Why the 'End' of White Men Is Actually Good for White Men


More than 200 years of American bro-ocracy have come to an end.

It’s not just the election results. While white men still dominate in board rooms and country clubs and Congress, the cultural and political influence of the melanin-deficient male is unmistakably on the wane. This is a good thing for everyone else, of course. But it’s also a good thing for the dudes who get to lay down the “white man’s burden.”

The day after the election, I tweeted that I was glad that “middle-aged, middle-class white men like me no longer have sole control of the levers of power.” A friend in my same demographic shot back grimly that “after all, we are the cause of all that is wrong and soul-less in the world, or so the narrative goes.” We’ve all heard a variation on that point before, as white dudes complain that they’re unfairly held accountable for historic and contemporary injustices. Whining about “reverse racism” or about being “blamed” for the exclusionary practices of those who shared (and share) our color, our class, and our sex doesn’t change the reality that we’re the ones who’ve enjoyed unearned advantages for eons.

So instead of mourning, it’s time for middle-class white dudes to look on the bright side. Not only do we get a more inclusive, fairer nation, we also get these priceless benefits that come along with the loss of our once vaunted power.

1. We’ll probably live longer. The life-span for white men without a college education is actually shrinking, while Hispanic males are the longest-lived American men. For affluent white guys, being in control all the time takes a toll on the heart; for poorer white men, rage at not having what you think is rightfully yours by virtue of your skin color can lead to lethally reckless behavior. The sooner white men let go of the anxiety and resentment that accompany unearned privilege, the healthier and happier we’ll likely be.

2. We can finally stop the unhelpful whining about our white guilt. Of course, the fact that white men don’t have the power they once did doesn’t mean they don’t still benefit from unmerited privilege. But perhaps this dramatic loss of influence is a good opportunity to listen to anti-racism advocates like Tim Wise. Guilt over what our ancestors did is useless and self-indulgent, Wise says; instead, we “have to take some responsibility for the unearned advantage, which means working to change the society that bestows that advantage.” So quit it with the sulking and the navel-gazing about whether your ancestors’ sins apply to you.

3. Women –- and everyone else –- will be more likely to tell us the truth. The more privilege you have (or are perceived to have) the riskier it is for someone who doesn’t share that privilege to be honest with you. Anglican feminist theologian Janet Morley suggests that when the privileged use power to dominate, they force the less privileged to use their “weakness to manipulate.” Most people dislike being manipulated — and yet a system in which women and non-whites lack equal access to power is one in which honesty often comes with dangerously high risks. We soothe people whom we fear, and we flatter when we’ve got few other options to get what we need. The more power white men hold in public and private, the less likely that they can fully trust the smiles and the nods and the “yesses” of those who don’t share their privilege. Put simply, when we lose our privilege, we’ll start to be able to trust what we hear.

4. We can –- maybe –- trust our successes are due to our merit. One of the most pernicious tropes in the affirmative action debate is that minority and gender-based preferences in admissions or hiring make it impossible for non-whites and women to be sure of their own abilities. For two generations, angry white men have complained that they aren’t given any special benefits by the state. This lament, of course, ignores what’s obvious to everyone who isn’t wearing blinders. (Privilege conceals itself best from those who possess it.) The benefits of whiteness and maleness are so numerous (Peggy McIntosh’s famous 50 point list hardly covers them all) that most white men just can’t see them. Though middle-aged white men like me may never know just how much of our success is due to unmerited advantage, the eclipsing of our power means that our sons and grandsons have at least a better chance of growing up in a world where their triumphs will be due solely to their merits, not their skin or their sex.

The choice is stark. On the one hand, we can retreat, as conservative columnist John Sullivan warns we might, into “defensive minority consciousness… defending every item of privilege and resenting every loss.” That’s a recipe not only for electoral defeat but also increasingly bitter alienation from the two-thirds of our fellow Americans who aren’t white men.

On the other hand, we can begin to let go of this self-imposed burden that hasn’t made us happy and has frequently served to make everyone else justifiably miserable. It may not be a brave new world, but it’s a better and fairer one for being browner and more female. The sooner we acknowledge that, the more content — and fully human — we’ll get to be.

Jezebel columnist Hugo Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College and is a nationally-known speaker on sex, masculinity, body image and beauty culture. He also blogs at his eponymous site. Follow him on Twitter: @hugoschwyzer.

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