At first glance, the UC Santa Barbara murders appear to be another senseless case of gun violence. If anything, news coverage has framed the mass killings of seven college students as a case of a white male who desperately needed psychological intervention, or perhaps as a story of a young man angry at feminism. But there is another factor besides affluence and misogyny that fueled the rage that led Elliot Rodger on his deadly spree Friday night: race.
May 24-,2014. Isla Vista, CA. UCSB students gather at IV Deli Mart were bullet holes are seen in the glass windows were one person was killed by the drive-by shooter left seven people dead Friday night, including the attacker, and seven others wounded. Image Credit: Gene Blevins/ZUMAPRESS.com
Upon the first accounts of a black BMW plowing throughout a crowd of college students, thought flashed across my mind: Was the gunman Asian? As I sifted through Rodger’s 140-page manifesto, titled "My Twisted World", one of the first descriptions of his life was that he was the child of a Malaysian Chinese mother and a British father. While he never overtly identifies himself as Asian, the few happy memories in the document — a litany of bullying, video games, and sexual frustration — are descriptions of times spent with his mother and his maternal grandmother. It hit too close to home to read his fond references to his “Ah Mah” (the Hokkien Chinese term for grandmother , the same term my own mixed-race sons call their grandma). There don’t seem to be many Asian male role models in Rodger’s life. At times, he even lashes out at his own father, movie producer Peter Rodger, for not teaching him more about how to relate to females.
I wouldn't recommend anyone to read Rodger’s manifesto or even to watch his YouTube videos. To do so is to slide down a twisted rabbit hole of paranoia and anger — at women, at his more popular male peers, and most painful — and at himself. I read it, curious for clues as to how the marginalization experienced by this mixed-race Asian male might have contributed to this tragedy. Emil Guillermo writes at AALDEF:
"That the killer, Elliot Rodger, was half-Asian (Chinese on his mother's side) probably wasn't the first thing you heard as people analyze root causes for his actions over this Memorial Day weekend. But if you read his manifesto, it certainly makes the point loud and and clear. Rodger didn't like being Asian, and he saw it as a flaw in his quest for women--especially his preference. The murderer preferred blondes."
Women — especially blonde, white women — were viewed as “prizes” in Elliot Rodger’s mind, and men were clearly adversaries, appraised and catalogued by rank. He is especially jealous of black and Asian men who date white women, as revealed over and over in his online footprint, which includes his infamous YouTube videos and comments attributed to him on various web forums filled with angry young men venting about “pick up artist” techniques, such as PUAHate.com, which has now been taken down. The Southern Poverty Law Center released these posts which were attributed to Rodger:
I passed by this restaurant and I saw this black guy chilling with 4 hot white girls. He didn’t even look good.
Then later on in the day I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and saw an Indian guy with 2 above average White Girls!!!
While the misogyny behind this tragedy shouldn’t be underplayed, it’s ironic to note that in the end, most of the victims in Santa Barbara were men. The first three victims, found stabbed to death in Rodger’s apartment were his roommates and their friend— all Asian men. Another victim was a Latino male. The other two victims were white women.
This tragedy sits at the center of a complicated web of weapons, violence against women, mental health. But I believe that the pain and emasculation Rodger felt as an Asian male and his confusion over his own mixed-race identity compounded the sense of rejection and anger that ultimately led to the deaths of seven young people, including himself. These are things we need to think about as we raise the next generation of Asian boys. They need strong, positive role models in their own lives and also in mass media. The racist representations of Asian men as the "guy who never gets the girl" do matter. As the analysis of this tragedy continues, let's keep in mind that nothing happens in a vacuum, and that race is part of that complicated web.
News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.
More from living