Racist Sexism: History of White Guys in the Americas
By Rod Van Mechelen
White men's loss of entitlement?
1993 & 1996 Bellevue, Wash. - Canadian and American men are among the finest, noblest, most caring and responsible people in the world.
Let me rephrase that: White Canadian and American men are among the finest, noblest, most caring and responsible people in the world.
This is not to say blacks and other minority men do not share these attributes. But sometimes we just need to say what is so often not said: white Canadian and American men are among the finest, noblest, most caring and responsible people in the world.
Many do not agree. (This is news?) In their view, white men are a privileged oppressor class. For this reason, we should not be surprised if some are skeptical when a few white guys say, "the rest of you people aren't being fair."
Knowing this, it was with more than a little trepidation that I agreed to appear on the November 26, 1993, episode of Bertice Berry's show to talk about discrimination against white men. When the popular wisdom is against you, it's not easy to go in front of an audience of women and minorities and say, "we derive no special benefit by virtue of being white men, and some of us even feel oppressed by Affirmative Action."
There were five of us "white guys" there to bear witness for the rest of our gender and race. Every one with a story of how he, personally, had been harmed either by Affirmative Action or discrimination. Speaking for the opposition were Jill Nelson, a Washington Post columnist of some stature and author of Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience (obviously, a very oppressed person), who says white men "ought to try living day to day as a member of two minority groups - woman and African-American" (I didn't know 51% was still considered a minority!), and Michael Kimmel, professor of Sociology at the State University of New York and co-author of Against the Tide: Pro-Feminist Men in the United States, 1776-1990 a Documentary History. According to Professor Kimmel, white men feel powerless because their days of being entitled are over.
The first thing Professor Kimmel said was, "Well, as I've been sitting and listening to people, I got the feeling like there's another place in the world where this conversation seems to be happening: it's in South Africa. Where people are saying, it's our country, they're taking it away from us."
He then went on to say, "It seems to me that if these men, who have quite painful stories - and surely one is quite empathetic with those stories - it seems to me that what they've gotten is a taste of what has been the steady diet for people of color and or women all these centuries, so it seems to me the most rational response would be: ‘My gosh, I'm going to sign right up with the Civil Rights movement and the Women's movement to make this world as equal as possible.’"
When I pointed out that we weren't here centuries ago oppressing the people he spoke of, he snapped back that "we're here now benefiting from it," and that "every day of our lives we benefit from it."
I'm sure Professor Kimmel is benefiting from this every day of his life. The more he promotes this nonsense, the more his prestige and status grow. But what about his analogy to South Africa? My answer to that was, "there is not a guy sitting up here who is not for equal rights and responsibilities. We want equal rights for everyone here."
The real privileged class
This is the problem - people like Professor Kimmel represent a truly privileged class. A class of white upper-middle and upper-class men who cater to the professional victims. As such, he's got his, and he only makes his own life more secure by serving groups of politically powerful professional victims.
Finally, he took an utterly elitist position when he said, "If our goal is to create a diverse work place, where people - women, people of color, white men - all come together with their unique qualities, their unique capabilities, our goal is to create that work place, we're going to have to bring in people who have historically not been present."
As any housewife could have told him, the goal is not to create diverse work places, but businesses that are competitive and profitable in the world markets. When I pointed this out, Kimmel said we can only achieve this through a diverse work place.
He's got a good point. Really, he does - if you're an executive or working in one of the creative or service professions, diversity is essential to adaptability. The problem here is that, like most socialists, he thinks that's all there is to the work place. That somehow the noisily regimented mass production lines either don't really exist, or if they do, they have room for great diversity. Well, they don't. The last thing we need is for some autoworker to express his or her ethnic individuality on the production line, where any significant deviation from the cookie cutter can kill people.
About this idea of diversity in the work place, let me digress for a moment to note that Bertice summed it up by saying, "I think it was Darwin that talked about evolution being survival of the fittest coming only when you have diversity of things around you."
A lot of people think this is true, but the historical fact is, it was British philosopher Herbert Spencer who took Darwin's theories and turned them into the rudimentary rationale for capitalism he termed, "survival of the fittest," and he was no proponent of diversity. Nor, for that matter, did Darwin believe diversity had as much to do with evolutionary success as fecundity and short generations. That is, the faster a species can reproduce, the more likely it is to survive. (With this in mind, we might wonder what he would have to say about welfare families.)
