I am not a white man. I am a man who believes himself to be white, and there are many people who believe it as well. I stole this language from Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer far more articulate than me, but the idea has been tumbling around in my head for a while now. I am not rejecting my white male privilege, my white male experience, nor the experience of others who’ve benefitted or suffered from this malignant idea that is race. I am however rejecting its intrinsic reality because it dehumanizes our species.
I was seven maybe eight years old when I stood with my mom at the edge of human horror, the Guatemala City dump. Tin and cardboard houses rimmed the edge of a steaming garbage pit. Packs of dogs, spiraling vultures, and starving people all fought each other for the shit that others had thrown away. I remember wondering why my mom didn’t want me to touch the ground with my bare hands when I saw kids my own age living on that ground. Her expression told me she didn’t have a good answer. Why are we born to whom we’re born isn’t a question that has an answer, it’s purely random. We do nothing to deserve the privilege that our parent’s wealth, our statehood, or our genes happen to give us; that was my first lesson. My second lesson was simpler: just because I don’t see something happening in front of me doesn’t mean that it’s not happening somewhere. And as long as my lungs draw breath, my humanity is intrinsically tied to the humanity of those on whose backs my privilege rests.
We white men can’t help but be on the spectrum of narcissistic personality disorder. It’s hard not to feel in your bones that the privilege and power that comes with your every step isn’t god-given. When confronted with the painful reality that the world might not exist simply to serve our desires, we lash out. Poor uneducated white men who make up the vast majority of the voting block supporting the racist, misogynist, and xenophobic policies of Donald Trump are not intrinsically bad people. However, they are more viscerally confronted with the reality of their ordinariness than men of the educated and wealthy intelligentsia. Furthermore, they often lack an emotional and social toolbox to deal with this new reality. This impotent male rage played out in horrifying fashion recently in Cologne, Germany where immigrant men gathered in mass and sexually assaulted groups of women. These men are scum deserving prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, but they are also symptomatic of something more universal. They’re men who have held power over women their whole lives due to global misogyny, and suddenly they’re thrust out of their positions of power and forced to assume the role of refugees. When confronted by this new reality, they lash out like animals.
Men who believe themselves to be white in America are suffering another delusion about our whiteness: the myth that we are being persecuted. Talk radio, tv, country music, and political rhetoric all tell the same story: that traditional values are under assault, freedoms are being taken away, family values are disappearing, and that there is a culture of political correctness. This reaction shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; white men have been running rampant over the world since time immemorial and just as society has evolved to legitimately push back against this injustice, there comes a man in Donald Trump who harnesses the impotent rage that has been building among those who are losing their power.
Fighting against oppression in language and structure isn’t political correctness or repression, it’s an acknowledgement of injustice and an important step to bettering the human race. There hasn’t been a legitimate debate in American politics since I’ve been alive, but up until now, through vague racism, half-truths, and remarkable leveraging of religious beliefs, the Republican party has been able to pass themselves off as more than greedy xenophobic evangelists manipulating uneducated whites to vote against their own interests. Today however, Donald Trump has wiped off the spit shine that has covered the pile of shit that is Republican politics. In one way, the anti-immigrant, anti-muslim, anti-women rhetoric spewing out of the republican primaries has led to possibly one of the most honest conversations our country has ever had.
When our country was founded, slavery was the law of the land. Then on May 9th 1865 the confederacy lost the civil war. Soon thereafter, Jim Crow laws were enacted and lasted one hundred years until 1965. Since the civil rights movement in the sixties, we’ve continued to have disparities in justice, incarceration, education, and housing policy, not to mention the vast inequalities and discrimination in regards to gender, sexuality, and religion. America was never “great,” but it’s always had the potential to be the very best. We have the potential to be great not because of some bullshit idea of American exceptionalism, but due to the fact that although our country was founded on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, we are also a nation of immigrants who were given one of the most brilliant constitutions and forms of government the world had ever seen.
That brilliant government however, will only work if it’s held up by an educated and healthy populace that’s free from discrimination on the basis of gender, race sexuality, and religion. Lofty thoughts from from an armchair philosopher though, because on an individual level I’m not sure where to go from here. Starting tomorrow I’ll be working 12 hour days 5 days/week with a 24 hour shift on Saturday, work being an easy excuse to slide into the power and wealth that can seem natural and god-given to men like me. I’m under no illusion that I’m anything but fortunate however, because I’m finally out of the classroom and training in possibly the most interesting job in the world. However, it means that if I’m not intentional about staying engaged in the world around me, I’m going to find myself gliding along on that moving sidewalk without a thought to breaking it. Fortunately though, I have incredible examples in both my brother and mom who work for social justice with self-reflection and passion that feed off the energy their work creates. Furthermore, I have a father who reminds me through examples and words how important it is to carry myself with integrity and treat those around me with respect.
I’m writing today at the very real risk of mansplaining, so I can begin to formulate this conversation, a conversation I want to keep having as long as I can and as long as it’s necessary. I’m writing in honor of the people around me to whom this conversation and these values come without thinking.