Don’t inject race and politics into Pittsburgh gym shooting


george_sodini_300Yesterday, Jill Tubman at Jack and Jill Politics wrote a post titled “George Sodini, Pittsburgh, Mass Murder & Obama-driven racism.”  In it, she argues that Sodini, a white man who walked into a gym Tuesday night and killed three white women then himself, was motivated by racism against black men and anger over Barack Obama becoming president.  Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic and Greg Mitchell at Huffington Post soon followed– with Coates labeling Sodini as a “white supremacist” and “a racist” and Mitchell wondering why the media was ignoring Sodini’s (loose) ties to right-wing ideology.

So where do race and politics come into the story?  All three highlighted the same passage in Sodini’s blog (which has been taken down, but a copy can be found here), dated November 5, 2008– the day after the presidential election– where Sodini wrote:

Why do this?? To young girls? Just read below. I kept a running log that includes my thoughts and actions, after I saw this project was going to drag on.

November 5, 2008:
Planned to do this in the summer but figure to stick around to see the election outcome. This particular one got so much attention and I was just curious. Not like I give a flying fcuk who won, since this exit plan was already planned. Good luck to Obama! He will be successful. The liberal media LOVES him. Amerika has chosen The Black Man. Good! In light of this I got ideas outside of Obama’s plans for the economy and such. Here it is: Every black man should get a young white girl hoe to hone up on. Kinda a reverse indentured servitude thing. Long ago, many a older white male landowner had a young Negro wench girl for his desires. Bout’ time tables are turned on that shit. Besides, dem young white hoez dig da bruthrs! LOL. More so than they dig the white dudes! Every daddy know when he sends his little girl to college, she be bangin a bruthr real good. I saw it. “Not my little girl”, daddy says! (Yeah right!!) Black dudes have thier choice of best white hoez. You do the math, there are enough young white so all the brothers can each have one for 3 or 6 months or so.

So why, you may ask, isn’t the media covering the racial angle of this story?  Short answer: because there isn’t one.

I typically don’t bother defending mass murders.  But in this case, I think it’s crystal clear through his words and actions that Sodini’s demented anger was directed at women and no one else.  It doesn’t help us– those who would like to push forward a positive agenda on race– to cry wolf here.  It only lessens our credibility in the real battles.

The fact is that in the nine months that Sodini spent blogging about his plans to commit mass murder, he only mentioned blacks twice.  And both instances were positive (if not twisted) at best, innocuous at worst.  The above passage in particular reads to me as someone who is not angry at black men for winning the presidency or jealous of them for– in his mind– taking white women, it reads as though Sodini, in crude terms, is giving them props.

He clearly states he didn’t “give a flying fcuk” (sic) whether Obama won the election or not, then follows with this: “Good luck to Obama! He will be successful. The liberal media LOVES him. Amerika has chosen The Black Man. Good!”  What part of that unequivocal congratulations says racial animosity or anger towards Obama?

His passage about black men taking white women reads similarly.  “Every black man should get a young white girl hoe to hone up on,” Sodini writes.  “Kinda a reverse indentured servitude thing. Long ago, many a older white male landowner had a young Negro wench girl for his desires. Bout’ time tables are turned on that shit.”  Again, what part of this reads as jealousy or anger?  Sodini seems very clearly to be saying that given the long history of racial oppression in America, black men deserve the white women that he believes they get so easily.

Contrast this with how Tubman of Jack & Jill Politics interpreted the passage:

I’ve been warning for some time that the heated, racially polarizing and at times, threatening rhetoric from those such as Bachmann, Beck, Limbaugh and others would result in racially-motivated violence. I expected the targets to be black folks — and still do. …

He wanted to kill himself and take his ex-girlfriend and a bunch of young white “bruthr”-banging “hoez” with him (in his sick mind). He wanted to make a statement, just like the 88 year old man who shot up the Holocaust Memorial Museum recently and killed a security guard while attempting to kill himself. …

I urge those in the media to cover the full story here — even if it says embarrassing things about what some white people are still thinking here in America. This is the part of the dark secret lurking in surburbia/disturbia and should be the stuff of all our nightmares: the intense racial anxiety, confusion, fear and rage some whites are feeling & how they plan to express. The birthers and the tea parties are just more symptoms of it.

Clearly, Tubman has a political agenda here.  Bachmann, Beck, and Limbaugh are never mentioned once in Sodini’s blog, nor is there any reference to birthers or tea parties.   And again, I don’t read any animosity towards blacks.  Tubman seems to be filtering Sodini’s words– pretty heavily– to tie his heinous act to her own political enemies.

In fact, since Tubman mentions James Von Brunn, the Holocaust Museum shooter, let’s actually compare his pre-rampage work to that of Sodini’s:

The Web site attributed to Von Brunn also says he wrote a book called “Kill the Best Gentiles,” about how to “protect your white family.”  Online writings said to be Von Brunn’s claim the Holocaust was a hoax and lambast a Jewish conspiracy to “destroy the white gene pool.”

