The pundits misfire on school shootings

Causes: The media offer uninformed and often racist reasons for violence by U.S. students, a critic charges.

May 30, 1999|By Ishmael Reed

THE LATEST SPATE of school shootings has been followed by the same vacuous media commentaries that accompanied earlier trag-edies. Generally, television and movies have gotten the blame for inspiring the young shooters.

The commentators ignore the fact that during the nation's bloodiest century, the 19th, neither television nor radio was around when rival white ethnic gangsters in Northeastern cities littered the streets with corpses.

On April 20 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives. One month later, a 15-year-old sophomore armed with two guns shot and wounded six students at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga.

The comments from numerous pop psychologists on television, who never met the shooters, show why the field of psychology has fallen into disrepute.

Some pundits blamed the parents of the shooters. Others were shocked that the violence took place in predominantly white suburban schools. Where have these commentators been? In 1994, Roper Starch Worldwide, a public-opinion research firm, reported that "violence among teen-agers was worst in the West," and that schoolchildren in small U.S. cities, suburbs and rural communities were twice as likely to carry weapons as students living in large cities.

It seems many of these commentators are comfortable with the notion that black and Latino students are responsible for the nation's school violence. It's called scapegoating, and it's a game played all over the world.

When visiting Japan, I asked Japanese about the Yakuza, the name given to Japanese organized crime, and was told it is a Korean gang. During a recent trip to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, Czechs told me that the Yugoslav minority did all the drug dealing and was too lazy to work.

Apparently, while the so-called experts have been pointing to urban America as the source of all of the nation's crime and debauchery, a growing army of Freddie Kreugers has been at work in schools in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Not surprisingly, one of the Colorado shooting victims, Isaiah Shoels, was black. Harris and Klebold read white supremacist literature. And they did not have to go back to "Mein Kampf" or Gobineau's "The Inequality of the Races" to kindle their racism. They could have read any of today's newspapers and magazines that rank the greatest people of the century or the millennium. As a rule, the lists are made up of white men, with a few token white women included. Apparently, the people who make these lists think that nonwhites have been goofing off -- smoking crack and making babies -- for the past 1,000 years.

Harris and Klebold could have been influenced by the ugly stream of African-American stereotypes generated by the television and motion-picture industries. Shock jocks such as Howard Stern and Don Imus routinely make racially offensive comments that go unpunished by the networks. Why? Because Stern and Imus make racism profitable -- they generate millions of dollars of revenue each year. The networks don't appear to care that Stern and Imus contribute to the atmosphere of racial hostility that is so pervasive in the nation.

Shoels' father said his son complained about racial taunting at Columbine High, but the school took no action to stop it. Another black student said it was not unusual to find swastikas and white-supremacist slogans scrawled on the walls of the boys' lavatories.

Racism appears to be resurging also in the nation's colleges and universities. My daughter, Tennessee, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, complains that anti-affirmative action measures have led to the near-elimination of black and brown students and the downsizing of ethnic studies at the school. Consequently, white and Asian-American students make racist comments in class that go unchallenged. So, with the near-elimination of black and brown students, where will white and Asian students learn about cultures different from theirs?

I guess they will learn in the same place where many students learn about sex -- in the school lavatory.

In 1994, a report found that schoolchildren in small U.S. cities, suburbs and rural communities were twice as likely to carry weapons as students in large cities.

Ishmael Reed has written seven novels, four books of poetry, two collections of essays and many reviews and critical articles. His literary style is best known for its use of parody and satire. He also publishes the online magazine, Konch.

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