Crazy as they wanna be

Black people take secret -- and unwarranted -- comfort in the fact that mass killers tend to be white.

By Debra Dickerson
May 4, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Blacks have always known that white folks are crazy. Whenever news breaks of yet another bizarre massacre or hideous chain-saw-and-cannibalism-type crime, we call each other from our cubicles and whisper conspiratorially something like, "You know that was somebody white. A brother will shoot you for stepping on his new Nikes or to steal a nice jacket. But white folks -- they kill people they don't even know, for no apparent reason, on purpose!"

Blacks routinely characterize certain types of crime as white (and insane) just as whites characterize certain types as black (and animalistic). There was never much doubt among blacks that the Littleton killers were white and male. Someday, maybe, we'll all see that crime and craziness have no race. They do, however, have socioeconomic types. People can only commit crimes or go crazy in the ways that are available to them, logistically and psychologically.


First, let's look at crime and economics. How many blacks (or women, for that matter) were involved in the savings and loan debacle, a bazillion-dollar fiscal rape of America that our grandchildren will still be paying for? I will go out on a limb and guess: few. How many blacks were involved in stupid, intra-ghetto, macho-man gunplay over trivialities? Again, it's just a guess, but I'll go with it: lots.

It is willfully stupid and hateful to think this discrepancy is genetic. It's not that whites are nonviolent by nature, and accordingly choose to express their criminality in kinder, gentler ways, or that blacks are bell-curved at birth with the Willie Horton gene. As more blacks matriculate at the Wharton School, rest assured, more will also sticky-finger their way into Club Med prisons where they can ride around in those cute little golf carts and water peonies for punishment. There's a reason why stockbrokers and insurance agents commit few violent or property crimes and it isn't DNA. The only people who have to fear for their physical safety around a middle-class man (of any race) are his wife, children, mistress and business partners. He can commit crimes from the comfort of his home office and car phone; the illiterate criminal has little choice but to draw blood. More blacks are poor and poorly educated so more blacks commit crimes that don't require special training. Educate them and watch those embezzlement rates soar.

With senseless, non-economic violent crime, the issue is one of societal entitlement and what each strata of society sees as coming to it -- that's the "socio" half of the equation. The Littleton killers felt robbed. As white, middle-class males, they understood that they had a certain amount of societal deference coming to them -- but where was it? They took their comfort, nice neighborhood and (until their rampage) safe school for granted; those things weren't enough. That couldn't give them the sense of specialness they so clearly craved and felt entitled to. Angry white men in the making, they didn't feel powerful, they didn't feel respected. They felt insignificant, weak, unsure and angry.


They felt like teenagers, in other words, but they were so insulated by their atomized, suburban lives (and no doubt hands-off parenting), they didn't know it would pass. Because they were so incredibly immature, they didn't know that they were incredibly immature, that they could eventually learn to share their sense of entitlement to full citizenship. Being white and well-off, they just knew that attention must be paid and, being children, the only way they could imagine to get some was childish. The result was fiendishly adult, but the underlying impulse was an angry 8-year-old's (the plan to crash a plane into New York City is pure video game).

It's true: Being white, male and well-off doesn't mean what it used to. Most accept it. A few join the black-helicopter brigades and issue pathetic manifestos. Others rant and rave at city council meetings about minorities' special privileges. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their way onto the front pages, a place only disturbed children could consider one of glory. But they got their wish. Attention was paid.

Blacks lose their minds on a much smaller, much more self-destructive scale. We burn down our own neighborhoods, disable our own elevators and smash the only grocery store for miles. We graffiti the walls we have to look at every day and we make our own mothers wade through broken malt liquor bottles to get to the bus stop. We're like the teenage girls who slash themselves; feeling pain is feeling something, causing pain is having control over something. We hate our cage but because we neither believe we can leave it or view it as valuable, we make it worse. We blame whites but we punish ourselves. Defeatist blacks who defile their own communities, that all too visible minority, implicitly accept the short leashes of poverty and ignorance and strike back by trashing the jail cell they believe they have to live in. Violent blacks have no belief that they can, let alone should, affect the world; all they want is not to be disrespected on their own patch of turf.


A Def Jam comedian once offered a summary of the difference between whites' and blacks' worldviews. I don't understand white folks, he said. They get depressed. So they spend $5,000 on a psychiatrist. A black man got $5,000? He ain't depressed. Whites think criminals are disproportionately black; blacks think neurotics are disproportionately white. Blacks routinely dismiss suicide, incest, sexual fetishes and any freaky, taboo behavior in general as afflicting only whites. These beliefs extend to the ridiculous. As a hairdresser worked on me once, I asked her about head lice, and she cut me off saying that only whites got them. They don't live in our hair. The next day a doctor confirmed my suspicions: I'd had head lice even as the hairdresser worked on me, but her racism blinded her to the little squigglers.

Suicide rates are climbing in the black community, especially among young men, but we refuse to see that either. Sexual abuse and depression debilitate millions of black women but we deny that, too. Poor mental health abounds in the black community, but it's a silent agony. It can't be acknowledged because that's weak and that's white. I'm not white, some harried black woman will quip, I can't afford a nervous breakdown. So we come home from a day in a hairnet and spank our children mercilessly for minor infractions. I'm never sure if it's better or worse that it's almost all inwardly directed.


Even black artistic expression reflects that limited sense of entitlement. I've been so struck by the self-contained worldview of black comedians that I once categorized most of a TV season's-worth of their jokes. Of 45 Def Jam-type comics (extremely popular with the black working and poverty class), exactly one made reference to the world outside of the black community (she made rather sophisticated fun of Jesse Helms and the Republicans). The Clintons' bimbo problems, the two-party system, the economy, war, the collapse of Communism? Nothing. Except for ruminating endlessly about the differences between blacks and whites (and in these jokes, too, whites often came out ahead), it was all about the 'hood. Popular black movies tend to be the same. They're simplistic takes on white racism, drug dealer melodramas or How to be a Player While Making a Booty Call. It's as if the totality of the American reality is off-limits to blacks.

In their own minds, the deranged Littleton killers saw themselves as glorious heroes, something most blacks are still a long way from daring to imagine. Hollywood helps reinforce this exclusion. Virtually no black soldiers were depicted in "Saving Private Ryan," for instance. Spielberg said he chose his soldiers to closely resemble the immigrants of that era, thus automatically excluding blacks though many, like my father, served. It may be that few blacks actually served in the units he depicted, but neither did Tom Hanks. It's all about who gets to portray real Americans.

In comedy, as in killing, for black folks it's still about one powerless individual adrift in a cruel world doing what he has to in order to hold on to his few crumbs and look good doing it. It was inside out for the unhappy white boys Eric and Dylan -- they demanded acknowledgement. When societal change made them feel powerless and impotent (in other words, black), they snapped. Unhappy black boys kill for a pair of sneakers. Unhappy white boys kill to be noticed. What's the difference, really?

Debra Dickerson


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