First my credentials. I’m a white, heterosexual male. I’ve played football, was a Navy sailor stationed in a war zone, have done a lot of fishing and hunting, and spent a lot of my life surrounded by many good men. I have been with my wife for more than 30 years and our two children (one girl and one boy) are out of college now and working as productive and contributing members of society. My blood is red. I am a seriously proud American. But I can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch without voicing outrage over Donald Trump and my and other white males’ complacency regarding his misogyny and racist rhetoric.
I’ve spent a lot of time in locker rooms, and in my experience, comments recently made by Trump were fairly common back in the 1970s, and even into the 1980s. However, there has been a slow shift in the language that is deemed acceptable, and even legal, over the years, and what might once have been acceptable is now rarely heard or tolerated. As far as I can tell, Trump is a near-perfect example of why white males are now often considered more harmful, unstable, untrustworthy and ruthless than when I was being brought up in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then cowboys were the good guys and white males were most often associated with heroes from World War II, doctors and lawyers, all of whom, unlike today, had positive associations.
A shift started to occur in the late 1970s and early 1980s when white males shifted from providers and protectors to being portrayed as bumbling idiots (e.g., the fathers in the shows “Married With Children” and “The Simpsons”) or angry and volatile (e.g., Archie Bunker). In many ways white males in America never seemed to recover from this shift in perception, many either going for broke, trying to get what they could get as long as they could, or falling into despair. What white, heterosexual males born in the ‘60s and early ‘70s came to understand was that they were no longer the good guys but instead were considered either stupid or irrelevant, or probably both.
And more than sitcoms, the data suggest that the majority of white males have lost ground. In America the majority of college graduates are now women. There is certainly a real pay gap, with men making more overall than women, often for doing the same jobs, but this is changing, with younger women often now making as much or more than their male counterparts. In the recent downturn white males were more likely than any other group to lose their jobs, whereas older women were more than twice as likely to retain them. Couple these trends with the automation of many jobs and you have a situation that may just grow in volatility unless steps are taken to address the underlying causes.
We are seeing how these changes are affecting white males themselves. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that the overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, with the increase in white males ages 45 to 64 being 43 percent. These data are disturbing for any race or sex, but considering that white males are nearly 4 times more likely to commit suicide than any other group, the absolute numbers for males are vastly higher than any of the groups examined, with the suicide rate declining for only two segments: black men and all people over 75.
What does this tell us? It tells us that the old version of the white male is just not applicable for even the white males themselves. Something has to change.
One change is that women are stepping up to take charge, often just like a mother might break up an argument. Another is that minorities and people with open and nuanced views of the world are finding solutions to global problems.
To be sure white males can point to some real successes in the past, but it is clear that days of white male domination are numbered, and many in the world are breathing a sigh of relief. We had our day. We had the power. And like all those with absolute power, we seemed to have abused our privilege at the expense of those less powerful. It is time for us to let go of our anger and fear and do what is right. It’s time to man up and tell it like it is. The world has changed and it will no longer put up with sexual abuse, misogyny, bullying and criminal behavior excused as “good business.”
Here are seven suggestions for how white heterosexual males should man up:
1) Do not support, encourage or tolerate anyone, but especially leaders (political, business, coach, etc) that displays misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic or any other type of bullying behavior.
2) Stop looking at and treating women as sexual prey.
3) Voice your disapproval of bullies and defend those who are being bullied.
4) Do the right thing, even when no one is looking.
5) Ask yourself what frightens you most and then listen closely to the answer. (BTW, if your first answer is illegal immigrants crossing the boarder, then you have not looked deeply enough. Ask again.)
6) Find something that you love to do and that does not cause harm to yourself or others and then start doing more of that.
7) Remind yourself daily that those things you focus attention and effort on have a tendency to expand.
Of course anyone might benefit from these suggestions, but it is no longer the place of a white heterosexual male to assume any other group should listen to or act on his recommendations — we have lost that privilege and must begin to regain the trust and respect of the rest of humanity.
Some people want to hold on to some imagined glorified past, but each of them really knows the war for such a fantasy is already over. The antiquated and unfair practices of the past are no longer an acceptable excuse for what is undignified, unhelpful and often destructive to ourselves and certainly harmful for many others.
Originally published in the Napa Register, 2016