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Why I Have No Sympathy for Angry White Men

The media promotes their victim narrative 24-7. Donald Trump exploits their violent rage. Which gives white men a free pass to do as they will—and that spells disaster for people of color.
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I am so tired of hearing about the poor angry White males who feel our government has left them behind.

But it seems the media and politicians are incessantly focused on White male anxiety and rage this election season. Why? Apparently because they represent the heart of America—and their anxiety warrants understanding because it is their reason for supporting Donald Trump.

Their disillusionment needs to be heard since these feelings are why Trump’s racist and sexist appeals have found a large audience. Their plight, from the declining life expectancy to the heroin epidemic, from poverty to mass shootings, requires intervention because if White men are struggling, we are all doomed.

America is founded on the belief in the American Dream—for White men. Everyone from celebrities to politicians, from teachers to parents, repeatedly tells White men that if they work hard and pay their dues, they will be rewarded with a living wage, a good family, a roof over their heads, safety and security. They believe they are entitled to all of these things simply by virtue of their exceptionality, work ethic, and being the bedrock of America.

Worse yet, they have been sold a narrative that the tides have turned against them with affirmative action, diversity initiatives, marriage equality, Beyoncé at the Super Bowl, and, wait for it, a Black man living in a house for eight years that was built by slaves.

It’s hard out there for a White man. 

Political correctness has gotten so bad that White men can no longer wear blackface on Halloween. They can no longer assault women with impunity.  The fundamental promises of White privilege are under attack. They believe that it is only right and good that they should have what they want at the expense of everybody else. That their lives matter most of all. Every time.

This is the story we’re being fed about Trump supporters. Not surprisingly given the widespread allergies to facts, the truth is something different. But it turns out that the most ardent Trumpsters aren’t young men in the rural underclass. They are older retirees—former autoworkers, civil servants, small businesspeople and others—with pensions and other resources that put them in the “have” category in depressed small towns. Never mind that these communities have faced economic hard times because Trump and his band of oligarchs have spent decades avoiding taxes and shipping jobs overseas.

Despite a narrative that focuses on blue-collar voters, the Trump coalition is far more “diverse” in class, age, and geography. What binds them together?  Whiteness and masculinity! As Bob Cesca argues in Salon“Generally speaking, Trump supporters are non-college-educated white men, ranging from younger ‘bros’ to, more typically, white male baby-boomer retirees with plenty of spare time to be relentlessly irradiated by Fox News and AM talk radio. If you convince enough men that alleged outsiders (women, minorities, immigrants) are stripping them of their long-held power, as Fox News and others have done, there’s going to eventually be a fight, especially when one of those so-called outsiders is a black president with the middle name ‘Hussein.’ Older white men don’t intend to hand over power quietly, and they’ve been given the green light by irresponsibly influential leaders to bury their humility, their decency and their sense of reality.”

Bury their humility, their decency and their sense of reality.  But the rest of us are supposed to have sympathy for their salty tears.

We are told repeatedly that their anger seems rooted in their experience of enjoying generous wages and benefits—in some cases, for minimally skilled factory work. As a few pundits have noted, these angry proverbial widget turners don’t seem to get that, in the shift from the Industrial to the Information Age, those kinds of jobs, are never coming back. Meanwhile, a younger generation skates through school without taking vocational education seriously because they are counting on some future no-skill-required high-wage manufacturing job that will also disappear. And let’s not forget about all the college-educated folks who are piling up debt earning worthless degrees and not landing jobs that pay them enough to pay off their student loans and save money for the future.

Both those once blue-collar workers, and those who believe they should be hard-hatted Americans, blame everyone else for their problems.

“Many blue-collar white Americans are upset at the state of our country,” Michael Kimmel, the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University and author of the book, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, shares on Marketplace.org.

“Our society and economy has rapidly changed over the past few decades, and they’ve watched their way of life crumble. Their jobs are gone and they can no longer afford to send their kids to college. At the same time, their ‘silent majority’ is disappearing as the American populous rapidly becomes more diverse, and the people who were once disenfranchised minorities are granted a leg up. The men who bought into the American Dream are now frustrated that the social contract they felt entitled to has been broken and that they have been forgotten. And in the midst of this anger, they’ve latched onto someone they feel can make it all right again: Donald J. Trump.”

The economic ground has shifted under White men’s feet. As CNN.com reports in “The Men America Has Left Behind,” nearly one-quarter of White men with only a high-school diploma aren’t working. Many of these men, age 25 to 64, aren't just unemployed ... “they aren't even looking for a job, according to federal data. Their college-educated peers, however, have fared much better. Only about one in ten isn’t working.”

Why isn’t anyone suggesting that these beleaguered White men respond to their relatively new “hard times” by working hard and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps? Where are the people calling on these beleaguered Whites to develop empathy and compassion for those who have long been suffering, like African-Americans and other people of color? Why do we need to understand this community? Why is the opposite never suggested as a potential option? Is it because White men are simply not willing to emerge from their bubble and acknowledge the humanity of those they deem “other?” Or is it because they are unable to see beyond their own reality?

What we’re witnessing is racist populism all over again. Trump is following a historical pattern by stoking the racism, but especially as a rich White man pitting disenfranchised poor White people against Black people and especially Black people in low-income areas, telling them to intimidate and attack them at his rallies and at the polls, much in the same way poor Whites were pitted against poor Black people by elite White people to ensure there wouldn’t be a class uprising.