This is not the kind of thing most of us would know, but shouldn't a professor of sociology, like Dr. Berry, know the difference?
Where Professor Kimmel caters to professional victims, Jill Nelson is a professional victim, claiming that, as a black woman, she belongs to the most oppressed group in America. If it's so bad, I wondered, then why, by every statistical measure are black men so much worse off than black women? When I asked, Bertice marched across the room with a gleeful grin on her face saying, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, oh, I've got the statistics somewhere that say that if you look at the census, at the recent census, black women are at the bottom for housing, income, poverty; we're at the bottom of everything."
She's right about the income. Sort of. There's a reason for it. But first, with her background in sociology and statistics, Dr. Berry should be aware that even a cursory glance at the census bureau statistics reveal that black women are more likely to graduate from high school and obtain a college education than black men, they are more likely to hold managerial or other office jobs than black men, and that the only areas where black men are really numerically superior to black women in employment is in the heavy labor industries (which partly explains why they earn more than black women - the dirty, dangerous jobs pay more than most of the cushy office jobs), that married black women with husband present live well above the poverty level, and the reason black female heads of households fare so poorly in the statistical arena is because so many are welfare mamas (source: We the American ... Blacks, September 1993 by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration Bureau of the Census).
Counting the corpses
Then there are the dead. When you count the corpses, everything changes.
First, let's take a look at who dies, and how they die. Black men commit suicide more than five times as often as black women, die of accidental causes more than three times as often, and are murdered almost five times more often than black women. In 1989, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics for 1990, there were 11,308 white male homicide victims, 8,888 black male victims, 2,971 white female victims, and 2,074 black female victims.
The next question is, when do they die? In 1989 the life expectancy for black women was 73.5 - almost a full year more than it was for white men, and almost nine years more than for black men.
And black women are at "the bottom of everything"? I don't think so.
Finally, one more thing about why black men have higher average earnings than black women - all the statistical tables I have seen on this subject only provide data on the living. That is, how much living black men earn and how much living black women earn. Yes, so? Who cares how much dead people make? They're dead! They don't earn anything. That's precisely the point - if we factor in all the blacks for each age group who died, the statistical picture changes completely: the average black woman almost certainly earns more than the average black man when we factor in the zero earnings of the dead.
So, which is worse - to be a black woman living on welfare, or a black man dead? To be a black woman earning less than the average (living) black man, or a black man dead?
When you count the corpses, everything changes.
Almost from the beginning of the show, the underlying assumption (dare we call it a stereotype?) made by Jill Nelson and Michael Kimmel was that white men generally benefit from racism, and that individual white men should be willing to sacrifice themselves to benefit everyone else. What's more, they even expressed the attitude that white men are generally inferior.
According to Professor Kimmel, "If two people - if you and a person of color come to the same job, and you both are equally qualified, I'd say the person of color is more qualified than you, given what they have had to go through in this culture to get there."
When I asked Ms. Nelson if we have to level the playing field by handicapping white men, she replied that, "as a woman or a person of color you have to be overqualified to start out where a mediocre white guy starts out." Later, when one fellow said, "I'm not the benefactor of this institutionalized racism," she snapped back, "you most certainly are - you most certainly are."
What they meant by this is that, from taxi cab drivers to police officers to retail clerks, many people discriminate against blacks. Sadly, they're right. On the other hand, men experience the same discrimination from women - if you don't have the dime, they don't have the time. And as we all know, when it comes to child custody and domestic violence cases, the police and the courts almost always side with women. So what are we going to do about that? Penalize all women everywhere to make up for it? Try that, and you can bet Dr. Berry, Ms. Nelson and Professor Kimmel will be leading the mob howling discrimination.
Still, they have a point - even if most employers no longer discriminate against minority women, don't white men enjoy unearned privileges? Don't cab drivers, retail clerks and employers make unconscious assumptions that lead them to treat white men with greater respect?
If, as Ms. Nelson said, white racism is prevalent in our society, and if, as she insisted, it "is not about each person's individual family and individual issues" (whatever happened to the feminist assertion that the personal is political?), and if, as Professor Kimmel asserted, this generation of white men should redress the generations of minorities who were disadvantaged by race in applying for jobs, then shouldn't white men, from their historical position of accumulated privilege, be willing to accept a few handicaps and endure a few casualties in order to make up for all the sins of their fathers?
Do American Indians benefit from White racism?
Before commenting on this, perhaps I should clear up a few issues Nelson and Kimmel raised about me.
