Stephen Henderson on mass shooting in Buffalo

The racist attack asks us how to confront and disrupt white comfort and white supremacy, according to Stephen Henderson.

The following is an essay from WDET Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson:

Here we are again. A white gunman wearing body armor and armed with an assault rifle drove miles from his home to a Black neighborhood in Buffalo where he shot and killed 10 people and wounded three others.

He attacked people who were shopping at a grocery store — a store that had been opened to help bridge a gap in fresh food access that many black neighborhoods experience. A lot of the victims were senior citizens, presumably people who were taking advantage of that access to fresh food.

The shooter was really clear about his intentions as well. In a 180-page screed, he railed against the browning of America — which he describes as an effort to “replace the country’s white majority.” In this screed, he touched on nearly every racist trope you can imagine and threw in, for good measure, that he had chosen a gun for his attack because weapons are plentiful, easy to get, and effective.

Indeed, since 2011, this “Great Replacement Theory” — the idea that changing demographics are an attack on the nation’s white majority — has been the explicit motivation for more than 160 murders. It has gained so much relevance that it is used, on the political right, as an organizing tool.

Inherent in this theory is, of course, the insidious and persistent idea in American history that the lives of Black people have less value than the lives of their white counterparts. It’s white supremacy. And it connects to every other dimension of American life that’s under the bootheel of white supremacy. Think about the racial inequality we see in every societal measure. Think of the consistent killing of unarmed African Americans by police. This is America. This is how we live.

I’m tired of emoting about this. And, frankly, every emotion I feel right now, seems really inadequate to the challenge I think we face. So instead, I find myself thinking, very specifically, about all this. And thinking about, specifically, what it will take. What kind of disruption will be necessary to make these kinds of things less common or nonexistent? When you think about it, it is, after all, comfort, comfort for most of white America with these incidents that permits them to continue and grows more white supremacist killers.

White comfort is the power behind white supremacy. And white comfort is the barrier — or at least one of the biggest barriers — to racial progress, even the racial progress that White Americans of good faith believe is possible and necessary. — Stephen Henderson.

And when I say comfort, I mean that in literal terms. There are too many lives, especially those of white Americans, that are really distant from the consequences of white supremacy. It’s not happening in their neighborhoods, it’s not happening to their children, it’s not happening to their parents, it’s not happening in the middle of their lives — grocery stores, churches.

And even among white Americans of good faith, people who don’t embrace any part of white supremacy in their hearts, the fact that this doesn’t play out in their lives means that it’s easy to decry violent, racist attacks, but not think about or change the dynamics or the behaviors that produce them. White comfort is the power behind white supremacy. And white comfort is the barrier — or at least one of the biggest barriers — to racial progress, even the racial progress that white Americans of good faith believe is possible and necessary.

So, how do we change that? What do we do? And, what are we willing to do, or even to contemplate, that would disrupt the status quo in a way that would produce less of all of this, that would produce more justice and more equality?

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  • Sam Corey
    Sam Corey is a producer for The Metro on 101.9 WDET. In that role, he goes out in search of fun and interesting stories for radio. He enjoys salsa dancing — and actual salsa.