“The intellectual deformities and disfigurements of the average Trump supporter should provoke universal disgust, but a fun game for phonies has begun to sweep the liberal world of commentary, writes Salon’s David Maciotra in “We Must Shame Dumb Trump Fans: The White Working Class Are Not Victims,” about the disingenuous tendency of some liberal writers to try to identify with the plight of the white working class Trump supporter. “Some writers, in their desire to play dress-up as Woody Guthrie, have taken to writing maudlin essays on the victimhood and pitiable state of Trump fans. People who applaud an inarticulate blowhard’s description of Mexican immigrants as ‘rapists,’ cheer for proposals to ban Muslims from entry into the United States, and laugh at mockery of women’s looks and a disabled reporter’s mannerisms, are actually deserving of sympathy. According to the Guthrie poseurs, if liberals fail to cry crocodile tears for their idealized version of the ‘white, working class,’ they are actually responsible for the putrid rise of Trump.”

Just like their Southern White predecessors, today’s angry White men are shooting themselves in the foot while subjecting people of color to extreme danger. We can go back to the rationale for Jim Crow. Poor Whites bought into Jim Crow only to see themselves disfranchised, lose school funding, and get trapped into low-wage segregated jobs.  They choose racism every time, even when it leads to them losing ground economically.

Populist movements have always directed anger toward the “Other” and played off White sense of entitlement and the belief in superiority. What is new is the ways that 24-7 news media is aiding and abetting the current movement by making White men “special” and rendering their pain as exceptional.

As their rage grows and festers, many of the White people who are turning to maniacs like Donald Trump to “save” them are too dimwitted or vested in whiteness to realize that he is simply exploiting their anger. He doesn’t feel their “pain.” He doesn’t empathize with their fears in a shifting world. And he has no plans to take any action on their behalf.

Beneath and behind the popular complaints about the bad economy driving millions of white Americans to the Orange Menace, is the even greater fear of our nation’s rapidly-shifting demographics and the fact that White folks will no longer represent the “majority” that drives the nation’s power and policies. They’re realizing that White folks won’t be enjoying quite as many of the perks that they’ve come to view as their God-given right.

It isn’t economics alone that are firing up Trump’s supporters. This demographic, this voter base, these disenfranchised White men, are largely shaped and driven by rabidly right-wing media propaganda that promotes their sense of victimhood and justifies their rage. And yet they are still the victims. PLEASE.

Beyond privilege and embodying “the greatness of America,” the assumption is that White men are smart, hard working, moral, and righteous fuels the idea that if the White men are not living the American Dream the system must be broken. For everyone else, failure is a sign of individual failure, cultural failure, and communal shortcomings but if White men ain’t winning, the game is rigged.

The narrative is dangerous because it takes attention away from system and the elites controlling it.  It privileges White male experiences of hardship. It also gives credence to stereotypes about the OTHER. It says that the media and politicians need to understand the White male voter in Ohio or Pennsylvania but not the black voter in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, or New Orleans that the Orange Menace wants to be watched closely at the polls on Election Day.

But notice that when Black and Latino youth protest, nobody in the media or political circles demand that we “understand pain and frustration.” When people talk about joblessness and poverty in communities of color, we don't get exposés that give a space to their rightful anger, stories that blame the system. We get the exact opposite.

In the 1970s when thousands of Blacks in Detroit, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn lost work as companies outsourced jobs overseas and into Southwest, politicians and media elites did not descend into these communities with microphones and policy proposals. Instead, they sent police officers and the system of mass incarceration. And White America said: Good! Keep us safe from those criminals. Now that these same forces are looking up White men and women, they are crying injustice and understand our plight.  

Many of America’s White men are under the influence of the powerful drug of White privilege and Donald Trump and his media accomplices are all too willing to provide them with a fix over and over again.

White men have choices, but many are so high on their notions of power and permanence that they’d rather go down with the “poor White man” ship than learn, grow and get with the rest of the world.

I’d like to welcome them to the world that people of color have lived in for centuries, with no hope of reprieve and no resources for reprisal. Let the salt of their tears season their brains to see beyond all the traps that they have laid for themselves in the minefields of White supremacy and entitlement.

While Donald Trump and his unmerry men have refused to provide some tough love, I am willing to accept this challenge.

This is what I have to say to all the angry White men out there: Don’t get mad! Stop looking for scapegoats and saviors. Stop blaming everyone but the system that you helped create in your own image. Look in the mirror and seek some truth. Some wisdom. Some humility. Dry those white tears and get yourselves together so you can see that the war you’re waging is really against yourselves, and the fingers you point have a way of leading back to you as the true cause of your woes.

You could be more. You could do more. The potential is there for you to see through a wider lens and stop privileging your comfort and humanity over everyone else’s. If you choose to cry yourself a river and then drown in it, don’t point your fingers anywhere but at your own chest because you have only yourselves to blame.

 

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Stacey Patton is an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University and is the author of the forthcoming book, SPARE THE KIDS: WHY WHUPPING CHILDREN WON'T SAVE BLACK AMERICA. Follow her: @DrStaceyPatton.
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