At one point, Ms. Nelson accused me of having a "predisposition" to look at minorities negatively. At another time, Professor Kimmel told me I benefit from the centuries of oppression suffered by women and non-Caucasians at the hands of white men. Very neat assumptions on their part.
Appearing on Dr. Berry's show to speak as a white man on behalf of white men was a very difficult and new experience for me because they assumed I was white. Easy mistake to make. With a Flemish name like Van Mechelen, who would think otherwise? Meet me in person, and you'd never know that I am a member of the Cowlitz Indian tribe.
As a boy, my racial heritage was obvious because I was always a little darker than my peers. Throughout public school I was always the "Indian kid." But after more than 12 years as an adult spent mostly indoors, I look white. So, now that I look white, what difference should my aboriginal American ancestry make? If I wasn't a member of the "privileged oppressor class" as a child, I am now, so who am I to talk? The answer should be obvious: who we become as adults is shaped to a large extent by who we were as children.
As a child in a predominantly white school district, I was put off by my (mostly female) teachers, hounded by my classmates, and told in no uncertain terms by almost everyone that there was nothing I could ever do that would make me as good as anybody else. This extended from elementary school through my first year in high school, where, for the first time, someone (a white male history teacher) told me I could be as good as anybody else.
Sounds like a pretty good reason for me to hate whites, doesn't it. So why should I speak out on behalf of white guys when I should be attacking them?
First, both of my grandfathers were from Europe, and I'm as proud of that as I am of my Native heritage. Second, just as it was white people who told me I was inferior, so it was also white people who taught me self-respect.
I have experienced racism
The point is that I have experienced racism, I am a member of a race that can play the "I'm more victimized than you" statistical game with black women any day of the week, and neither an upper class newspaper columnist cum author cum professional victim, nor a liberal sociology professor cum comedian cum talk show host can tell me, a working class writer, how much worse off they are because they're black and female.
I know what it's like to be a victim, and it's a hell of a lot different for someone to snub you socially or for someone to illegally marginalize your educational and employment opportunities because you're a racial minority than it is to be legally snubbed and marginalized because you're a white guy who, thanks to politically correct historical revisionism, is getting blamed for everybody else's problems.
Speaking of historical revisionism, during one of the commercial breaks, Dr. Berry asked, "when are we going to remember our history?" Good question. Let's start by remembering a little African history.
In a comedy routine Dr. Berry recorded for HBO that aired just before Thanksgiving, 1993, she made a comment about how she doesn't feel bad about white bigots who don't trust blacks, because she's not the one whose people have a history of selling black people into slavery. Perhaps she has forgotten that white
Americans didn't sell blacks into slavery, African blacks did.
When slavery was still commonplace throughout much of the world, white slave traders bought black slaves from African slavers. This means blacks are neither more nor less innocent (or guilty) than any other race. Yet both Dr. Berry and Ms. Nelson spoke from a position of presumed historical purity. Pure arrogance is what it is - the history of their peoples are just as tarnished as anyone else's.
Now, let's remember a little white male history. If women and blacks are so traumatized by the hundreds of years white men have allegedly oppressed them (and any competent propagandist can make a good case that all of us have really been oppressed by just about everybody else), then we should assume that they would wish we could somehow magically change things so that white men had never done the things they did. Like create the steam engine, or harness electricity, or develop cures for a myriad of diseases.
Years ago, my brother decided that our grandmothers' peoples (the Cowlitz and Cherokee) would have been better off had the Europeans never discovered the Americas. I pointed out to him that, had that been the case, then assuming we would even have been born, he would never have survived to adulthood, because it was white American men who developed the technologies that allowed him to survive a life-threatening illness in his infancy.
Remembering our histories
When we remember all our history, things change. Professor Kimmel said that every day of our lives, white men benefit from the oppression suffered long ago by women and minorities. But when we remember our history, we see that, whether black, white, male or female, we all reap enormous benefits from what dead white men have done.
So now, the question we need to answer is, if, for wrongful acts of oppression committed by some dead white men, white men today must redress women and minorities, then shouldn't women and minorities also compensate white men for the truly profound contributions their white male predecessors made, and that many white men continue to make, today? If we shall demand reparation for the bad, then shouldn't we also compensate them for the good? Fair's fair, after all.
To Dr. Berry, Ms. Nelson, Professor Kimmel, and all who would agree with them, I say - yes, let us remember our history. Let's remember all our history.
Rod Van Mechelen