Artwork by E.R. Bills

Two heavyweight Williams of Western lit walk into a bar.

The more prominent — William Shakespeare, still a household name centuries after his time — orders a mug of ale and quotes Antonio in The Tempest. “What’s past is prologue,” he says. The other William, his feet already propped up at a side table (their owner already sipping whisky), is William Faulkner, a Shakespeare of the American South but not a household name (except maybe in his homestate of Mississippuh). He responds with a quote from Requiem for a Nun. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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The bartender shrugs. “The more things change,” he mumbles to himself, “the more they stay the same.”

It’s not really that funny, I know.

Especially in Texas.

But also across the country.

Things have indeed changed — but not for the white reasons.

Another weekend, another domestic white terrorist on the loose with an automatic weapon. Their motives blur together. Reverse discrimination, dwindling white population, the “Great Replacement” conspiracy, couldn’t get a date, blah, blah, blah. Blathering examples of white mediocrity lashing out at a society that’s trying to move past white male primacy and leaving vanilla lessers to feel, well, somehow less.

Their great-great-grandpappies never had to. It’s the seminal line from the 1988 film Mississippi Burning. Gene Hackman’s character tells a story about his father being embarrassed by the fact that a Black neighbor was able to afford a mule while his dad didn’t have one. His dad’s white neighbors ribbed him. The mule was poisoned and died and Hackman’s character realizes his father had something to do with it. Hackman’s character’s dad’s response sheds blinding white light on the shrewdest, most racially cataclysmic joke the Southern aristocracy played on average folks in the post-Civil War era: “If you’re not any better than a nigger, son, who are you better than?”

Let’s be honest.

Has anybody really taken a hard look at the white men and white teens who go on these shooting sprees? Sure, they obviously share beliefs and values (and grotesque thoughts and prayers) and, of course, Fox News worship. But have you really looked at them closely as individuals?

If you have (or do), a striking pattern begins to emerge.

The domestic white terrorists who commit these acts are an unremarkable parade of mediocrity, white guys who couldn’t make the varsity football squad (or sat on the bench if they did), couldn’t get dates (much less have or keep girlfriends), and are consigned to their high school yearbooks as dim or dumpy or goofy faces that no one would have remembered five years after graduation if not for their acts of racial hatred or domestic terror.

Twenty-one-year-old vanilla dud Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans at a Black Church in Charleston in 2015 and actually admitted to doing it because some girl he liked chose a Black kid over him. Twenty-one-year-old white dud Patrick Crusius drove more than 11 hours from Dallas to El Paso to kill 23 Hispanics (and wound 23 others) in 2019. Seventeen-year-old Anglo dud Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state lines and killed three BLM protesters in 2020 to strike a blow for conservative white ’Murica, got away with it, and now wants move to Texas, where mediocre white “men” pretty much control all the “Wango Tango.” And just last week a Conklin, New York, white dud named Payton Gendron drove 200 miles to kill 11 Black people in Buffalo, and, rumor has it, if he gets off, he’ll also be coming to Texas, where, again, everyone knows how cowards eat the cabbage.

Back in their great- and great-great-grandpappies’ days, you could kill men of color for even looking at white women. Or burn them at the stake for an insinuation or a whim — especially here in Texas. You could also rape their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters without even having to stand trial. ’Murica was great for white male mediocrity in those days, and Dylann, Patrick, Kyle, and Payton would have fit right in.

Now, white male mediocrity can’t even earn you a spot on the JV basketball bench, much less get you dates with cheerleaders. And legions of pathetic white men envision themselves put-upon Rosa Parkses because they can’t get anybody to sit with them at the front of the bus. To make matters worse, the God of their old-time religion — who endowed them with the inalienable right to not only sit at the front of the bus but in the driver’s seat of the latest BMW model — was never really even white. Their proverbial Word has been sullied, and their conjugal prospects are dwindling — that’s what’s ticking off mediocre white guys so much. They used to run things, and now they’re just pale-skinned, short-funded, small-dicked runts.

Their power is diminishing. The tick-tock, tick-tock of their time as unquestioned, uncontested white patriarchal superiors owning everything, controlling everything, and getting all the girls by privilege or primacy (voluntarily or by force) is running out, and they’re being challenged to live up to America’s progressive manifest destiny at a time when more and more of the available female population keeps swiping left on them.

It’s a Shakespearian tragedy. They’re Faulknerian footnotes.

*Cue the mediocre white boys nodding along with Tucker Carlson while they peruse gun catalogs.

Award-winning author E.R. Bills is a Fort Worth native and author of The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas and Fear and Loathing in the Lone Star State: A Smackdown of Conservative Leadership in Texas and America.