It feels like the entire Internet is having one big argument about Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who murdered six people near the UC Santa Barbara campus before killing himself last Friday.
Did he mostly have a problem with misogyny? Did he mostly have a problem with mental illness? Did he mostly have a problem with a spoiled and entitled upbringing? Is it possible it could be a combination of all of these things?
Like many people this weekend, I read (okay, briskly skimmed — he was not a good writer) his 140-page “manifesto,” “My Twisted World: The Story Of Elliot Rodger,” looking to better understand this tragedy. There’s plenty to unpack there, what with his misogynist, crazy ideas about women deserving to be placed in concentration camps and only used for sex. But what hasn’t gotten quite as much media attention is the area where Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic entitlement and his racist views intersected.
Sociologists Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek had a piece in The New York Daily News yesterday morning addressing Rodger’s racist views, in which they note that all but one of the school shootings in the past two decades have happened at the hands of entitled white men. They write:
The commonality among these shooters is, overwhelmingly, race and gender. This is a voice of white male aggrieved entitlement. Our willingness to assign blame to individuals, at the expense of any attention to the underlying trends in these repeated cases of white male violence, allows this violence to continue.
Rodger certainly displayed “white male aggrieved entitlement” to the Nth degree. But it’s worth noting that Rodger was actually not 100 percent white: his mother is Asian. In his manifesto, he refers to himself as “half-white” or “Eurasian.” And while I will give plenty of examples in one moment of Rodger’s racist views towards others, there’s one part of his manifesto where he makes an observation about his race that’s worth paying attention to (emphasis mine):
I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl. And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them? I thought with rage. I glared at them for a bit and then decided I had been insulted enough
Granted, anyone who reads his manifesto understands that there were more than a couple reasons why he couldn’t get attention from any girl. But it’s supremely interesting to me how, as a half-Asian man, Rodger felt he needed the validation of blonde, white women in particular.
Throughout the rest of his manifesto, Rodger is bigoted towards all other races and emphatic that they did not deserve to enjoy sex with women, particularly white women, as much as he deserved to. Rodger was obsessed with being a virgin (or as he put it, “involuntary celibacy”) and believed women deserved to be punished for not giving him the sex and companionship he so deserved. He also believed that he was more entitled to sex than other men, namely because he is half-white. Here’s one example:
[T]his black boy named Chance said that he lost his virginity when he was only thirteen! In addition, he said that the girl he lost his virginity to was a blonde white girl! I was so enraged that I almost splashed him with my orange juice. I indignantly told him that I did not believe him, and then I went to my room to cry…. How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more. … If this is actually true, if this ugly black filth was able to have sex with a blonde white girl at the age of thirteen while I’ve had to suffer virginity all my life, then this just proves how ridiculous the female gender is. They would give themselves to this filthy scum, but they reject ME? The injustice!
He also wrote about his two housemates, Ryan and Angel, and how “to my dismay they were of the Hispanic race.” He wrote:
They … seemed like rowdy, low-class types. My first impression of them soured me … I was hoping I would get decent, mature, clean-cut housemates. Instead I got low-class scum. … On the second day, they started inviting their equally rowdy friends into my apartment and we exchanged more small talk. To my indignant surprise, they asked me the question I always dreaded answering: “Are you a virgin?” … They then had the audacity to tell me they lost their virginity long ago, bragging about all the girls they had slept with. I particularly hated Angel because of his ugly pig-face. How could such an ugly animal have had sexual experiences with girls and yet I haven’t? What was wrong with this world. I got so angry that I went to my room and punched the wall. They heard me and started laughing. It was almost a repeat of what I experienced with that black boy named Chance in the old apartment, except this time it was worse because these were my housemates for the year!
Rodger also expressed dismay at finding out of one of his social skills’ counselors, who was biracial, had slept with four women in Isla Vista:
[The counselor] was half Hawaiian and half Mexican and he wasn’t that good looking. How on earth could he have managed to sleep with four girls in Isla Vista, while I had been there for two years and had none? This seemed absolutely preposterous.
Towards the end of his manifesto, he also writes about his sister’s “half White, half Mexican” boyfriend, whom he calls an “obnoxious slob” who was “freeloading” off their mother by having drinks and food at their house. “My sister even showed me a picture of one of his ex-girlfriends, a pretty brunette white girl,” Rodger wrote. “My hatred towards him only intensified after that. I refused to speak to him whenever he came over and I constantly pestered my mother to ban him from the house, but she refused to heed to my demands.”
Additionally, a blog post by Southern Poverty Law Center points to racist messages that Rodger left on the anti-pickup artist community website PUAhate.com, in which he complains about a Black man he saw hanging out with four white women. He also responded to a post by an Asian man who wondered what kind of shoes would attract white women. Rodger wrote: “Shoes won’t help you get white girls. White girls are disgusted by you, silly little Asian.”
Elliot Rodger had enough white privilege — much of it financial — to look down on men of color (including “full-blooded” Asians) who he thought were beneath him. But Rodger also lived in a white supremacist society in which he experienced racism against Asian and half-Asian men. As blogger Grace Gwang Lynch put it whilewriting on BlogHer:
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.
I’m not suggesting that Elliot Rodger was a victim here, or to minimize his immense wealth and privilege. I agree that the teachable moment for America right now is our cultural acceptance of misogyny and violence against women. But we are doing a disservice to people of color if we ignore the ways in which Rodger’s racist beliefs affected his worldview. There are others like him — people who don’t suffer from grave mental illness — who believe that white women denigrate themselves by being intimate with men of color. While America needs to have a conversation right now about men’s entitlement and hatred towards women, it would be irresponsible to ignore how racism also played a part in Friday’s tragedy.