Politics, Fear and Oppression – OR – Seven Signs That White Men are Scared

(Before I begin, I must pre-clarify. If you know me, you probably know exactly the character I’m talking about when I say “white man” or “white men”. But, just so we are completely clear, I am not talking about a white-skinned man who knows that he is on equal ground with the rest of humanity. I am talking about those white men who feel that their gender, skin color, religion and heterosexuality give them some kind of elite human status.)

White men scare very easily. Sorry, white men, but, as a collective unit, you do.

History proves it.

And the fear of white men has never benefitted society. In fact, white men’s fear has been a greater cause of bloodshed and social injustice in this country than any other force.

Does it seem like the US has been on a steady decline since 9/11? Anyone who lives here would have a hard time pretending that it’s been on an upswing. 9/11 was a truly tragic event. It struck fear into the hearts of many. Inside the borders of this country. Beyond the borders.

The world was on edge.

What made 9/11 such an effective hit on the American psyche, though, is that it instilled white men with fear. And, as it always does, that fear immediately began to manifest in ways that affected all of us.

Does this seem like an unfair assessment? After all, I’ve already acknowledged that the world felt the impact of 9/11. What makes white men’s fear so different? Why am I picking on them?

Well, there are two reasons –

1 – White men hold the power in this country. They have always held the power in this country. So, it’s hard to know how the fear of other groups might manifest to worsen the state of the nation, because, historically, no other group has been in a position to change policy based entirely on their own fears.

2 – Other groups in this country live with fear, or have lived through fear, right here within our own borders. We don’t require external threats to know what terrorism feels like. 9/11 reminded white men that danger lives amongst them. Other groups have never forgotten.

There is a reason Native Americans don’t trust the government, a reason black Americans don’t trust cops, and a reason that women don’t trust a group of men walking down the sidewalk toward them, even if those men are dressed in business suits and look like choir boys.

White men used terror to take this country, to keep slaves in line during slavery and ex-slaves in line after, and they have used it on women since the beginning of humanity. Because the word ‘terrorism’ – with its root set firmly in fear – describes an emotion, not an act. We use it to describe, not any random event, but those that cause us true anxiety, those that make us feel under the constant threat of attack. It’s a mentality. And, if terrorism is a mentality, if it’s intention is to make a group feel under perpetual threat, then rape is the most prevalent, widespread form of terrorism in the world.

See, the majority of the US population knows what back-burnered fear feels like. We know what it’s like to look at innocent people with suspicion. It doesn’t take someone getting onto a plane in a turban to set off our alarms. The wrong kind of smile in a hotel hallway will do it. We’ve learned to live with it.

White men have never learned to cope with fear. To some extent, this isn’t their fault. After all, there has never been an overhanging threat to them. To some extent, this is entirely their fault, because, whenever possible, they have eliminated perceived threats before those threats could come to fruition. They have never lived under fear, because they frighten easily and attempt to destroy that which frightens them from the moment it shows any momentum.

When threats – either real or imagined – have broken through the glass ceiling of white male rule to touch the lives of white men, they have quickly retreated to their bunkers, brainstormed plans – ranging from poorly thought-out to horrific – and gone on the offensive.

That’s what happened after 9/11. A true threat made it to American soil. White men discovered that they were not immune to these threats. They got scared. They suspected everyone. They gave themselves access to private citizens’ lives to an extent that they never had before. They went on the offensive, and decided everyone was an enemy.

Then, after seven years of decline in the rights of Americans, in the privacy of citizens, in the world’s respect for this country, and in the nation’s cohesion – at a time during which the cohesion really should have been at its peak – white men got scared again.

Because, for the first time in the history of this country, white men lost the major seat of power.

It didn’t matter that President Obama is half-white. It didn’t matter that white men still held the majority of seats in Congress. The election of Obama challenged the status quo – a status quo that has survived throughout the entirety of this country’s existence. And in challenging that status quo, he challenged white male power and white male supremacy.

After the status quo was challenged, we went from one of the most moderate Republicans to run for office in decades as the Republican presidential candidate in 2008 to navigating the minefield of some of the most right-wing, conservative, anti-minority Republicans in the country through much of last year.

