Old White People Need To Die

Old White People Need To Die

Growing up, I was taught to honor my elders, to acknowledge that their experience made them wiser in the ways of the world. For this reason, I internally cringe when I write the words, “Old white people need to die.”  It seems callous and disrespectful rather than what it is – a fair and reasonable analysis of the demographics in the recent elections in Alabama.

In Alabama, 74% of the voters for Roy Moore – a homophobic, racist, misogynist accused of sexually assaulting and harassing multiple teenage girls – were 45 or older. Since 92% of Moore supporters were white, we can safely conclude that a majority of older white people in Alabama either approved of or did not object to Mr. Moore’s opinions or actions.  In addition, we know from the exit polls that the older a white person was, the more likely they were to vote for Moore.  While only 36% of white people younger than 45 voted for Moore, nearly 60% of those older than 65 supported Moore.  This may explain the recently popular sweatshirts emblazoned with “F*ck Your Racist Grandma.”

White grandpas and grandmas are a big part of the problem in America. This shouldn’t surprise us.  A person who is seventy years old today was born in 1947.  This means they spent their most formative years growing up in a nation where black people were second class citizens, homosexuality was an abomination and women were considered the weaker sex.  While they may have reluctantly acquiesced to the cultural changes around them, this doesn’t mean their perspectives and prejudices have significantly changed.  Indeed, with age comes nostalgia.

I see this dynamic in my own father, a progressive liberal in his 70s. In these past few years, he has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars seeking and buying the cars he drove as a teenager.  While I find his obsession odd, I am increasingly thankful that his nostalgia is for the trappings of the past and not its values.  This is obviously not the case with many older white people in Alabama.  Roy Moore stated America was greatest during the days of slavery and they voted for him.  Donald Trump ran his whole campaign on a nostalgic theme of “Make America Great Again.”  The subtext of “Make America Like It Was During Your Childhood” was especially appealing to older white people.

This is not to say there aren’t millennials with racist and misogynist opinions. Most of the white supremacist marchers at Charlottesville were 45 or younger.  However, demographically, they are a decreasing minority.  Without old white people, Donald Trump would not have been elected and Roy Moore would not have come so close to being a US Senator.  While education and dialogue are important ingredients in shifting our culture away from its bigoted past, the chief contributor to social change in the next 25 years will be funerals.  Those white people born before the Civil Rights movement need to die.

We also need to stop electing old white people. Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton had won the election, the United States would have had its oldest elected president – an old white person.  Nostalgia aside, this is not a positive trend.  While cognitive decline begins at about the age of 45, we know that this deterioration accelerates after the age of 60.  I’ve seen this in my father and recognized the beginnings of this in myself.  I am not as sharp and creative as I once was.  I am more forgetful and less flexible.  You should not elect me to political office.

Unfortunately, in a society that can medically extend life span, we’ve enabled older people to remain in power and influence even when their mental capacities are in serious decline. We’ve created a society where people who grew up using typewriters and who struggle to navigate e-mail are being asked to make important decisions about net neutrality and cyberwarfare.  This should frighten us.  Regardless of what you think of Donald Trump today, you can rest assured that his mental faculties are not going to improve over the next three years.

Here is our dilemma. Right now in America, the vast majority of the wealth, voting power and political influence in the United States is in the hands of old white people who grew up in day when “colored” people drank from a different water fountain, when being gay was a crime and men were the “head of the household.”  Though some of these old white people are committed to creating a different and better world for their children and grandchildren, many are not.  They are only capable of looking backward. Until they die, they are a drag on the progress of our nation.

I say all of this aware that I may be accused of ageism.  So let me end with this clarification.  It is time to redefine what it means to honor our parents and grandparents.  We do not honor them by allowing their past prejudices and cultural calculations to persevere.  We honor them most by learning from their mistakes, honestly recognizing their limitations and building positively on the world they created.  And, for some of them, perhaps we honor them by refusing to drive them to the polls.  If there is age before which you should not vote, there should probably be an upper limit as well.

