The Massacre At Littleton
by Joel Olson


The massacre of 15 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado is the seventh major shooting incident at an American school in the past 18 months. All told, the shootings in Littleton, Springfield, Oregon, Fayetteville, Tennessee, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, Jonesboro, Arkansas, Paducah, Kentucky, and Pearl Mississippi have claimed the lives of 29 people and wounded over 75.

The inevitable question is why have these shootings taken place? We have been treated by the media to a variety of explanations. Some claim it's because the shooters are social misfits who, for some reason, never managed to "fit in." The strange dress, music, and beliefs (ranging from, reports claim, Satanism to anarchism to white supremacy) of these youths encouraged them to lash out at a society that rejected them. The solution, according to this argument, 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 commentator on TV seriously suggested, "Perhaps all they needed was a hug.")

All of this is basically a form of authoritarian re-education designed to stifle the individuality of youth. These youth cry out against authority and conformity so they get--more authority and more conformity. What no one has yet to discuss is the generable miserableness of school and the alienation that is an inevitable product of this society, even for the relatively well off. Nor has anyone addressed the constant focus on self-interest and "doing what's good for _yourself_" in the schools. Competitiveness with one's peers is rewarded rather than, say, solidarity. When the cards are stacked against you in such a contest, some kids are inevitably 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 in the media 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.

The real white supremacist part of all of this, however, is not the iron cross patches on Harris and Kebold's jackets nor the lyrics of their favorite bands but the the cry "It's not supposed to happen here" that everyone (especially the media) seems to be saying. 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 seems to get past the back page of the local newspaper, but when white kids start killing white kids in the white part of town Dan Rather and Ted Koppel swoop to the scene. The recent spate of school shootings are not a product of the activities of white supremacist groups, as liberals like the CHD imply. If anything, the shootings have shaken up whites' sense of security rather than bolstering white supremacy. 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.

And finally, I haven't watched or read everything on Littleton, but I have yet to see or hear anyone ask 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?