Another Perspective on Littleton
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 12 May 99 23:23:21 -0700
Subject: Another Perspective on Littleton
Forwarded-by: Melissa K. Henderson/MM/NA/TCCC on
A Look At Tragedy in Black, White
By Courtland Milloy
Sunday, May 2, 1999
Let me tell you about my parallel universe.
It may exist in the same physical space as, say, my racially desegregated
world of work. But it is a separate emotional place shared almost
exclusively by other blacks. We may see the same things as whites, but we
often experience them quite differently.
Take the shootings at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo. In my parallel
world, you hear comments like, "I'm so glad those killers weren't black.
You know we'd all be in trouble if they were."
This is not just to say that a certain shame is associated with black
misbehavior. In the parallel universe, there is acute awareness that white
America responds differently when killers are black and that its police
apparatus can easily become a Gestapo-like operation -- as occurred in the
aftermath of Susan Smith's claim that a black man had kidnapped her two
white toddlers in South Carolina.
In that infamous 1994 case, black men were being detained in six states
while Smith's boys sat strapped in a car at the bottom of a pond where she'd
In Columbine, the parents of the killers were not questioned by police for
several hours after the crimes, even though police knew that bombs had been
made in their homes. Had the killers been black, the parents would no doubt
have been hauled off in handcuffs in front of television cameras, and
everybody who knew them would be under suspicion.
In my world, you also hear, "The chickens have come home to roost." There
is a feeling that if more attention had been paid to America's "culture of
violence" when it appeared to be confined to the inner city, these rural
and suburban school shootings might have been prevented.
"Why are all the mass murderers middle-class white men and boys?" Apart from
the notion that black and white boys have different styles of aggression
due to different ways of being socialized, there is a belief in the parallel
universe that as America loses its "status" as a white nation in the next
century, more and more white people will be going insane.
In Columbine, a TV reporter actually referred to one of the killers as "a
gentleman who drove a BMW." The shooters also were referred to as members
of a "clique," not a gang, and they were -- we were reminded again and again
-- so full of academic promise.
This obvious identification with the killers, and the reluctance to demonize
them as blacks would have been, did not go over well in the parallel
"As the media tries to soften the racist element in this tragedy," came an
e-mail from Asiba Tupahache, in New York, "one student in the library said
she heard them laugh after shooting the black young athlete and said, 'Oh,
look! You can see his brains.' With that kind of attitude, these guys could
have had lucrative careers in the NYPD."
Writing for the Baltimore Afro American newspaper, columnist Wiley A. Hall
3rd recalled America's knee-jerk response to gun violence when it was being
portrayed as unique to urban areas.
"Politicians talked about the need to crack down on what they described as
tough young urban hoodlums who are terrorizing the city," he wrote.
"Sociologists blamed negligent urban parents who fail to instill civilized
values in their children. Police promised to make more arrests. Prosecutors
promised more convictions. And judges promised to send more teenaged
offenders to do hard time in adult institutions."
Now, in the aftermath of Columbine, the finger is being pointed at "a
culture of alienation," and there is talk of improving school curriculums,
controlling guns, regulating the Internet and installing V-chips in our TVs.
It's not just that it looks like excuses are being made for the killers at
Columbine; it's that some of them are the same ones that were so roundly
rejected when used to explain violence among blacks.
The one about how the killers' status as outcasts was to blame really struck
"Those of us whose high school experiences also included being racialized
have a more compounded view of this kind of labeling, discrimination and
outcasting," Tupahache wrote. "Only our visible resistance made them drug
us, call us troubled, got us abruptly reprimanded, kicked out with no
questions asked. Others can wear swastikas, make disturbed videos and show
it in class and all is quiet."
Such feelings and concerns from the parallel universe occasionally break
out into the other world.
In the New York Times on Friday, Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson
lamented that "there is a disturbing double standard in the way we discuss
the problems of different groups of people and in the way we label deviant
behavior. If the terrorist act of white, middle-class teenagers creates an
orgy of national soul-searching, then surely the next time a heinous crime
is committed by underclass African-American or Latino kids, we should engage
in the same kind of national self-examination."
His was an eloquent appeal for love and understanding in a world where
justice is truly colorblind. In my parallel universe, however, we aren't
holding our breath.
(c) Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
© 1999 Peter Langston