A woman employee at a shopping mall in Salt Lake City, Utah-where a young gunman recently maimed and murdered people-said he appeared to be “an average Joe,” the AP reported. Yes, daily journalism is the first draft of history. Yet her description of him raises a question.
That is, what are the meanings of average in the USA? One unstated meaning, I maintain, is that average is a person with white skin. This description fit the Utah killer, an immigrant teen from Bosnia, who was shot dead.
His status as a white person upon arrival in the U.S. from his worn-torn country was likely never in doubt. This is hardly a new trend nationwide. For perceptive analysis on the roots of this European racial formation upon arrival in the U.S. between 1890 and 1945, see historian David R. Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (Basic Books, 2005).
By contrast to the experience of European immigrants in the current era, non-white immigrants fleeing armed conflicts fueled by capitalist imperialism in their homelands (African, Caribbean and Latin American) do not whiten when they come to the U.S., as best I can determine. Thus, in the sense of the quote attributed to the witness during the Utah mall shootings, average probably does not mean an Asian, black or brown person.
One would have to suffer from a racial blind spot to miss the towering presence of a culture which normalizes whiteness as a U.S. standard. This racial insanity is for all purposes a taboo topic nationwide, institutionally speaking, with corporate journalism at the front of the pack. Therefore, I suggest that a misperception of white skin as being average is embedded in a description of the homicidal teen.
Now let us back up a bit and look at the social context of the Utah bloodletting. This tragic event took place as the U.S. population is becoming increasingly female, non-white and wage-earners. This trend flows from capitalism’s constant drive to increase labor productivity, bringing ever-cheaper goods and services for sale in the marketplace.
Thus in the world’s third most populous nation, non-white females are average in the sense of their class roles as producers and consumers that mirror millions of white males. To this end, a grass-roots discussion of what constitutes an average American could help to raise people’s political consciousness. In other words, the Utah tragedy could provide an opportunity for Americans to better see who they really are.
Sight unseen is sight not thought.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper www.bpmnews.org/. He can be reached at: [email protected]m.