Raising Boys in the Age of Mass Shooters

More than political action, employment or community involvement, my biggest contribution to our society will be in raising boys who will become good men.

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From the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 to Saturday’s mass shooting at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, there has been a clear trend in who perpetrates mass gun violence in America: young white men. While some of these young men are simply violent psychopaths, many others are racists radicalized into acts of terrorism on behalf of the white race. That was the case with the boys at Columbine, and the radicalization has only become easier and more aggressive. And that terrifies me. Not so much because I fear my family being shot down by a racist right-wing terrorist, but because I’m the father of two little boys who will be the target of white nationalist radicalization. It’s tantamount, as a father of boys, that I keep that from happening.

I’d like to think that my boys would be inoculated from white nationalist radicalization on the strength of my decent parenting alone. But I imagine that the country is littered with decent parents who wonder where they failed their violently radicalized boys. There were plenty of young white-nationalist radicals swinging fists at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in 2015, for instance. I find it hard to believe that all of their parents were nursing these “proud boys” on the racist pablum of Mein Kampf and cheering Laura Ingrahm as she parrots conspiracy theories touted by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.

I don’t watch Laura Ingrahm. I don’t allow white nationalist ideology in my house. We call out racism when we see it. We actively teach our boys to love, welcome and respect people of every color and from all cultural backgrounds. But that’s not nearly enough. At some point, when they are older and more independent, they will be exposed to the ideological pathogen of white supremacy.

Attempts to radicalize my boys may come from a school friend; it may come from a respected member of the community. But most likely it will come from the internet where racist tropes are far from uncommon and ugly ideas spread across social media at the speed of light. These ideas will prey on their sense of fairness (brown people are taking your jobs and your education), their sense of heritage and nostalgia (this country is your heritage and changing for the worse) and their ego (your power as a white man is being diminished).

When that time comes, I hope I’ve given them an active defense. This will come not only by providing them with the critical thinking skills to dismantle hateful rhetoric, but a sense of selfless service to their community, the poor and the weak.

When I’m not sure what to do or I don’t know how to deal with, say, their entry into the cult of the gun that is ubiquitous in American culture, I must make sure that I am simply there for them. They will have questions. I will answer. They will get lost in peer pressure. I’ll pay attention and guide them. They will feel anger and confusion. I’ll be there to listen as impartially and openly as humanly possible.

The upshot is that my job as a modern father of two white boys requires that I pay attention, that I am there for them, and that I lead by example. This is good parenting. Given the high stakes and radicalizing forces surrounding me, it is also exhausting and nerve-wracking. But it is my job. More than political action, employment or community involvement, my biggest contribution to our society will be in raising white boys who will become good white men that seek to uplift and love all people regardless of their culture or ethnicity.

Right now, that job feels more daunting than ever, but it’s the most important job I will ever have.

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