These are my boys.
They will be twelve and eight years old in the fall. They are funny and thoughtful and kind and generous when they want to be. They can also be frustratingly difficult to talk to when they want to be. They can be angry. They can be sensitive. They can be hurtful. They can be joyful and goofy and so fun to be with. Their emotions run the gamut as all human emotions do. And they are growing up in an era when being a young, white male can be a threat to other humans’ lives.
Every time the news breaks about another school shooting, my heart goes out to the victims first. Always to the victims. Then, the identity of the shooter is announced, and my heart breaks a little more. Inevitably, he looks like my sons.
What happened to that young man that made him so angry, I wonder? So angry that he decided the only way to express his rage was to find a gun and hurt the people who somehow wronged him.
The motive can usually be distilled down to “They hurt me.” Or “They said ‘no’ to me.” Which then led to, “I will hurt them back, so they can never say ‘no’ to me again.”
Where does this sense of entitlement come from, which is so ingrained in these young men that all respect for human life goes out the window?
I read an interesting article recently, “The Anger of the White Male Lie”, that really struck me. In it, Ijeoma Oluo suggests that “. . . white male anger is steeped in a lie. It is fighting for what they were never going to have. For the promises that were never going to be fulfilled. White men are the only people allowed to fully believe in the American dream and perhaps that is the cruelest thing to have ever been done to them and the world that has to suffer their anger as they refuse to let go of a fantasy that [women and people of color] were never allowed to imagine ourselves in.” I suggest you read the rest for yourselves, because she points to something that seems to be very true.
White men, from when they are very young, are almost always told they can be anything they want to be if they just put their minds to it.
And when they don’t get what they want or what they think was owed them, they sometimes (not always, but more often now than ever before) get angry, directing their anger at those who they perceive stole from them what was probably never theirs to begin with. The “right” job. The “right” house. Sex. A life they see as better than the one they currently have.
This was actually a very different blog post from here down a few days ago, but after the latest school shooting in Noblesville, Indiana, which hit way too close to home — literally and figuratively — I decided to revise my words a bit.
Friday morning, my oldest son was playing a new (to him) online game. He has friends who play it, and after discussing the game with my husband, we decided to allow him to play it under the condition he would not open or use the chat function. I looked over his shoulder a couple of times to make sure he was playing as respectfully as he could in such a game. (We’ve had discussions before about trolling in Minecraft. Our main rules for these types of games: you don’t destroy something someone else has built, and you follow the rules when you play a player-vs-player part of the game. Basically, be respectful of the other players. Oh, and don’t chat with people you don’t know.)
I told him when he started playing this new game that if he opened the chat function, he would have to stop playing. He tested his limits and, behind my back, opened the chat. I caught him when I came in to check on his progress and he tried to quickly close the chat window. He’s no longer allowed to play that game.
After I gave him a few minutes to be disappointed, I decided it was time to have THE TALK. Not the sex talk. We’ve had that one before and are always reminding him and his younger brother about asking for consent before giving and receiving hugs, keeping their hands and bodies to themselves, and NO MEANS NO. Basically, treat others with respect.
Friday’s THE TALK was about this new world in which we’re suddenly living, one in which young white men are becoming school shooters almost weekly. I told my son the reasons why I don’t want him using the chat function in the games he wants to play: the people who use chat generally don’t use it in a respectful manner.
“But they can’t cuss on here! The game won’t let them,” he said, pointing to the open chat window where a string of asterisks punctuated every single line.
“No, they can’t,” I said, “but that doesn’t stop them from saying whatever they want. Yes, the asterisks are hiding the bad words, but it doesn’t matter. They’re still using those words. And they’re most likely disrespecting women and people of color while they’re doing it.” I decided it was time to move on to the main point of the discussion. “Did you know that there are young men who are now getting so angry that they think the only way they can express themselves is by being violent and hurting others?”
My son’s eyes got big and round. They filled with tears. “You’re scaring me.”
“I know, honey, and I’m sorry, but it’s a scary world. Young men are getting angry because they aren’t getting what they want, and they’re using guns against other people because they’re angry. Many of them use these chats and other places on the Internet to say whatever they want to whoever they want, because they can do it anonymously. No one knows who they are. It makes them think they can say and do whatever they want in the real world too. And they are hurting other kids in schools with guns.”
He hugged me tight and started crying. “I’ll never see the world the same way, again,” he later told me. My heart broke into a million pieces.
Besides being so upset myself, two other things came to my mind while having THE TALK:
One: How privileged are my boys that they are (or were) this sheltered from the outside world? They had no clue before Friday that children are being shot and killed in schools around the country. They attend a tiny, private Montessori school with a diverse student population and a curriculum that emphasizes peaceful conflict resolution. They live in a home in which real guns are nonexistent and frowned upon, and first person shooter games are not really a thing, at least not something they themselves are allowed to play. They also live in a home in which the satellite and cable television have been completely dropped, so they have no real access to the 24/7 news cycle. (We stream all our entertainment through our game consoles and laptops now; my husband and I get our news through our social media outlets.) My sons live in a safe neighborhood in a relatively safe city. They’re not allowed to have social media accounts or even their own phones until they’re teenagers. Basically, my husband and I have created a bubble to protect our sons from the real dangers of the world, something that many parents of black and brown children have no ability or opportunity to do for their own families.
Two: My boys’ privileged, sheltered life won’t matter in the face of violent rage. An angry white shooter won’t discriminate, even if he has a target in mind.
Since we had THE TALK, I’ve wondered if it will make a difference at all? Was it heard and fully processed by someone with the ability to understand and empathize, but who has already moved on to the next distraction, because he’s still eleven? Will he remember what we talked about when it comes time to try the newest game or start using social media in a few years? After his final year of elementary school, which starts in the fall, do I register him for public middle school? Or do I home school him? Do I keep him and his brother safe from the outside world . . . and quite possibly keep the outside world safe from them?
That last question is the hardest to contemplate, but today, it’s one I have to ask myself. My boys are kind and funny and thoughtful human beings. But they are just as capable of hurting others as everyone else. Will what I say and do and teach them now matter later on? When they are someday faced with a choice, as assuredly they will be, will they choose the path of peaceful resolution and love — sometimes the more difficult path — over the path of pain and violence? Will my words filter through the noise that may bombard them when they’re older as it bombards so many young people today?
I really hope so. I’m doing nothing but living on hope these days.
These are my boys, and I love them.
Thanks for reading.
P. S. Please be respectful in the comments if you do have something to say. I will not have or allow a debate on gun reform here, but thoughtful ideas on how we can help our young men find appropriate ways to express themselves are always welcome.