Humanity Has a Serious White Man Problem

Have you ever watched reality TV shows such as Hoarders? A disgusting but all-too-common urge to both glamorize and demonize, all in the name of entertainment and celebrity?

Have you ever wondered why pop culture often turns our gaze on these people (or any group deemed profitable fodder for such filth)—and thus, turning our gaze away from other groups?

This didn’t take much effort, but let me try my hand at a similar technique, although I am merely working here in words. Consider the following:

Feel free to let me do the heavy lifting here, but also, I invite you to wade into the above for yourself: The thread running through these pieces gathered quickly and easily the day after Columbus Day is the violent, rapacious white man who hoards money and power at the expense of and on the backs of others and then uses that money and power too often to abuse and even kill those deemed weaker or lesser than these white men.

That we have failed to address the white man disease in humanity is not some great accident, however. Once with power, white men have carefully orchestrated how we view the world through keeping our gaze elsewhere, such as our manufactured fear of Muslim terrorists and centuries-long narratives of violent black men.

This slight of hand has mesmerized us into worshipping these horrible, often soulless men—Hugh Hefner, Christopher Columbus, Donald Trump—because of their bravado, wealth, and power.

White men, often themselves mediocre, have parleyed their amassed wealth (typically begun in eras characterized by the very worst of human nature) into assuring that the general public has developed a skewed system for evaluating self-worth: white men are forgiven any and every flaw because “he built this,” but everyone else cannot survive even one flaw, unless s/he is conveniently associated with the right white man.

The power of the arrogant white man is so intense, so capable of charming a people, that in the U.S. many excuse Trump minute by minute for the deplorable human he proves himself to be while following his Pied Piper lead to demonize Colin Kaepernick.

And while the rise of Trump is one of the most disgusting and oft-repeated narratives of U.S. history, it is a slow-boil story, and we are the willing lobsters who gleefully offer ourselves up for the pot.

More catastrophic—and all the more hard to understand as worthy of our disregard—is Stephen Paddock, murderous white man who is the most recent recipient of the inordinate passes white men receive: media headlines never offering his race and refusing to call him “terrorist,” family and friends shocked and confirming he was just your Average Joe, and the ultimate tone-deaf claim that there was simply nothing to tip us off about his reign of horror (because a certain kind of white man can walk through this world without any sort of scrutiny, even as he amasses an arsenal—or systematically sexually abuses women).

So let’s turn here to thinking carefully about this world built by white men—because the architects have insured this world protects them and as a consequence it works against everyone else.

While these rapacious white men use “I built this” as their shield, we must recognize it as supreme distraction; they are hiding something very insidious behind that shield, in fact: their mediocrity, their soullessness, their monstrosity.

As a white man, I speak from experience; the shield is powerful, more powerful than we tend to admit.

But also as a white man who believes to my marrow in a better world where equity and justice are achieved for every human, I am left with a disturbing quandary.

I have a fantasy that one day every worker in the service industry simply refuses to work; this act of resistance would highlight the inherent scam that is capitalism (the white man’s paradise), the false narrative that the owners and bosses are worth more than the workers.

That fantasy has a new version—one in which every black athlete in the NFL takes a knee and refuses to play a down of any NFL game so that the league and our so-called political leaders are forced to eat their words, called on their bluffs as the blow-hard balloons they are.

But these fantasies are the musings of a white man who recognizes that it is not the responsibility of the oppressed to end such inequities. yet, this system built by white men is a trap: workers are enslaved by hourly wages and tethered to work-bound insurance and retirement so that those workers have no real humanity left, no option to assert their dignity, their voices.

Even very wealthy black NFL athletes who are taking ethical positions are being cast as the bad guy—a perverse rebooting of the white hat/black hat Hollywood whitewashing of cowboys and Indians:

It’s the propaganda that irks [James Baldwin] most, the betrayal of the imagination. Baldwin has predictable issues with John Wayne, but the squeaky-clean Gary Cooper puts the most deceptive face on the killing of Indians. If you’re black, Baldwin says, you identify with Coop until you realize that the Indians are you, and that Coop, and Wayne, is a symptom of a culture that won’t “grow up” and face a history that has “no moral justification.” It’s “the lie of pretended humanism.” It’s Coop and it’s — wait for it — Doris Day.

Like Baldwin, we need this moment of recognition—that we have been duped, conned, hypnotized.

It no easy thing to admit that we are patsies, but we are being used.

Now, there is no question about white men being outnumbered, but there remains a question about whether or not everyone else is really any better than these mediocre white men ruling us.

That question terrifies me nearly as much as all the Trump-hoarders ruling this world.

Fatalism Ate Our Democracy: “Today. Tomorrow. Always”

Forget it, nothing I change changes anything

“Walk It Back,” The National

On social media and in real life (IRL), I am experiencing a pattern.

For more than three decades now, mainstream education reformers have told me that there is nothing we can do about childhood poverty, racism, sexism, etc., so we must “fix” our schools and those students struggling because of all those inequities we simply cannot change.

Every time a mass shooting happens, people wave their arms and tell me that gun laws won’t stop violence; there simply is nothing we can do.

Over the last several months as I have witnessed my mother suffering in the wake of a stroke exponentially worsened by the U.S. healthcare and medical insurance monstrosities, even healthcare professionals respond to arguments for single-payer universal healthcare with “Good luck with that!” Never going to happen.

Fatalism appears more pervasive that the new national hobby of staring at a smart phone—joined only by the long-standing practice of most people existing as a heaping mound of contradiction.