Clearly, Sodini’s congratulations to Obama for winning the election is nowhere near the same league as Von Brunn’s writings, and shooting three white women doesn’t fall into the same “racially-motivated” category as shooting a black guard at the Holocaust Museum.  In other words, if Sodini was a racist, he would have been a racist.  People who decide to commit mass murder don’t hide their true motives under a veil of goodwill.  They say, “I hate such and such group,” and then they go out and kill members of that group.  For Sodini, the group was women.

I haven’t lived in Pittsburgh since 2005, but when I did, I worked briefly one summer in Bridgeville, within walking distance of the gym where the shootings occurred.  If Sodini wanted to commit a racially-motivated shooting, Bridgeville isn’t the place to do it.  It’s an almost uniformly white, middle class suburb.  A much more suitable location to find black men and white women together would be downtown, where Sodini actually worked.

Bottom line, this isn’t a case where we should play up the race angle, and it’s not one we should build a platform on to advance our own political agendas.  Mentioning black people alone doesn’t make you a white supremacist; saying that this is “Obama’s economy” doesn’t make you a right-wing extremist.  We will of course learn more about Sodini as new facts are uncovered.  But nothing we’ve seen so far– from his blog, to the note left at the scene of the shootings, to a search of his house, to the two YouTube clips he posted last year– has suggested that Sodini’s pathology involved anything other than women.  There are battles to fight.  This isn’t one of them.

I would also caution that this isn’t necessarily a case we should attribute to a misogynistic society either.  It seems to me the overwhelming cause of Sodini’s rampage was mental illness fueled by extreme, somewhat self-imposed, isolation.  He was lonely, he found someone to blame for that, and he acted out.  He wasn’t prodded by the rantings of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, he didn’t suffer from a fear of black power, and I’d argue he wasn’t even trying to make a statement.  He didn’t have any message to or about women, he just wanted to pay them back for rejecting him.

This appears to be a case where there is no great lesson to learn, no real way to prevent similar tragedies in the future, and the answer to the question “Who’s to blame?” is simply this: the crazy guy with the gun in his hand.

UPDATE: Earlier today (Friday), Daily Kos joined in on the politicization of this tragedy, with kos himself writing this:

You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage, but this is yet another example of right-wing extremist violence — the sort that the Department of Homeland Security warned about. This gunman was a bona fide right-winger, his rhetoric straight out of Glenn Beck’s playbook.

Again, note the reference to Glenn Beck, who is never mentioned once by Sodini in any blog posts, letters, or videos.  The more of Sodini’s online trail I’m seeing, the more I’m convinced that the shooting had nothing to do with race or politics.  But more on this later.  This deserves it’s own post. (New post is here.)

Related posts:

  1. Why Obama can’t be the national spokesperson on race
  2. Hacker finds and posts George Sodini’s private online history
  3. On Politics and the Sorry State of Affairs (or, you know, the Democrats)
  4. What’s Wrong with Obama’s Speeches on Race
  5. Obama’s conclusion on Gates arrest: Can’t we all just have a beer?



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  1. tigger500

    Oh it's racist. His "admiration" for Black people is rooted in racism. That we are always and only sexually attractive to women. The way we speak. All of it.

    That's the insidiousness of racism - often what white people like about us is used to reduce us to...just what they like about us.

    I don't think any of the bloggers you cite are wrong, even if they have a political agenda.

    We would do well to listen to any voices that are connecting the dots between all the racist stuff going on in our country right now. It's is connected. Racism works precisely because everyone thinks any one instance is unconnected to any other instance. Even though it is.

  2. griffn

    My argument isn't really about whether or not Sodini's passage about Obama and black men/white women is racist. My argument is about whether or not the anger that caused him to shoot up a gym full of white women was rooted in racial animosity, as Tubman, Coates, and Mitchell believe. I think it's clear that, whatever Sodini's views on black people, they were not the reason-- or even a reason-- why he did what he did. Check his blog entry on December 30, 2008 about him listening to a black caller on the radio. He may draw some incorrect conclusions on the caller's point, but there simply is no animosity there.

    To label him a white supremacist, based on what we've seen so far, is ridiculous. To say that he belongs in the same racially-motivated category as the Holocaust Museum shooter is equally ridiculous. And to use this tragedy as one to talk about race is actually counterproductive, in my opinion.

