angle involves Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood assassin — an Arlington, Va., native. Whether or not Hasan, a Palestinian-American Muslim many would call a terrorist, should properly be called “white” as the Childress sisters use the word, was debated by many of the thousands of online commentators who gravitated to the Post website to bicker and exchange anonymous racial insults — an entirely predictable outcome of publishing such witless nonsense.
It’s also true that several of Hasan’s colleagues at the Walter Reed Medical Center — another Washington institution — described him as “paranoid” and “schizoid,” terms that have been applied in medical settings to the Tucson and Aurora shooters as well.
But the Childress sisters are having none of that. “What facets of white male culture,” they demand to know, “create so many mass shootings?”
If I sound personally offended, that’s an error of tone.
First, when these nitwits say “white male culture,” what they really mean is “rednecks,” “NRA members” or even “Republicans.” I’m not one of those.
Besides, I only look white, as the joke went in my youth; actually, I’m Irish. Every ugly stereotype ever applied to black Americans was used by their British overlords to describe my great-grandparents in County Cork. It can definitely affect your attitude. Or not. It’s pretty much up to you.
But I digress. My real objections to this appalling article are both professional and political.
Professionally, I’m with online commenter “dwells3,” who asked: “How did an opinion piece full of easily refuted assertions, by authors who have no training or experience in the field on which they are commenting, whose prior writing appears limited to a book published by a vanity press, get through the editorial review process of an allegedly serious and respected newspaper?”
How, indeed? Specifically, the Childress sisters claim expertise in pharmacy, engineering, math, physics and chemistry. None of which would disqualify them if their work met minimal standards of accuracy and logical argumentation, which it manifestly does not.
Over at dailyhowler.blogspot.com, my friend Bob Somerby has been wondering what on earth is going on at the Washington Post. Seemingly at the behest of the ubiquitous 28-year-old pundit Ezra Klein, there’s actually a 19-year-old college freshman posting meditations about the U.S. budget on the newspaper’s website. The lad plans to major in economics. Possibly the Childress article was edited by somebody who was in grade school during the “Beltway sniper” episode.
As a political matter, the sheer folly of writers on the cultural “left” — on their website, the sisters also endorse “long walks, camping, commuting by bicycle/walking/bus, organic gardening ... needlework, backpacking, and cuddling with beloved cats and dogs” — endorsing collective racial guilt, one of the most poisonous and destructive ideas in human history, simply cannot be exaggerated.
Race tells us nothing about these tragedies. Absolutely nothing.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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