They Are Us: Buffalo and the Sanctity of Whiteness

The racially-motivated act of hate on Saturday in Buffalo, New York, allegedly committed by an 18-year-old white supremacist, is being called the deadliest mass shooting in the United States this year. It was the 198th mass shooting in 2022, and we aren’t even finished with May. Is it possible to measure the sickness of a society that is forced to keep score of such things?

The truth about this tragedy can’t be captured by factoids. The reality of the Buffalo murders is inseparable from the essence of the American soul. Buffalo is the most recent re-enactment of an unholy ritual that has become commonplace in a nation that upholds the sanctity of whiteness and places sacramental importance on the unlimited right to own firearms. 

These beliefs are nearly as sacred as the United States’ hallucinogenic sense of self and our desperate need to forget. Do we need to recite the names again — Charleston, El Paso, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Charlottesville, and so many more — to remind ourselves that these racial massacres regularly occur and literally nothing changes? The U.S.’s desire to address the problem of senseless gun violence is as nonexistent as its ability to seriously contemplate how white nationalism has become mainstream in our nation’s political and social life. 

Our “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow in the extreme. Our empathy with victims’ suffering is poisoned by our need to avoid the fact that a significant number of white U.S. Americans are suffering from the murderous delusion that the United States is a white Christian society and that they are being systematically replaced by Black and brown people. 

Paranoid racist ideas like this were once relegated to the dark web but are now broadcast to millions every night on major cable news networks and through the tweets of hyperpartisan politicians.

The F.B.I. has said that the shooter was “not on the radar” of federal authorities even though he had been posting plans online for months about preparing to go on a murderous rampage to kill Black people. The truth is, the State’s “radar” is meaningless. These people are all around us. They are us. 

White people have yet to fully understand the depths of this brokenness. Yes, America has a race problem: it is that of white supremacy and its progeny: neocolonialism, imperialism, and capitalism.

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