Wednesday, May 30, 2012

White Men: a status update

image of book cover is from here
I have been struggling to know what to write here lately. I suspect it's just a period of inner exploration not quite meant for public display and discussion. For now, I'll offer up some disjointed thoughts and observations.

I'm dealing with an illness of a dear friend, and with transforming old increasingly dysfunctional patterns in my life that live most determinedly in my mind. The friend is demonstrating great courage and fortitude in confronting the condition which threatens her life. I am less diligent in challenging myself. She has fewer options than I do: to not fight is to be consumed with despair. I can distract myself sufficiently with opportunities afforded me by various forms of structural advantage.

I wonder how whiteness and maleness, as political realities, not biological realities or only-social and only-psychological ones, shape what whites and males know and do.

Let me get a bit more specific. I see whites, in particular, operate in the world as if our race is not consequential: as if our whiteness is sort of an neutral reality, like having relatively pale skin. I see how whites who live among each other in neighborhoods either conservatively view people of color as a threat or see people of color as liberally enriching the lives of whites. In either case, the force and ferocity of whiteness is not comprehended. So, for example, among the whites I know, white neighborhoods are viewed as good because they are white, not dangerous because they are white. White male-dominated societies are viewed as less dangerous than societies ruled by men of color. This means whites don't comprehend what it is whiteness does in the world.

Men do tend to "get it" that men are dangerous, including to women. What is especially atrocious is that too many men value being an apparent or actual threat to women or to other men, or more than a threat: a predator, a perpetrator, a tyrant and terrorist. What too many masculinist men value about themselves is the ability and practice of being threatening or domineering or destructive to females of all ages and to non-masculine males. But centering men in understandings of human cultures and "natures" is still common practice and not one seen as oppressive and harmful.

Equating male whiteness, when heterosexual, with health, with normalcy, with moral goodness, with accomplishment and attractiveness, with greatness and genius, means that whites and men are encouraged, systemically, to view people of color, and especially women of color, as not capable of defining and embodying the parameters of health, goodness, and accomplishment.

Hard work is something white men claim as an important value: "People shouldn't expect a hand-out" is something I've heard white men say all my life, usually casting aspersions on impoverished women struggling to survive with or without so-called "welfare". They do so never quite realising exactly how much society hands out resources for economic and social survival unjustly to white men only because they are white and male. When rich people in the West, most often white and male, are given so much that is unearned; it seems like one way to disperse the guilt is to project it onto those who get so much less.

White men I know too often carry the arrogance of those assumed by their race and sex peers to be mostly right and usually smart. I've yet to meet even a handful of white men who view their own values and viewpoints as necessarily lacking in merit, insight, and wisdom. White men do not typically view themselves this way: as a global minority out of touch with what most humans on Earth do to live and support one another's well-being.

Living with a structurally conditioned lack of stigma and institutionalised ascription of status means that one cannot fully see who one is or what one's actions do.

As a white male, I work to be conscious of my position, my location, and how my own inner struggles, however scary or perilous, are made less life-threatening due to all the forms of life support given to me inside a white and male supremacist society.


billyymcmahon said...

Julian, I really like this post. Oftentimes I'll the vibe from others (whether in analytic philosophy, news programming, friends, and so on) that the most important thing is to be detached from physicality (mind::body duality leading to all sorts of trouble) in order to be "neutral". The “playing field of life” (so to speak) is argued to be equalized because everyone just needs to “work hard” and not rely on “handouts” or something like that. But so many things are wrong with that rationale that I couldn’t even get started on it, ha! You have some very insightful thoughts!

Julian Real said...

Thanks for that comment, and for your support, Billy!