The Current·Q&A

Blaming Fox News, Republican rhetoric for Buffalo mass shooting is 'too easy,' says professor

Ten people were killed in a mass shooting in a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday, in what authorities described as a "racially motivated” attack.

'They're just symptoms of the problem,' says Ricky L. Jones

Mourners react while attending a vigil for victims of the shooting at a TOPS supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y on Saturday. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

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Ten people were killed in a mass shooting in a predominately Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, in what authorities are calling a case of "racially motivated violent extremism."

The accused gunman, a white 18-year-old man, posted a manifesto online citing the "great replacement theory," a racist ideology that argues white people are being intentionally disenfranchised by greater migration and shifting racial demographics. The conspiracy theory has been linked to previous mass shootings, including the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Following the attack in Buffalo, critics pointed to how the ideology has been publicized by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and embraced by several Republican politicians

But Ricky L. Jones, a professor and chair of the University of Louisville's Department of Pan-African Studies, says that criticism misses the larger legacy of anti-Black racism in the U.S.

Jones spoke to The Current's Matt Galloway about that legacy, and how it perpetuates violence against Black people today. Here is part of their conversation.

What did you think when you heard that 10 people had been murdered in this grocery store, in a predominantly Black neighbourhood, and a store where Black people specifically were being targeted? 

Unfortunately, not surprised. Political, psychological, physical violence against Black people is not new in America. It's always been around.

It's reported on a little bit more at this moment, but it's actually a continuous reality that is often normalized. So those of us who study this know it's not new.

What is at the heart of what's driving this, do you think? 

What's at the heart of this, really, is American institutional racism and white supremacy, which have sat at the foundation of the country since it was founded. I mean, we are a living contradiction in this country. We're the country that started off saying, "All men are created equal," and the same people who wrote that, a good percentage of them owned slaves. 

So if you listen to the country and you listen to what people say right now, you'll hear a lot of commentary blaming Fox News, blaming the Republican Party. That's too elementary; that's too easy. They're just symptoms of the problem. 

WATCH | Buffalo shooting suspect allegedly inspired by racist ideology

Buffalo shooting suspect allegedly inspired by racist ideology

2 months ago
Duration 2:03
Authorities in Buffalo are working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page manifesto posted online, which identified the mass shooting suspect by name as the gunman. It cites the ‘great replacement theory,’ a racist ideology that has been linked to other mass shootings in the United States and around the world.

Fox News … [has] the largest viewership of any cable news network in the country by a lot. People can say what they want about the Republican Party, but they're still winning elections. So this isn't about a news channel or a political party.

It's really about America. It's about the country. It's about this white supremacist ethos that's been running through the country since its founding: this belief that whites and only whites have the right to think, know and decide. And when they feel that they're being pushed out — a good percentage of them anyway — then you get this type of pushback. And again, it's not new. 

We could talk about Fox News. Tucker Carlson has touted this idea of the great replacement, this idea that — I'll use your phrase — white people are being pushed aside, white people are being replaced.

This is an idea that has been talked about openly on a show that's watched by millions of people. What's the impact of that? 

But it's always been around Matt. I mean, that's my point: the idea that this was a country founded by and for whites, and they have the right to run everything, to own everything, to make every decision — that is not new in America. And so we've always seen this fear among our white brothers and sisters here, a good percentage of them anyway, a fear of physical displacement, of political disempowerment — and on the extremes, of genetic annihilation. Those are not new tropes in the country.

It makes us feel better to say they're new tropes. It makes us feel better to just blame Tucker Carlson and Fox News, and believe me, they are problematic. It makes us feel better to say something is wrong with the Republican Party. But something is wrong with the country. The country is in denial. 

So until America deals with the ever-present reality … of institutional racism, of white supremacy that runs throughout every river and tributary of this country, we're going to stay in this place.

What do you think we in Canada should be thinking about? I mean, we have had in this country a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City.… What should we be thinking about here in terms of what happened across the border? 

I think, Matt, racism is a global ill. America simply is the greatest contradiction that we see in the world, as we really posit ourselves as the shining light of democracy and opportunity and this melting-pot ethic. And so I would hope that the world would learn from our contradictions and our examples — the bad examples — and do a bit better, because I'm not sure we're the place to lead the way.

So that's what I would say to our Canadian brothers and sisters up north: Don't be like us. You know, deal with your problems as openly and honestly and humanely as you can, because that's not what we're doing in the United States right now.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Joana Draghici and Howard Goldenthal. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated the shooting occurred on Sunday, May 15, instead of Saturday, May 14, and has been corrected.
    May 16, 2022 3:59 PM ET

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