The Kids Go Postal
Why? Some claim it's because the shooters are social misfits who never managed to "fit in." Their dress, music, and beliefs-ranging from Satanism to anarchism to white supremacy-encouraged them to lash out at a society that rejected them. The solution, they say, is to spot kids with "potential problems," based on their dress, musical tastes, or beliefs and "help" them. This "help" ranges from counseling to incarceration to encouraging a "nurturing environment" at home and at school. As one TV commentator suggested, "Perhaps all they needed was a hug."
One of the most upsetting things on TV was an interview with the father of the Black kid who was shot and the brother of a girl who had also been killed. The father explained that he had not taken his son's reports of harassment seriously and if he had, maybe his son would be alive. And then TV anchor Katie Couric closes with, "And are you both going to get counseling?"
These kids cry out against authority and conformity and what they get is-more authority and more conformity. What no one has yet to discuss is the general misery of school and the alienation of society, even for the relatively well off. Nor has anyone addressed the constant focus on self-interest and "doing what you need to to get ahead" in the schools. Competition with one's peers is rewarded rather than, say, solidarity. Even the kids who seem blessed by athletic ability, physical appearance, socio-economic status, popularity, and so forth are haunted by conviction of their own inadequacy.
The prevailing social relations, enforced by friends and foes, teachers, counselors, employers, and parents and reflected in all sorts of stratified spheres-athletic, sexual, academic-seem destined to go on forever. Some of those who hate the circumstances will act; most will just suffer privately and take out their pain on other individuals in the privacy of homes and bedrooms.
When all the cards are stacked against them, some kids are going to refuse to play by the rules. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold targeted jocks not because some industrial band told them to but because jocks represent the arrogance, masculine sexuality, and privilege of American individualism that the boys came to hate along with the institutions of this society-such as the schools-that acknowledge jocks as the "normal" and "healthy" American youth. (When was the last time the school held a pep rally for Goths, metalheads, punks, or hip hoppers?) Attacking a socially favored high school clique, however tragic and indefensible, is a protest against the misery of modern life and the institutions that enforce it.
Others have suggested that the shooters were motivated by "hatred of minorities." Some liberal groups such as the Coalition for Human Dignity (CHD) have jumped on this explanation, claiming that Harris and Klebold admired Hitler and listened to "extreme music," some of which features white supremacist lyrics. But the real white supremacist part of all of this is not the iron cross patches or the lyrics of their favorite bands but the cry, "It's not supposed to happen here." Claiming that "this kind of thing isn't supposed to happen here" implies, of course, that the murder of kids is "supposed to happen" in some other place -- like Black schools and neighborhoods. When a Black child is murdered by cops or a stray bullet in the segregated part of the city the news never gets past the back page of the local paper, but when white kids start killing white kids in the white part of town, Dan Rather and Ted Koppel swoop to the scene, accompanied by Clinton's grief counselors.
The recent spate of school shootings are not a product of the activities of white supremacist groups. If anything, rather than bolstering white supremacy, the shootings have shaken up whites' sense of security. Even if these kids had targeted Black and Latino students (and only one of the fifteen people murdered was Black), the consequence of Harris and Klebold's act is to make whites feel they can no longer be secure even in suburbia or rural America. We should all be concerned about the consequences this insecurity could bring down upon all of us.
Has anyone asked the KIDS-especially the Goths and other "misfits"-what they think the causes of these shootings are? Kids are allowed to tell what happened and to express "how they feel" about everything but not to analyze why-that's the job of news anchors and Ph.D. pundits. Will these pundits be the next targets of youth anger?