White men must re-examine position in society
On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Esquire magazine published an article titled "The Life of an American boy at 17."
The article, a profile of a 17-year-old student living in Wisconsin, sparked an immediate and visceral reaction online. As a student of virtually the same identity, I was at least curious about what the article would have to say.
Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed. Unlike some, who felt compelled to criticize the premise, I think an examination of the experience of young white men has the potential to be a useful article. Indeed, this was why I was so disappointed to find a bland and uninsightful rehashing of tired teenage tropes.
Given the degree of power we hold, there is actually a shockingly small selection of articles and authors that view white men as a distinct group, with unique experiences. This is because in America, white men are viewed as "the baseline." The standard American experience is considered to be white and male, and almost all cultural criticisms question how being apart from that whiteness and that masculinity affects people.
This is obviously a problem for the way it ostracizes and marginalizes the experiences of everyone who is not like me. But I would contend that it's also not particularly helpful for white men.
The only group that has made a real effort to write articles aimed at white men are far right figures. This isn't a critique of feminist writing, or writing about race, or anything that deals with systemic social imbalances. That writing carries a vital significance in our society.
In fact, this is intended as the opposite. The problem is that no white men are willing to supplement that writing by analyzing their own role within a white supremacist and patriarchal society.
But it would be a mistake to think that this is accidental. It's a defining feature of toxic masculinity: it's self-reinforcing. It creates men who are terrified to talk about their problems. And in doing so, it creates men incapable of addressing those problems.
But we need to solve those problems. We need to talk about the fact that every single school shooter looks like me. And we need to talk about how racism and sexism dehumanizes people.
We need to talk about the fact that more and more white guys feel depressed and suicidal. That they're abusing drugs at higher rates, that their life expectancy is dropping, and that deaths of despair are skyrocketing.
There are a lot of white guys who feel powerless, who feel sad, who feel angry or impotent. And we're doing a bad job of explaining what's going on. And we can't afford to let racists and bigots be the only people offering explanations. Because the truth is, white guys aren't oppressed. We're by and large incredibly privileged.
The white male experience is unique. In many ways it's more privileged and less painful. But it's still not great for the vast majority of people, and if we ignore that, the void will be filled by people who say that white men are oppressed.
Left wing movements, movements that not only would benefit the vast majority of men, but are also morally and politically the right thing to do, are consistently broken by the fact that so many men oppose policies that are in their own interests. This is because they are not being reached by people who could communicate to them the ways that being in a position of societal privilege warps your minds, and drives you to support policies that are actually harming you.
History has shown that young men who lose faith in the system can quickly become a dangerous force. Some would say that this danger necessitates rolling back the progress of diversification and expansion of rights, to avoid a white male backlash. But this is a lie.
The interests of the average white man are not somehow separate from the interests of anyone else in this world. We are all damaged by economic and social inequality. And as white men, we must understand that we have far more in common with the average person of another gender or race than we do with a millionaire politician, who might well look like us, who might even promise to exploit us slightly less, but who is at the end of the day doing everything in his power to advance his economic and social interests at the expense of our own.
It is our obligation to overcome that. Our obligation as men and our obligation as human beings. For we are in the same boat as everyone else. We are all adversely affected by the systems that pit people against one another.
And as journalists and writers, it is our obligation to interrogate exactly what trends and forces are leading white men to behave in the way they do. This requires a higher standard of journalism and editorializing, and it requires a personal reckoning from many prominent writers as to what role their identity plays in their privilege and their worldviews.
Wallace Milner is a senior at West Linn High School.
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