This is fear-based backlash.

The status quo in this country has always favored only one group – white men. Should that status quo fall permanently, it will not hurt white men. White men will not fall with it. The rest of us, however, will rise up. We will gain ground. Our positions will improve. Our lives will improve.

The achievements of other groups do not threaten white men, but, as with other false fears of the past, they perceive our advancements as threat. They have become so accustomed to their own power, they fear what will happen should that power slip away.

Equality doesn’t threaten them. But it feels like a threat. When you are standing as the victor on the top podium and the two podiums at either side of you are raised up to the same level, you haven’t lost anything. From that point of view, it just looks that way.

Although no one is threatening white men, the fact that they feel threatened is becoming increasingly clear with each passing day, each bit of rhetoric and each unprovoked attack.

Here are seven signs that white men are scared.

7 – They are exerting their authority.

I’d like to take just a moment here to apologize to women in general. Because what’s happening to you right now – the current legislation attempting to control your rights and your bodies – it may be our fault.

In just a short time, a lot of minorities have gained a lot of ground. White men haven’t been able to stop it. So, they’ve turned their attention to you. It’s a trickle down effect. Things are getting out of their control, and, before you go asking for more rights – like equal pay or the right to walk safely from class to your dorm room – white men need to go ahead and cut you off at the pass. They need to remind you that they have authority over your bodies. They need to remind you that you should be expecting rape.

These are threats. But they are not really against you. And they are threatening nothing new. It’s simply a last-ditch attempt to keep any group that they can down. While they still have the power to do so.

Did you know that, when the federal government stepped in and made interracial marriage legal in 1967, a majority of Americans opposed it? Did you know those Americans used the Bible and many of the same arguments they are using against gay marriage right now to justify this belief? Did you know that, right now, at this moment, a majority of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage?

White men know it’s only a matter of time. And as equality grows, supremacy dies. They are exerting their authority over you, straight women, because it’s been largely calm waters with you lately. You haven’t really been causing major recent stirs.

Until now.

Honestly, they probably thought you’d be more passive about it.

6 – They are making preemptive strikes.

Early white leaders intentionally infected Native Americans with smallpox. Those who lived, they herded onto reservations.

At the end of slavery, white men lynched first and asked questions later.

During World War II, white men rounded up Japanese-Americans and interned them. Then, after 9/11, they made the rounds again on a smaller scale, rounding up those of Middle Eastern descent.

Historically, white men have made preemptive strikes when they’ve felt threatened. They have murdered without conscience, and they have always been able to come up with a slew of negative consequences to societal advances.

Women’s rights would destroy family. Desegregation and interracial marriage would corrupt society.

Now, it’s gay marriage that will destroy family and corrupt society. It’s fear-mongering. That’s all it ever is.

5 – They are name-calling.

Slut. Bitch. Prostitute. Feminist as an insult.

Sometimes, it’s not a name, but a label.

Immoral. Ungodly. Gay.

Or, rather, not gay.

Tennessee’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is perhaps the strongest form of name-calling that white men have ever used. The subtext here is, “If you are gay, you are something so bad that it shouldn’t even be spoken.”

Forcing a word underground is an attempt to force a people underground.

That’s why Rush Limbaugh dubbed Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute. Because those words already have negative connotations. We put negative labels on people to weaken their side, while labeling ourselves positively in an attempt to strengthen our own.

And scared white men always return to the middle school playground.

4 – They are creating alliances.

There’s nothing wrong with companionship and common goals, but, too often in the past, it’s been a bad thing when white men have formed new groups.

The KKK are a group of white men. So are the neo-Nazis. So, by and large, is the Tea Party.

3 – They are attempting to legislate their own superiority.

One reason that white men have been so successful at maintaining their iron grip on power in this country is that the government and law enforcement – run by other white men – have been on their side. During past power struggles in this country – when they have felt threatened by the equality of others – white men have done terrible things. They have lied, cheated, stolen and killed. Without retribution.

They have also used the arenas in which they hold power to legislate their own superiority. They have attempted to use their power in these arenas to block the advancement of others. Often, they try to legislate the stoppage or roll-back of time.