While I wish Roy Moore had lost the election in Alabama by a much larger margin, the demographics of the election give me hope. In 25 years, the people of Alabama may not vote like the people of California, but I expect they will no longer consider someone like Roy Moore as an acceptable candidate.  Those of his ilk and era will have died.  A younger generation, exposed to a vast, vibrant and divergent world through the internet, will gradually take power.  Raised in a multicultural nation, they will make America greater than it has ever been.

Advertisements

Why White Men Should Feel Ashamed

Why White Men Should Feel Ashamed

November was an enlightening month.

In late October, I posted an essay entitled “How To Tell If A White Person Is Racist With One Simple Question.” Though my blog is generally read by a couple of thousand people, in this instance and to my surprise, my post generated over 120,000 views over the next few weeks.  I received hundreds of comments, many of which I could not approve because of their ugliness and profanity.  If I had any doubt about the premise of the post – that people’s negativity toward the question of reparations is a fairly good indicator of their blatant or latent racism – the response to the post dispelled them.

Throughout November, I engaged – both publicly and privately – in lengthy exchanges with angry, white men over the legitimacy of reparations and the present state of racial relations in America. These conversations led me to write two follow up posts outlining a reasonable approach to reparations as well as my own personal commitment. I also became more aware of the present and potential dangers of angry, white men.

During this encounter with white masculinity, I gradually realized the responses of angry white men to reparations echoed what I was hearing from other angry, white men about sexual harassment. As you know, November was also the month of Harvey Weinstein, Louis C. K., Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Matt Lauer and Al Franken, of countless allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and of denials and justifications.  As I was engaging in one discussion while listening to another, the similarities in the responses became more and more obvious.  It was almost as if racist and sexually inappropriate men were reading off the same script.

Deny or Question the Veracity of the Injury

As I talked with white men about slavery and racial discrimination, I was amazed by how often they denied the existence of racism today. According to them, America was a level playing field and any disparities between blacks and whites were the fault of people of color.  Some actually argued that, if racism existed, they were its target. While no one claimed slavery didn’t happen, they were quick to diminish its impact. One man even quoted Muhammed Ali, who – while boxing in Africa – once quipped, “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat.”  In this twisted manipulation of Ali’s opinions on racism, slavery was actually a positive historical event bringing Christianity and prosperity to black people.

This same willingness to deny or discount a past injury was echoed in many of the responses of men accused of sexual harassment. Even when the past harassment was acknowledged, men were quick to suggest that the incident was trivial, even unmemorable. Franken apologized, but admitted he couldn’t even remember the incidents. One defender of Roy Moore actually argued that Moore’s behavior was somehow similar to that of Mary and Joseph in the Bible. Moore wasn’t a creepy pedophile. He was a Biblical patriarch.

Question the Timing of the Injured Party

Those accused of sexual harassment were quick to question the timing of the allegation. They asked why, after so long, these women were finally claiming injury.  There was little recognition of how – if the accusations were as described – these men had used their power to intimidate and harass their victims, to even threaten them should they expose the injury. Ironically, our patriarchal culture makes it extremely difficult for women to expose sexual assault and harassment and then castigates them for their reluctance. Only the recent number of successful exposures has given some women the courage to speak out.

Angry, white men express similar irritation with the timing of calls for reparations. They too asked why, so many years after the end of slavery, black people were demanding reparations.  There was little recognition of how – for most of the past 150 years – powerful white men responded to calls for reparations with everything from laughter to lynching.  As with victims of sexual harassment, people usually expose past injuries when they feel some modicum of safety.  A nation that only apologized for slavery in 2009 shouldn’t be surprised by the sudden upsurge in calls for reparations.

Question the Motive and Character of the Injured Party

During my exchanges, I repeatedly heard reparations described as the strategy of “money grubbing black people.” Instead of legitimate compensation for centuries of economic exploitation, reparations were often defined as an injustice to white people.  According to this trope, white people are hardworking and responsible. Our affluence has nothing to do with past oppressive. Inversely, black people are greedy and irresponsible. Their present challenges are the result of their own flaws.  While only the most bigoted came right out and said black people were lazy, stupid or immoral, much of the rhetoric implied as much.  In the end, these arguments often ended by suggesting white people were the victims.

