Buffalo Mass Shooting Demands We Think About American RacismRoundup
tags: far right, political violence, White Supremacy, Great Replacement
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. She is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University and the author of several books, including “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership,” which was a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for history.
On Saturday, in the parking lot of a neighborhood grocery store, an eighteen-year-old armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle, the N-word emblazoned on its front sight, began shooting. Shots cracked in the air, piercing through an unusually warm eighty-degree spring afternoon in Buffalo, New York. The teen-ager, who was later identified by the police, donned military-esque camouflage, was draped in body armor, and wore a camera to capture his bloody rampage. When the shooting stopped, thirteen people had been hit, ten of them killed. Eleven of those shot were Black. The gunman was captured by the police when he left the grocery store, and, by late Saturday night, he was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder.
The shooter is alleged to have posted a hundred-and-eighty-page “manifesto” avowing white-supremacist beliefs. In the hate-filled text, he denounced immigrants and Black people as “replacers” of white people. The notion that white people are being replaced has recently moved from the fringe of far-right politics to mainstream Republican Party politics. The Fox News personality Tucker Carlson has helped to popularize the ideology, and it has dovetailed seamlessly with the rhetoric of the Republican Party, which has insisted on describing the arrival of migrants at the southern border—seeking entry into the U.S. as asylum seekers—as an “invasion.”
The shooter rationalized his vicious attack by trying to fit it into this grand, esoteric conspiracy of white replacement through immigration. His manifesto, by contrast, is filled with crudely racist memes about Black Americans. In fact, for all his denunciation of “replacers” in the manifesto, an archive of his posts on the messaging platform Discord, from the past six months, barely mentions immigrants. Instead, he writes prolifically and disparagingly about Black people, whom he incessantly describes with racial slurs. In a search of archived posts beginning in 2021, the word “immigrant” appears twelve times, “replacement” eighteen times, “replacer” twenty-two times, but “blacks” and the N-word each appear a hundred times.
The manifesto seems intended to confer a sense of intellectual sophistication on his savage act. But the shooter’s Discord posts are full of sophomoric, even banal stereotypes about Black people—as genetically inferior, as predisposed to crime. The shooter claims inspiration from the white supremacist who murdered fifty-one worshippers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. The Christchurch shooter also recorded his massacre and left a manifesto. But, for all of the Buffalo shooter’s professed inspiration from the Christchurch massacre, his actions seem to flow primarily from homegrown resentments. He searched by Zip Code for the largest Black population close to where he lived, in order to “kill as many blacks as possible.” His research led him to a grocery store, on the city’s East Side, along the Jefferson Avenue commercial corridor, running through the heart of Black Buffalo.
Once startling and noteworthy, mass shootings have melded into the background of life in the U.S. Since January, there have been almost two hundred shootings involving at least four victims shot or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive. A recent report published by the C.D.C. showed that, from 2019 to 2020, the over-all homicide rate involving a firearm rose by nearly thirty-five per cent. The Buffalo massacre stands out not only because of the number of people killed but because of the political nature of the assault. This must be viewed within the context of the growing normalization of racism and political violence in the U.S. If Dylann Roof, the white racist who killed nine Black parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June of 2015, helped to inaugurate the racial grievance at the core of the Trump Presidency, then the Buffalo shooter’s killing spree may be emblematic of its still rippling effects. Roof, whom the Buffalo shooter acknowledges in his manifesto as a “freedom fighter,” also penned a manifesto full of deranged ideas, linking Black crime with the decline of white life in the U.S.
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