A cure for mass shootings: Embrace a different way of being human

A cure for mass shootings: Embrace a different way of being human
© Getty Images

The recent mass shootings have not only affected us as individuals, but as a society. I had a patient disclose that she was scared and upset about the shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Countless news stories and social media comments have begun circulating trying to make sense of our society and these violent acts. Some of them blame guns, some of them say that mental health is the problem. President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE seems to think that video games are responsible for the violence.

Indeed, there are studies that have found correlations between mental health problems and violent behavior. One report found that 40 percent of shooters had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and 70 percent had “mental health stressors” or “mental health concerning behaviors” before committing an attack.

There is no consensus on whether merely playing video games can contribute to mass shootings or not. There is some evidence that they can contribute to aggressive behavior

ADVERTISEMENT

However, there is empirical evidence that playing violent video games may actually decrease violent crimes. There continues to be debate around whether more gun availability is linked to more gun violence; there is no definitive answer.

Even if there is evidence, we should remember that correlation does not equal causation. Simply put: Just because two things coexist in the same space does not mean that one causes the other.

What we should look at is racial disparities of these shootings and how the social structure of “white privilege” has contributed to the violence perpetuated in this country. 

White privilege is a concept and doesn’t refer to the actual pigmentation of someone’s skin. Rather, it is the domination in thinking, everyday actions and societal policies that seek to create, maintain and exert power over non-white people. This seemingly ensures that profit, wealth and general way-of-life benefit white Americans. 

Black psychologists have noted that those who deeply embody white privilege are obsessed with material things — things that can be observed, counted and controlled. Similarly, James Baldwin has described the violent nature of the white American character when discussing American heroes who have been, overwhelmingly, violent white men: John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Andrew Jackson, etc. This white privilege has wreaked havoc on the globe since the start of colonization. 

ADVERTISEMENT

White extremist terrorism is not new and it is not limited to the United States. The country was founded in the genocide of indigenous peoples leading to not only a trail of tears but also a trail of blood. And white men have carried out white extremist terrorism in Norway, New Zealand, and other countries. The victims have not only been people of color. We are seeing an uptick in the publicity related to terrorism at the hands of white men.

We are also becoming too familiar with this cycle of outrage and then protection of white privilege through inaction. Until the United States (and the rest of the world) is ready to give up the privilege associated with white privilege, we will increasingly see bloodshed in our communities.

White privilege is not genetically based, but it is a societal norm. It is based on ignorance, and in some cases, a willfulness to see one’s self as independent from and powerful over others. 

People who strongly embrace white privilege are preoccupied with being at the top of a hierarchy, of winning, of being “great again.”

The only cure is to embrace a different way of being human. Our central motivation must shift from white privilege to become more concerned about collective growth and wellbeing in way that honors interdependence and interconnectedness. The United States should be aligned against this privilege.

Jonathan Mathias Lassiter, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, author and public speaker. He is an assistant professor of psychology at Muhlenberg College and a visiting assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter: @matjl.