Most of the men exposed as sexual harassers would have us believe they – rather than their accusers – are the victims. The women are money grubbing liars motivated by a desire for fame. Often, in diminishing the credibility of their accusers, the unrelated or incidental failings of their accusers are paraded publicly.  While few men come right out and say these women are loose and immoral, much of the rhetoric implies as much.  Ironically, though the men deny assaulting or harassing the women, they also imply their accusers are the kind of women who invite or deserve such treatment.

Diminish the Impact of the Injury

Many of these men also suggest their actions were trivial, playful or even well intentioned. The injury, if acknowledged at all, is presented as minor. Moore asked the mothers for permission to date their daughters. Franken was just kidding around.  All Louis C.K. asked was that they watch.  If the women weren’t liars, they were certainly exaggerating or misconstruing what happened. The victims of sexual harassment are either portrayed as pathetic losers trying to pull down their superiors or – if they are deemed successful women – as evidence that the past assault and harassment didn’t impact their careers.

Those opposing reparations utilize this same paradoxical argument. On one hand, the success of a few blacks is offered as evidence that there wasn’t really any injury.  How can racism exist in a country where Barack Obama was elected president?  Those people of color who have not succeeded are examples, not of systemic racism, but of their own inadequacies.  The racism that cannot be ignored is trivialized as the bigotry of a few white supremacists.  Micro-aggressions aren’t real.  Most of what people of color report as racist is either exaggerated or misconstrued.

Reject Any Responsibility While Normalizing The Behavior

Ultimately, the goal of angry, white men – whether in talking about reparations or sexual harassment – is to avoid any personal or corporate responsibility. Either they didn’t do anything wrong or they have no responsibility for the actions of others. Yet often, in avoiding any culpability, they express sentiments that suggest they harbor the cultural and philosophical positions that undergird racism and sexism.

While they quickly condemn the most horrific examples of racism and sexism, they often follow these condemnations with justifications and excuses.  Boys will be boys. White people should be able to celebrate their heritage. It was just locker room talk or bar banter.  Men can be sexually harassed by women, too.  Whites are the victims of racism as much as people of color.  Sexual harassment is simply the by-product of gender equality and sexual freedom.  People of color need to toughen up if they want to succeed in a free society.  And on and on.

It was usually at this point in a discussion that I would withdraw from the conversation. What had started out as a discussion of an injury had ended up as a rationalization for a system which empowers men to injure the less powerful.  By the end of November, I’d realized what opposition to reparations and reports of sexual harassment had most in common – angry, white men.  These were men desperately defending the very privilege that makes racism and sexism possible.  I began to suspect those complaining the most were probably also men with past transgressions.

Time and again, in this past month, I have heard men say, “I will not feel guilty about being white.” Initially, I assured them this was not my intent, that I wanted them to take responsibility rather than feel guilty.  By the end of the month, after hearing other men declare that they would not feel guilty for being men, such complaints began to ring hollow. There is a certain kind of white masculinity that should deeply embarrass all men.  This distorted masculinity is not solely exhibited in the David Dukes and Roy Moores of America.  It is deeply ingrained in the psyche of millions of white American men.

As much as I wish it were so, racism and sexism will not be solved by reparations or the firing of countless sexual harassers, though both of these responses are necessary. Our culture will only begin to change when more men accept some responsibility for the white patriarchy that makes David Duke and Roy Moore possible. They are not aberrations. They are representations. It is far past time for white men to finally feel ashamed about how we, our peers and our forefathers have treated women and people of color.  No more excuses.  No more justifications.

We need white men strong and brave enough to publicly abandon both the vestiges and the privileges of white patriarchy.  These are men willing to acknowledge the injuries of the past and to accept their continued complicity in sustaining systems that oppress people of color and women.  If white men want to be proud, let it be a pride in their commitment to stand up – not in defense of other white men – but in defense of those who have been defenseless for too long.  Until we are willing to do this, shame on us.