Ronald Taylor, I’d like you to meet Buford Furrow; Buford, this is Ronald. You guys have so much in common. For one thing, you both hit the headlines. Buford Furrow became a celebrity of sorts in August 1999 when he shot up a Jewish community center in Los Angeles. Buford’s a real Aryan hero, going up against all those unarmed schoolgirls, and then taking out a mailman who happened to be Filipino. Back in March, Ronald Taylor did pretty much the same kind of deed in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, when he decided that the janitor was a racist for not fixing his door quickly enough, and went out to shoot down any white men he could see. He killed three men, the first being 71 years old, before trying to take hostages in a building containing a daycare center, a senior center, a hospice: Now why didn’t you think of targets like that, Buford? There’s lots of people there who couldn’t fight back. The other person I suppose I’d like to have here as well is Benjamin Smith, who made a lot of news last July when he went on a rampage in the Midwest and started randomly shooting Jews, blacks, and Asians, though he also had the decency to shoot himself in the end. Pity: If he were here, that would have made it a trifecta, wouldn’t it?

The three of you would have so much to talk about. For one thing, all of you fit the classic profile of mass killers—loners with serious problems with drink and psych wards. All of you also decided along the way that your problems were the fault of some outsider who could be blamed for keeping you lonely and miserable. And there was no shortage of people who could tell you things like that—Nazis and Christian Identity folk for the whites, Nation of Islam fantasists for blacks. Ronald was shouting that he was “out to get all white people,” and in his spare time, he carefully drew up a “Satan List” of businesses owned by whites, Asians, or Jews.

Though Ben and Buford are white, and Ronald is black, the three of you really seem like brothers under the skin. There is one strange thing, though—people react to you so differently. After the two white killers carried out their attacks last summer, there was a national upsurge of soul-searching about “hate crimes,” and about how these just represented the disreputable end of a vast spectrum of white racism which also included a lot of national politicians. Some writers suggested that this kind of hate should be seen as a mental illness in its own right, so that haters should be put away before they could actually pull the trigger. Alvin F. Poussaint, a learned doctor from Harvard Medical School, suggested that “It’s time for the American Psychiatric Association to designate extreme racism as a mental health problem.” As to who the racists are, there was a fair consensus on that too, since racism in this context can only mean white racism. Didn’t you know there is, literally, no such animal as black racism? Start suggesting there is, and some bright spark will quote a much-used academic definition which explains that it can only be racism if it is used to enforce existing power relationships, and blacks don’t have power, so they can’t be racist, Q.E.D. So all the haters are white men. As the Philadelphia Inquirer headlined, “White males and mass violence: Many heterosexual, white men feel entitled to success. Social changes, coupled with personal failures, drive them to rage, experts say” (August 15, 1999). Heterosexual, male, and white: If ever there was a powder keg waiting to go off . . .

But things were just different with Ronald Taylor. Certainly the FBI investigated it as a hate crime, and people did use the term, but it was just put in such a different context, or rather, a lack of context. While the crimes of Messrs. Furrow and Smith were blamed on systematic white racism, Taylor’s were attributed to, well, systematic white racism. The local NAACP said that, while the crimes were appalling, they had to be seen as “the result of racism, hate, mistrust and poor communication coming on the heels of publicized local incidents involving black men killed by white police” (and recall, racism always means white racism). You could only understand Taylor in the context of racial profiling and the acquittal of the four police officers charged in the shooting death of Amadou Diallo. Nobody commenting on fire attacks tried to lay any blame on the black demagogues who have done so much to poison race relations in this country, such as Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, or Conrad Muhammad.

It’s often interesting when reading statements about race to see what bizarre results emerge when we invert the ethnic labels, and the Taylor case was no exception. One state NAACP official declared that “I don’t know what drove this man to die point where he couldn’t take it anymore,” but Taylor’s frustrations revealed the “seething of racial anger” in her community, concerns that need to be addressed urgently. Funny, if anyone had said anything like that about Buford Furrow, he would probably have been howled down as a racist.