The “nothing we can do about guns” crowd tends to be the same people who do want to regulate a woman’s ability to choose her reproduction options, do want demand that people show proper types of uniform patriotism, do staunchly advocate for the death penalty, mass incarceration, and militarized policing—but there is *sigh* just nothing we can do about gun violence because of that darn Second Amendment and, you know, people would still kill each other with knives and baseball bats.

Fatalism, then, is a convenient cover for those seeking ways to impose their political will on others; and thus, Paul Freire asserts: “I have always rejected fatalism. I prefer rebelliousness because it affirms my status as a person who has never given in to the manipulations and strategies designed to reduce the human person to nothing.”

Fatalism’s mantra—”Don’t bother!”—”reduce[s] the human person to nothing”—it de-democratizes, dehumanizes.

Like Freire, James Baldwin, then, expresses the antithesis to fatalism, hope: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually” (Notes of a Native Son, 1955).

“[T]o criticize…perpetually” is to cast off “Don’t bother,” to recognize that our ideals have merit but that we have failed to reach those ideals—and then we still have the capacity to do so.

And so I come back to the U.S. as a disturbing outlier in gun violence. These gruesome realities are not about the enormity of how a people can at least decrease the senseless loss of life that comes with our gun-lust; but this debate is about political and cultural will.

For a people seemingly obsessed with choice, we are far too willing to choose fatalism when it suits us, to become passive and “o, well” when the consequences somehow seem to be in someone else’s interest.

And for a people so eager to shout “American exceptionalism!” I wonder how we can ignore that many other countries insure all their citizens, have reduced their gun violence, and have created a culture that genuinely seeks to honor the meek and weak and vulnerable.

Freire recognized that the “freedom that moves us, that makes us take risks”—risks for a better world—is in fact a threat to those who believe the status quo is worth maintaining. Those beholden to the status quo—good for some, unfair to many—call for “conformity in the face of situations considered to be irreversible because of destiny”—thus, gun laws won’t change anything, or we’ll never have universal healthcare.

And a cousin to our fostered fatalism is our ahistorical mind, one that clings to traditional history but somehow rejects “revisionist” history:

To the degree that the historical part if not “problematized” so as to be critically understood, tomorrow becomes simply the perpetuation of today. Something that will be because it will be, inevitably. To that degree, there is no room for choice. There is only room for well-behaved submission to fate. Today. Tomorrow. Always.

Our fatalism has eroded our souls as a people, consumed our democracy.

We are a people more offended by black athletes kneeling during the national anthem than free people slaughtered while attending a music concert, children slaughtered while attending school.

Today. Tomorrow. Always?

Gun-Lust: This Is America. This Is Who We Are. Pt. II

 

I was neither surprised or even disappointed when comments on my Facebook page were shallow, insensitive, and simply ridiculous in response to my post against the gun-lust that defines the U.S.: Know guns, know violence; no guns, no violence.

The most ridiculous was the counter argument that if we had no guns people would still be violent with ball bats.

Not kidding. That was a rebuttal.

For the record, I am in full support for a complete exchange in the U.S.—all gun owners swapping those weapons for bats.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, and I was disappointed, however, when I waded into the Las Vegas shooting with my college students. My university population is skewed socially and politically conservative as well as traditionally Christian. Although the college was once affiliated with the Southern Baptist church, that ended decades ago and the school was never a religious college.

I always die a little on the inside when I share the research base solidly refuting corporal punishment, prompting several students to respond angrily in favor of spanking: “I was spanked and I turned out fine,” the typical rebuttal as hollow as the bat argument above.

Three first year students were more than bothered and eager to challenge the concerns I raised in our first-year seminar about access to guns in the U.S. and the uniquely violent culture of our country when compared internationally.

Their arguments fell into three categories: adamant commitments to owning guns for self defense (with the undercurrent that home invasions are somehow an ever-present danger), a belief that the Second Amendment was in part designed to allow U.S. citizens to defend themselves against a rogue U.S. government (and that remains relevant in 2017), and the recognition that many in the U.S. cling to gun ownership as a symbol for individual freedom (one student noted that his family owns several guns but they never use them in any way).

One similarity to my students’ arguments and the push-back on Facebook has been the sense of fatalism—there simply is no way to end all gun violence or all violence so let’s not restrict our freedom, again represented by merely owning a gun.

In class, I found data on international comparisons showing that the U.S. is an extreme outlier for rates of gun violence, and I posed the idea that wouldn’t we all take the rates of next highest nation (a much lower rate) if that were possible through policy change.

30 yrs mass shootings.png
Six things to know about mass shootings in America (The Conversation)

And with that, I argued that we are all complicit in our violent nation, our gun-lust: This is America. This is who we are.

My students who defended gun rights immediately balked at the carnage of LasVegas is something the citizens of the U.S. have chosen.

Facebook ignorance has become nearly as commonplace as mass shootings in the U.S. But I have tried to remain hopeful about young people, that the future can hold a better us: “This place could be beautiful,/right? You could make this place beautiful.”

As my students demonstrate, young people have been engrained with irrational but compelling beliefs that are not supported by evidence; entrenched symbolism remains powerful in the U.S. well beyond the origins of those symbols.

The practical and very real importance of guns in the founding and expansion of the U.S. certainly contrasts significantly with today—but the symbolism (guns equal freedom) endures.

Symbolism and the resulting fatalism are the death of us as a people—unless somehow we are able to make facts matter. Otherwise, our future is as dim as our past and our present.

Suggested Readings

How dangerous people get their weapons in America

Six things to know about mass shootings in America

When gun control makes a difference: 4 essential reads

1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America’s gun crisis – in one chart

America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 17 maps and charts

Visualizing gun deaths: Comparing the U.S. to rest of the world

@JamesFallows offers two dark American truths from Las Vegas

In the U.S., Where the Female Nipple Is More Dangerous Than a Gun