America, we’ve got a dude problem.
I thought about calling this piece, “We’ve got 99 problems and they’re demographically related at a statistically significant level to white men,” but it somehow didn’t roll off the tongue.
Incels… Proud Boys… Boogaloo Bois… QAnon… and apparently a wannabe Viking…
“We need to get our boy...into office” isn’t just a locker room sentiment. This is a verbatim directive.
The American male is apparently for sale to whomever panders to their emotional state the most. Trump’s words on January 6th: “I know your pain. I know you're hurt.” He goes on, “We love you. You’re very special.”
Pop stars say this to their fans, too. Advertisements intimate that the brand loves its customers. Media influencers declare their love for their followers. Even “Love Trumps Hate,” the leftist reply to right wing rhetoric in 2016, understands this. Of course people want to feel accepted, powerful, appreciated, purposeful, alive, and loved when their brand tells them they’re special.
This is your chance, America. Time to reinvent “boys will be boys.” Time to reinvent how white men handle pain, fear, disappointment, and feelings of confusion. Time to reframe how white men respond to real or perceived challenges. (Yes, white women are a massive part of the problem, too. We’ll get there.)
So what’s a nation to do?
I don’t have all the answers. But I have a few concrete actions based on case studies and the science of adult learning.
The single best bet is to have former members of white supremacist groups step up and intervene. A close second would be to have white men from similar geographic, religious, and socio-economic areas speak up. It’s worked with gangs and cults, too. We can have a separate debate about whether it’s “good” versus “bad” but the fact is that people listen to people who seem just like them.
For white women, this is simple. Speak up. Or educate yourself if you’ve been attempting to duck responsibility. I don’t care if it’s uncomfortable or if it’s inconvenient. Of course, if you’re at risk of being assaulted, please arrange refuge in advance if you have any concerns for yourself, pets, children, friends, or extended family. Beyond that... Do you not love your sons, husbands, friends, neighbors, and colleagues enough to push them to do better? Do you not love yourself enough? If the men in your life can’t hear you, walk away. (I unpack the white lady problem extensively in other pieces.)
For all of us, what do humans do with people who want to get their way? Sometimes inter-group dialogue helps. On college campuses there’s over a decade of evidence on how dialogues between different demographics can dramatically decrease hatred and increase authentic cooperation. In war zones there's at least as much evidence. It’s a form of learning to recognize and digest biases. Without addressing internal biases, humans can go through the motions, but cannot actually get past our own mental habits.
For “the left” and “the woke crowd,” consider how to channel your energy productively. Pointing my finger and calling someone a name probably isn’t going to help create actual change, even when that name is accurate according to the dictionary and history books. This isn’t about being pleasant. This is about whether we’d rather be right or we’d rather create change. If this strikes you as something a woman would say to smooth things over, take a clue from Nelson, who knew how much energy blame takes.
For all of us, fund, hire, promote, compensate, listen to, and act upon the feedback of people who you talk about wanting to support. Who cares if your law is intended to create equitable pay, if your company policy strives to be inclusive, if your neighborhood council wishes there were more diversity in town, if your bank prefers to loan money to more kinds of people. If it’s not happening consistently and at statistically significant rates (as indicated by both regional and national population data) the desire to be inclusive is not functional. This is the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging version of buying a gym membership and then never actually using it.
Before closing, let’s revisit the role of men. And, yes, specifically white men. To the woke white male crowd, please spend less time basking in your wokitude and more time taking action. No one gets a gold star for not being an asshole. If being woke is enough for you, please prepare to sink into the recesses of your righteous armchair. Or the shadows of your lectern, in the case of rhetorically active but actionably thin politicians and professors. Any recovery begins with seeing the magnitude of the problem. Be part of solutions, not just an appalled bystander.
The Biden approach of pretending that this isn’t America doesn't make it so. Allowing the white mind to live in alternate reality is both a privilege and a delusion. Would you not care if your friend joined a cult? While we wonder about the migration to virtual reality tech, the migration to virtual reality life has already occurred.
If you’re still confused about whiteness and power, I feel for you. You know that phrase, “if you’re not sure who the sucker is at the poker table, it’s you”? You’ve been played by the Wizard of Oz. I want something better for you than that. You don’t deserve to pander to a scared little dude behind the curtain.
America, I just checked your follower list and we owe you. Today is MLK day, the dozen roses Congress gave the nation in 1983 for botching its relationship with 1950s and 60s civil rights. Now folks are debating over Juneteenth and replacing Andrew with Harriet on $20 bills. But where are the people? Data doesn’t change history or behavior. People and their experiences and stories do.