AD Main Menu

Isla Vista killings illustrate link between self-hate, hate of others

Many have heard of the Isla Vista shooting, the victims, the perpatrator, and the manifesto. Countless articles, blogs, tweets, videos, and Facebook updates have been generated about the very complex and tangled web of factors that played a role in this tragedy -- mental illness, sexism, misogyny, and even "misogylinity" (yes, a term has even been invented to explain it). The dominant narrative is -- as usual -- the Isla Vista shooter is another loner, bullied white male with a history of mental illness, and this time it was sexism and misogyny that drove his behaviors.

The fact that the perpetrator was biracial (Asian and white) and how this played a role, however, is not considered and discussed as much. Even further, there is almost a non-existent consideration of racism and internalized racism, and how they fueled the killer's hatred toward himself and other people. Indeed, racism and internalized racism distorted the killer's view of himself and the world, and contributed to the Isla Vista tragedy.

Let me elaborate.

The dominant narrative centers on one form of oppression: sexism and misogyny. Yes, we need to bring attention to and address the oppression and objectification of women -- #YesAllWomen.

But let's not forget that another form of oppression -- racism -- also played a role. Indeed, there were plenty of instances in the manifesto wherein the perpetrator described experiences of racism. Internalized racism also contributed to the shooter's harmful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The manifesto shows that the killer saw being white as superior and most desirable, saw himself as superior to non-whites because he is part-white, and also saw his non-white part to be a permanent marker of inferiority. He hated his Asian self; he hated himself.

In addition to self-hate, internalized oppression also leads to discriminating against others of the same identity, perhaps because other people serve as reminders of one's own perceived inescapable inferiority, or perhaps to distance one's self from such inferior "others." This intragroup or horizontal violence becomes intergroup violence when the hate is transferred to other groups. So, it's not surprising that three of the victims were Chinese-Americans (intragroup), one was Mexican-American (intergroup), and that the manifesto documented many instances of hatred toward Asian-, African-, and Latino-Americans.

Another dominant narrative is one of mental illness and the perpetrator's lifelong struggles with "emotional problems." Yes, mental health played a role, and it is important that we improve how we regard, diagnose, and serve people experiencing mental health concerns.

However, we also need to improve our understanding of what contributes to mental health concerns. We, as a society, need to understand that biological factors such as genes and "brain chemistry" are not the only factors that influence mental health. We also need to go beyond poor parenting, divorce, "unhealthy" family lives and bullying in our understanding of environmental factors that might influence mental health. We need to accept that one important environmental factor that undoubtedly affects mental health is oppression -- #YesAllFormsOfOppression.

We need to realize that the inferiorizing and dehumanizing messages about women, racial minorities, LGBT folks, and other marginalized groups that we propagate and allow to survive in our society also affect people's mental health. Such messages distort their views of themselves and others. Distortion of reality can lead to harmful emotions (e.g., hate) toward one's self and others. Such distortions can lead to harmful, sometimes deadly, behaviors -- both toward one's self (e.g., suicide) and toward others (e.g., murders). Such was the case in Isla Vista.

Internalized oppression can lead us to hurt ourselves, our communities, and those who are closest to us -- our family and friends. Internalized oppression has already damaged many communities throughout history, and tragedies such as Isla Vista remind us that internalized oppression continues to damage us -- #YesAllOfUs.

Perhaps by seeing that all of us are affected by the devastation of oppression and internalized oppression, then we will come to realize that we should care. Perhaps we will also see that all of us have a role in oppression. Then, maybe, all of us might do something to address it. #YesAllOfUs and #YesAllFormsOfOppression.

E.J.R. David, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage.



By E.J.R. DAVID