Don’t inject race and politics into Pittsburgh gym shooting
Yesterday, 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.)
- Why Obama can’t be the national spokesperson on race
- Hacker finds and posts George Sodini’s private online history
- On Politics and the Sorry State of Affairs (or, you know, the Democrats)
- What’s Wrong with Obama’s Speeches on Race
- Obama’s conclusion on Gates arrest: Can’t we all just have a beer?