Rev. Thomas, the former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, is now a professor and administrator here at CTS. Follow his timely, provocative writings on the issues of our day.
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Angry White Men
The economic disappointments faced by many white men in the United States over the past twenty-five years ought to elicit our concern and response. But when those disappointments become justification for a sense of victimization that encourages racist, sexist, xenophobic and violently aggressive attitudes and behaviors, sympathy wanes. The economic malaise gripping much of lower and middle class Americans – white and non-white – is real. For years political elites and their patrons have ignored and exacerbated the struggles many Americans face, benefiting in the process from the inequality they have fostered. I get it that people are angry. I am, too.
But the anger of white men is grossly misdirected when it is turned on people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and Muslims. Populist indignation, justified in many ways, merely becomes a respectable veneer for the ugliest and most dangerous strains of American culture that have infected parts of our society since its colonial founding. Political pretenders who bestow mainstream respectability on that ugliness deserve only our scorn for unleashing the demons of our nation on the most vulnerable of our citizens. And white men who embrace a hate infused victimization should evoke neither pity nor respect.
Last weekend I attended a community organizing convention with a lot of other white men. (There were a lot of white women, as well as many men and women of color also in attendance.) Most of the white men present undoubtedly had experienced some of the economic disappointments that we hear so much about in this year’s presidential campaign; this was not a gathering of the 1%! But these white men turned their anxieties and disappointments into solidarity rather than venom. Their experiences forged a community of resistance and hope that transcends race and class, gender and national origin. It was the very antithesis of a Trump rally and, therefore, the true image of what an America made great again might really look like.
These white men were part of a coalition working to retain affordable housing for the poor in their community in the face of gentrification, to provide equitable funding for public schools, to create fair tax systems to support a government with the capacity to fulfil its responsibilities, to restore funds for mental health care and for opportunities for independent living for women and men struggling with mental illness, and demanding that financially needy students have the same chance for a college education that their wealthy peers have. These angry white men know that America’s future resides not in the preservation of whiteness as the priority status for America, but in government that works well, neighbors who welcome strangers and care for those who are struggling, corporations that invest in their communities while they pursue their profits, employers who treat their workers with dignity and pay them fairly, and schools that break down rather than reinforce class privilege.
The myth of the beleaguered white male in America is laughable to people of color who have lived under the violent dominance of white privilege for centuries, to woman who are denied equal pay, control over their own bodies, or safety in their own homes, and to immigrants who have toiled in the dirty jobs that no one else wants. Laughable, except the myth has become a convenient rationale for those who stoke the anger that fuels their continued assault on black bodies, women’s bodies, immigrant’s bodies.
America will not be saved by either the great manipulator or the scary zealot currently vying for the favor of disappointed and disaffected white men. Nor will it be saved by either the resignation or the rage that compete for our attention. America will be saved, if it is to be saved, when the angry white men frightened of losing their grip on privilege recognize the vanity of that quest and claim their solidarity with those who have never known any privilege, joining their voices and their votes around an American dream that no longer requires the domination of black, brown, red, queer and foreign born neighbors, the control of women’s bodies, or the default to aggression and violence that so dominates our public square.
John H. Thomas
April 14, 2016