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“Demographic Scapegoating”: How Leaders and Interests Profit from Social Crises

Rather than evidence-strong debates over gun violence and other social crises, American leaders, commentators and interests use them to invoke the superiority of their own privileged demographics (“us,” “people like us,” “people we like”) while assigning mass, collective blame for problems like crime and drugs to powerless, unpopular populations (“them,” “people not like us,” “people we don’t like”). “Demographic scapegoating” and “demographic distancing” represent a crude, deeply destructive tradition… one in full flower today.

The constantly repeated theme of demographic distancing is self-flattery: “They” are the alien, the savage, the inferior, the problem. “We” are the mainstream, the healthy, the righteous, the solution.

Unfortunately for distancers, blaming feared outgroups for social problems (the Chinese for opium, African Americans for cocaine, Mexicans for marijuana, Muslims for terrorism, immigrants for crime and drugs, etc.) has become more hazardous as once-stigmatized minorities gained power to punish their stigmatizers. Openly racist and sexist commentators usually get lambasted and fired today.

Still, conservatives continue to bash various minorities from the safety of right-wing forums. And for liberals and progressives who preach the politics of tolerance, one easy demographic scapegoat remains: young people. The liberal/left’s indulgence of emotional, anti-youth sloganeering such as “youth violence” and “children killing children” wrecks reasoned discussion.

The White House is notorious for demographic distancing. Both President Obama and the First Lady—using appallingly wrong information—have sought to depict their older generations as the peaceable reformers of today’s violent young black men, youthful bullies, and campus rapists. In fact, as readily available crime reports show, generations of the 1970s (every race) were much more violent, including for homicide and rape, than young people today. Older generations display disturbingly high crime and domestic violence and staggering drug abuse rates.

However, demographic distancing is not about facts or fairness, but proclaiming superiority. For an example typical of many, MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball’s May 27 commentary declared that modern women do not accept “young men resorting to violence when they don’t feel they’re getting the sex they’re entitled to.” Why just “young men”? Do women accept rape by older men, then? If Ball had substituted “black men” or “Muslim men” or “rich white men” in that sentence, she would be facing heated calls for her dismissal.

Ball’s singling out of young men for stigma is a badge of her privileged status as a national media commentator with an audience of millions versus the voiceless status of young men. Ball’s otherwise incisive commentary on violence against women, most recently exemplified by the May 23 stabbing and shooting of 20 people in Santa Barbara by a 22 year-old self-styled “true alpha male,” cited two other misogynist massacres: a 48 year-old who killed and injured 17 women in a 2009 gun assault on an aerobics class, and a 35-year-old’s slaughter of 24 in a restaurant shooting in 1991. Not exactly youths.

But attributing rape-culture attitudes to powerful, older demographics is risky (MSNBC’s average listener, after all, is white and over 55). So, even though all three murderers she cited were white, Ball was careful to deny that whites are a uniquely misogynist race. No such caution applies to collectively guilt-tripping young people. Whites have power, young people do not.

Under the double standard demographic distancing affords, a 48-year-old or a 35-year-old who shoots up a class or murders his family is not referred to as “that middle-ager” or "older man" whose entire demographic merits collective guilt. The older assailant is seen as an individual. His older age is made invisible. Under the rules of selective statistical bigotry, damning statistics relating to older-age behaviors may not be cited.

Ubiquitous prejudice against young people fosters hostility toward youth and indifference toward the larger, more difficult to discuss epidemic of violence victimizing them. The 2012 Child Maltreatment report substantiates 553 murders of girls under age 18, along with more than 50,000 violent abuses, 45,000 rapes and sexual abuses, and 30,000 psychological abuses victimizing female children and teenagers in domestic violence that year. Real numbers are many times higher than those that are reported and substantiated. Four-fifths of abusers were parents or parents’ partners; a large majority were 30 and older.

These numbers reveal a staggering, deeply distressing epidemic of violence against females as well as males—one those in political and media power, along with major interests calling for action to combat violence against women have indulged the luxury to ignore precisely because it raises disturbing issues of power and privilege. That presidents, politicians, and most interest groups launch campaigns not to solve social problems, but to use them to popularize themselves remains an American tragedy in 2014 just as it was in 1914.

Keywords: Mike Males

Posted in Blog, Social Justice, Juvenile Justice, Political Landscape

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