Today, they want to legislate women back into a position of subservience by blocking access to information, resources and healthcare. They want to legislate gays back into the closet by taking preemptive strikes against their rights and even the word itself.

2 – They are patting themselves on the back.

From the earliest days of the United States, white men have found ways to justify their bad deeds. The American concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’ proves that this nation’s Founding Fathers came to its shores with a firm belief in their own entitlement. This land was theirs for the taking, and a few dead Indians and Mexicans along the way was their God-given right.

Now, white men are lining up behind talking heads, like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum. They follow men who tell them what they want to hear – that they are superior to everyone else, which makes fighting against every other groups’ rights their true purpose.

They say things like the suicides of gay teenagers are due to bad parenting. They send their own bullying children to school to pick on everyone who doesn’t meet the status quo. They congratulate themselves for raising good white men.

1 – They are casting themselves as the victims.

White Christian men attack gays. When gays respond, white Christian men say Christianity is under attack.

White men attack women. When women respond, they say “Feminists hate men and…”

White heterosexual men compare homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. When gays respond, these “family men” proclaim their own marriages are under attack.

White men oppress black people for nearly a hundred years, limiting their abilities to thrive in the world. When a workplace ruling goes in the favor of the minority, giving them an opportunity to actually catch up, white men think they are being discriminated against.

White men have a bad habit of picking fights and oppressing people, and then declaring themselves victims when that oppression starts to lift.

But white men are not the victims. They never have been. They never will be. Though, I trust that’s what they fear.

Perhaps, if they hadn’t sufficiently legislated themselves the power, wealth and resources in this country to a point that they won’t be relinquishing power any time soon, their fear would be justified.

After all, if – when entrusted with the lives and well-being of others through your own actions – you show your wards to a safe room, give them a comfortable bed to sleep on, provide for them to the best of your ability, and treat them with respect, you needn’t be afraid when you open the door.

If you, however, throw your wards in cells, give them nothing but floor on which to sleep, starve them, beat them, berate them, humiliate them, threaten them and make them work for you just to survive you, I’m certain you live in fear of them one day getting free.

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One Comment

  1. All of this is true without a doubt, and the hundreds or so articles I’ve been reading only in the past few months clearly back it up. A big problem here is that you can’t argue rationally with those who are driven by fear, so many examples throughout history. Science, history, reason, even the Bible (!) they don’t care in their deeply held belief that somehow, the straight white male is the default person. If you objectify everyone who does not fit that description, like, let’s say women, that makes it easier to justify the delusion. The term ‘lesbian’ was initially used attempting to discredit feminists. A 100 or so years ago, but in 2012, we see it all over again. Oh, and we remember the f-word came up during the witch hunts when people were used to get the fire going, but who cares about history? Since their actions aren’t really based on facts, they don’t want to discuss them. ‘Let’s talk about the economy, it’s more important, but first let’s sign another bunch of bills to cut women’s access to health care’.
    If we already know that marriage can be a positive factor to psychological health, what does it say about people who want to deny those rights to others? If some people think it’s okay to (re)traumatize women by forced and unnecessary, invasive exams? I saw the interview of Rick Santorum with that infamous quote ‘making the best of a bad situation’ re: forcing women who have been raped to carry the pregnancy to term, found it deeply disturbing. You could tell that he actually believes it. Rape. A bad situation. God help us.
    And North Carolina. Earlier this week we learned that neo-nazies actually endorsed Amendment1. Maybe I was naive to think that, but my idea was, even if you’re uncomfortable with people who differ from you (unmarried, gay?), you would not want to be associated with that kind of ideology. Right? We’ve heard these stories from proponents of the amendment – the teenager who shot at the Vote Against sign, the one who urinated on one saying they’d ‘vote for the Bible’ (I believe Jesus wept), and the made-up story of an elderly woman having been beaten up for being pro-A1.
    I’m lucky to have spend time on twitter etc. with some of the roughly 40% who worked tirelessly to educate people and that gave me another picture of NC.
    In general, sometimes it all seems too overwhelming and depressing when you realize that so many people in the word never evolved from the Middle Ages.
    We’ll see what that will mean in terms of elections.
    I’ll end this rambling comment for now, more to be discussed this summer 🙂

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