    It's like, Ben Roethlisberger (and I'm just using any name here) could be a virulent racist in private. But nothing he's done publicly would lead us to that conclusion. More importantly, whether he's privately a racist or not has nothing to do with his game-winning TD drive in Super Bowl 43. Did some potentially deep-seated, hidden racism motivate him to move his team down the field? Is that even worth discussing? No. So regardless of the fact that all the dots are connected, using that game-winning drive as a means to talk about race in America would be ridiculous and counterproductive. Just like, I believe, using the gym shooting as a means to talk about race is equally ridiculous and counterproductive. The analogy isn't perfect, but... Does that make any sense or did I go too far off the rails?

  3. tigger500

    I think it's only counterproductive if you are working from a very limited understanding of what constitutes "white supremacy."

    You are thinking of it in the I HATE NIGGERS mold and not in the general sense of an ideology that privileges whiteness in all forms (indeed, whiteness IS humanity) and non-whiteness is denigrated in all forms.

    That's what's happening here.

    True - this guy may not be a white supremacist in the same mold as the guy who shot up the Holocaust museum, but that's only one kind of white supremacy. That ole boy's is more benign and subtle, in its own way, is worse.

  4. forbesave

    Don’t inject race into the LA Fitness shootings #pittsburgh #racism #murder

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. tigger500

    Coates gets at what I'm saying much better than me (which is why i love/hate him. lol)

  6. griffn

    Hmm, we'll have to agree to disagree here, homey. My definition of white supremacy is seeing whites as superior to other races. I don't see any of that in this guy's writings. He definitely has some misguided notions about race, but it doesn't rise anywhere near the level of white supremacy. A white supremacist would not applaud black men for sexing white women or say that it's well-deserved payback for centuries of white-instituted oppression. I guess you could use the word "racist" to describe his monolithic view of black men, but I prefer not to use that sledgehammer to kill an ant. But regardless of how misguided Sodini's views on race were, I don't think they were a motivating factor in the shooting.

    Yeah, I saw TNC's post today. I agree, ascribing race to these types of things is complex and complicated. I think a person can be racist, but then do things that have nothing to do with that racism, as I illustrated (clumsily) in that Ben Roethlisberger example.

    Some of these rabid health care protesters are probably racist. But that doesn't mean their anger at and fear of health care reform is necessarily rooted in racism. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that humans are tribal, and their tribe is currently losing. So they listen to talk radio and Fox News, looking for someone to tell them who the enemy is and what battle needs to be fought. The insurance lobby whips up conservative politicians, who whip up the conservative media, who whip up the base into a frenzy. And the same thing would have happened if Clinton or Edwards had been elected. For the protesters who happen to be racist, racism is probably contributing to (but not causing) their anger. But of course, there are a few-- always-- who are just out there to oppose everything the colored president does.

    Likewise, Sodini may have been racist. Like I said, there's scant evidence of it, but I don't know. But for the sake of argument, let's say he was. Then the question is: If a racist white man commits a violent act of misogyny, is it because he's racist? Does race necessarily have to be a contributing factor in it? Did Martin Luther King win a Nobel Peace Prize because he was an adulterer? Did his adultery contribute to him becoming a great world leader?

    Bottom line: Can a person be two things separately and simultaneously without those things being in any way connected? I think so.

  7. tigger500

    I think we are saying the same thing, in a way. I'm not necessarily saying that dude's racism is animates action, but that a white supremacist view of black folks colors his world view. Which again, is more subtle and (in my view) worse and harder to grapple with.

    It is comforting for us to think of white supremacy and racism as always and only "i hate niggers." But : "A white supremacist would not applaud black men for sexing white women or say that it’s well-deserved payback for centuries of white-instituted oppression" In a popular understanding of white supremacy, this is true.

    There was an article about how white supremacists were supportive of Obama because they couldn't think of anything better to prove their view of black inferiority was to give the keys to the kingdom to a black guy and let him run the kingdom into the ground. That's how mutable white supremacy is. I read that quote in his stuff as ironic.

    In my view, while it doesn't win us friends to call racism and white supremacy what it is when we see it, we still gotta do it. Our own fatigue with its resurgence shouldn't make us less vigilant.

  8. griffn

    Yeah, I saw that article on white supremacists you're referring to. (This one?) And if you're reading Sodini's passage as ironic, I can see how you would draw that conclusion. My thing is, I don't see any reason to read it that way.

    He's writing a blog about planning a mass murder. At that point, he's obviously past sugarcoating, qualifying, or speaking in code. He has no reason to hide the fact that he's racist behind a veil of irony. The entire nine-month blog reads as literal and sincere. I don't see why we should single out the one passage dealing with race as ironic.

    Also, I think him saying, "Good luck to Obama! He will be successful." separates him from the white supremacists in that article who were hoping for Obama's failure to reinforce their view of black inferiority. Again, unless you read that as sarcasm.

    I don't know. Like I said, it's not really worth debating whether this guy was a racist. I just think we need to pick and choose our battles better than this.

  9. tigger500

    I see what you're saying and it's a fair point.


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