Article Thumbnail

‘Buck Status: Broken’: Behind the Violently Racist Phrase on the Buffalo Shooter’s Gun

After his arrest, authorities found names, memes and coded messages hand-painted across the mass shooter’s weapons. One of the lesser known phrases refers to white men sexually dominating Black men on plantations, and its inclusion in white supremacist rhetoric reveals a fixation on Black men’s genitalia and a desire for sexual power

There, on the butt of his primary rifle, Payton Gendron had hand-painted in white letters the names of victims of previous mass violence along with coded messages and taunts, like “White Lives Matter” and “#BLM mogged.” But among the racist phrases and symbols was a strange three-word phrase that confused many who tried to make sense of the Buffalo shooter’s messages to the world: “Buck Status: Broken.” 

The tag comes from a meme based on a documentary, Buck Breaking, by controversial media figure Tariq Nasheed. The two-hour long film, beloved by young white supremacists, focuses on the rape and sexual assault of Black men during the days of slavery as a program of dehumanization and emasculation and examines the legacy of that campaign of racial terror.

In the Urban Dictionary, “buck breaking” is defined as “essentially black men being dominated by white men sexually. Black men are emasculated by getting used as a fleshlight for white men.” But this phrase references a much larger and uglier historic reality. The same one that now serves as raw material for racist punchlines online. You can find the meme in multiple racist videos on YouTube, like this one. There’s typically a Plantation Pepe, or a similar character, who tells the story of a buck breaking, and then a Southern-voiced old timer serves up the tale like it’s a bigoted bedtime story for a racist kid. Some of the videos include modern elements, like Lil Nas X. All of them leverage the groyper version of buck breaking, treating it as a funny sort of sexual domination of Black men by anxious white men. 

Buck breaking has since become a Simpsons crossover meme, based on a bit of wordplay from a 1999 episode and a deeply inside joke known as Sneed’s Feed & Seed and is primarily used as a way to mock Tariq Nasheed. He is indeed a lightning rod for controversy, and has been highly criticized for his denigration of Black women and queer Black men, with Refinery29 calling him “notorious for his misogynistic, queerphobic, xenophobic and often ahistorical commentary on Blackness in America.” He’s also a point of fascination for white supremacists and other denizens of digital far-right spaces who see Buck Breaking as a gift to them.

As one YouTube commenter posted under a Plantation Pepe buck-breaking video, “And to think this was self-inflicted by the black community. Tariq Nasneed served us Buck Breaking on a silver platter. And we broke that buck.” Over on Reddit, you can find the same sort of jokes:

Buck Breaking is described on IMDb in terms of its engagement in an open and ongoing conflict. “As a new threat to Black masculinity rises, Tariq ‘K-Flex’ Nasheed joins forces in this documentary to uncover the hidden agenda behind it,” which frankly, sounds like it was written by Nasheed himself. As promised by this description, Nasheed offers his take on buck breaking in the film among a panel of invited guests who all share their unchecked opinions on the history of how sexual violence is used to dehumanize Black people. 

In one scene, as Nasheed sits on the steps of a slave cabin dressed in all white, he tells us, “On plantations like this, we know that a lot of the Black women who were enslaved here were exploited sexually. And we know this because of the offspring, and the children they had. Children were mulatto, octoroon — so that was the evidence of the exploitation. One thing that was not talked about was the sexual exploitation of the Black men on the plantation.”

That statement, on the face of it, is wholly accurate. Unfortunately, not much else in the documentary is. At other points in the film, some of the invited speakers offer up unhinged assessments like, “The whole European expanse — that was a homosexual enterprise.” Another argues that the differing environments just after the last Ice Age explain why Europeans are prone to sexual assault. “When you’re in the ice, you’re not really thinking about healthy relationships — and quite frankly, when the urge hits you, any hole will do,” he concludes. Lastly, a different panelist theorizes that modern conceptions of white masculinity are based on homosexual encounters. “Professo Jane Wood, for example, in her book Not Gay documents that a critical element of white male masculinity is the ability to have gay sex as a straight white man. She said that’s a critical element of white male masculinity. So the very concept of white masculinity is predicated on the ability to sodomize,” they posit.

With uncooked nonsense like that on the table, Buck Breaking is easy for anyone to mock. Except bigots like the Buffalo shooter are less focused on the sloppy thinking than they are on the central theme of the film: Black men were sexually subjugated by white men so that these white men could exert their power. Young bigots find the rape of Black men hilarious. They let it linger in their thoughts. They write long, detailed and lurid posts of imagined sexual encounters with Black men. “That young buck Tariq Nasheed stole my heart and drank my seed,” they joke. They’re obviously incredibly fixated on Black genitals and what they do. But more than that, they’re obsessed with Black people because of their own personal bigotry and feelings of inadequacy — not because of any kind of history. 

Nasheed, of course, is toxic for his own reasons. But strangely, it’s a toxicity that overlaps with the white supremacists who make up a surprisingly large percentage of his audience. He gave them fuel for their own bigotry and dreams of exploitation they were incapable of realizing for themselves. So they steal what they can for their shitposts and memes, and when that’s not enough, they hand-paint three words on the side of their gun.