I am tired of hearing white men are “feeling” attacked. White men are “feeling” their status is slipping away from them. White men are “feeling” they are not in the powerful position they used to occupy. At times, this extends to whites at large, to the incredible point of surveys saying many whites feel they were better off back in the 1950s. Jim Crow must have been a blast for them!
It is not merely that they “feel” those things. Almost all those things are more or less true. Nobody is attacking white men, but most definitely we are confronting and aiming to dismantle a structure that has placed them atop society and exempted them from the supposedly meritocratic rules by which they purport to measure everyone else’s success and deservedness. Those of us fighting to increase equality of access and opportunity across the nation would do well by not feeding the conventional wisdom of explaining to white males how they are not actually losing ground. Yes, that may be tactical and even strategic, but it is also wrong, morally and ethically. It is true that the conservative politicians, particularly the lowest manifestations of them, use these white male’s feelings to convince them that somebody is doing them wrong; that the economy and the country are a zero sum game, therefore, as others are raising, whites must inevitably fall.
I do believe we need to communicate clearly how a very unfair economic system is to blame for their plight; so they do not continue to fault those that are, actually, their partners in misery. We also need to remind them that they were lied to by making them believe they were whites, therefore, they would always be better off than the rest just by their light skin birthright. That is the substantive, data driven discussion. Right now, I am more concerned with the moral and ethical one.
A New Yorker’s piece about Nativism and Trump quoted some of the white supremacist leaders warning of how whites will become a minority in “their own” country, and how they will not be able to make decisions anymore and someone will make decisions for them. That is their rallying cry.
[Brad] Griffin, a blogger for the League of the South, told me that the removal of the flag had crystallized “fears that people have about what happens when we become a minority. What happens when we have no control over things? You’re seeing it play out right now.”
We do not need to correct that by saying: “it is not true, nobody is taking your privileges away – by the way, you still have plenty of them – and you should not be afraid of other groups trying to partake in American society.” It is so interesting that these white men who represent all that is supposedly strong within our country carry so much frailty and need so much catering to, so much consoling when faced with a world they cannot rule without obstacles.
At some point, we should acknowledge that their “feelings” are right. They are not merely feeling their privileges are slipping away from them. They are experiencing it. That is how it should be. We should say, “Yes, you are losing your privileges, but you didn’t have any right to be privileged over others to begin with. No, you are not losing your ability nor your right to make your own decisions, but, yes, you are losing your ability and your right to impose your decisions to everyone else. You never should have had that ability nor that right in the first place. Moreover, of course, when it comes to decisions that affect the community at large, you have just one vote as the rest of us. You should never have had more than one. Therefore, no, not all decisions would go your way. Talk to some black folks, they have plenty of training on how to deal with disappointment and being overruled and ruled over. The good thing is, at least you get one vote too. Yes, you are no longer alone in those powerful positions you usurped in the past. Now, you have to compete with others, and not all of them are white and not all of them are male and some may even be transgender…who knew all those people were…people? Lastly, yes, of course, when the pool of competitors widens the competition is tougher. They lied to you when they said you were more deserving just by the accident of your birth. It is sad, but it is true. Therefore, yes, perhaps you will not beat that black woman for that position. You can cry yourself to sleep every night blaming affirmative action, or you can check her performance and record and see why she won. They are still lying to you when they say it is due to Mexicans and blacks getting all those incredible benefits that you are stuck in the early 20th century in your Middle America former manufacturing or mining town. It is not the Chinese’s fault either. It is called global capitalism: they told you it was great, they just did not tell you for whom. Yes, it was good when a high school education could get you a great manufacturing job for the rest of your life. However, when you left school with that high school diploma, there were plenty of people around the world getting university degrees in places where they would be willing to work for a lot less than a high-school graduate would ask for in the U.S. Guess where the corporations decided to take their jobs?”
We should confront white men and whites in general with that simple truth and appeal to their honesty and morality: Your privileges were wrong and your goods were ill-gotten. Nothing you can do about the past, but a lot that you can do about the present and the future. Therefore, it is actually just that you lose those privileges and that we build a society that helps us all build on the goods.
We are not enemies. But, we sadly were enemies for a long, long time. Moreover, communities of color are still reeling, not just emotionally, but economically from those centuries. However, now, more than ever, we need each other to work this out together. When you hear that whites are dying younger and getting sicker, do not think that means blacks are having a ball. While making advances, blacks are still worse off. The problem is nobody expected whites to fare this bad. Yet again, notice, which whites are faring badly, and the words of James Baldwin and Martin Luther King will fill your brain: those who were told they were white.
By Isabel Manuela Estrada Portales, Ph.D., M.S.
DISCLAIMER: These are my personal views and do not represent the opinions of my employer, or any other organization.