White men seem angrier than usual. And we are, as a group, prone to anger. It’s one of the few emotions we’re allowed to express by the patriarchal apparatus of self-policing that rules us all.
I kid, but not really.
Men haven’t been granted permission to experience all of our feelings by both ourselves and the rest of society that maintains this aggressive, Foucauldian vigilance We see it in sports, as I’ve touched on previously.
We’ve received a grim reminder of the violence said anger can lead to, with the terrorist attack of an anti-racism counterprotest carried out by a young white man which resulted in the death of a woman, Heather Heyer, and injuries to many others. One more woman victimized by white male rage. I’ve heard some men have the gall to accuse women of “paranoia” when they express reservations about giving out too much info to a man on social media and dating websites.
It’d be easier to write this incident off as the isolated action of a disturbed individual (as we’ve seen the media frequently inclined to do with respect to white male perpetrators) if it weren’t for the fact that it was presaged by the marching of white nationalists the evening prior, with reports of violent disruptions occurring during that event as well, the reason for the counter protest happening in the first place. And we have too many other examples of white men seemingly willing to inflict the very same harm in the name of misdirected rage and hatred: a knife attack in Portland; a racially-motivated mass murder in Charleston, a mass murder motivated by hatred of women in Isla Vista, California. And these are simply some of the most prominent examples of recent years. The Oklahoma City bombing comes immediately to mind, and of course there is no shortage of info on the many others that have occurred in the last quarter century.
At the level of our federal government we have the example presented by Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, the White House’s erstwhile communications director, who came off just as erratic as Trump in the midst of Trump’s worst Twitter tantrums, during the Mooch’s short-lived tenure. Most alarming were revelations that one of Scaramucci’s first orders of business was to twist the arm of a media member in an attempt to learn who the leakers in the Trump administration were, and apparently only got more shrill and unhinged while talking to said reporter, at one point referencing White House rival Steve Bannon’s metaphorical “trying to suck [his] own cock.” Scaramucci was quickly dismissed by the White House, and the media has essentially moved on, but the microcosm presented by Scaramucci and the general trend of what’s been happening inside of the Trump administration seems more a reflection of a greater societal trend among white men, those quick to anger and slow to genuine introspection.
It must be asked, then:
Why u mad, bro?
I actually do invoke the preceding fairly often when dealing with internet trolls, usually via Twitter. After firing off a venomous screed about something they find disagreeable politically (often in relation to a woman trying to claim a right to said internet space) — and said screed could only appear more unhinged if they’d written it in all-caps (though they sometimes do that, too), I like to ask said troll whence comes this anger? And that usually really sets them off. They often respond by saying that, in fact, they’re not mad at all, despite the apparent aggressive tone to their words. I question this claim.
Rebecca Solnit seems to, too, noting, in “A Short History of Silence,” “Social media also became the scene of furious campaigns to silence women who spoke up about violence against women and misogyny, and Twitter in particular tolerated extended campaigns of rape and death threats.”
She’s not alone in this, as a once prominent Twitter user, author and comedian Lindy West, left the social media platform earlier this year, stating:
I talk back and I am “feeding the trolls.” I say nothing and the harassment escalates. I report threats and I am a “censor.” I use mass-blocking tools to curb abuse and I am abused further for blocking “unfairly.” I have to conclude, after half a decade of troubleshooting, that it may simply be impossible to make this platform usable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.
More recently, political activist and writer Ijeoma Oluo had her account suspended for three days by Facebook (later rescinded after a great deal of public outcry) for posting the racist comments of various incensed white people responding to a Tweet she made about the whiteness of Cracker Barrel, a restaurant that — I’m sorry, I love grits as much as anybody — doesn’t have the best history vis-a-vis multiculturalism. The ironic racism in response to a person’s fears of racist treatment notwithstanding, Oluo found herself at the mercy of Facebook’s stiff and often inscrutable terms regarding “acceptable use.”
We witnessed an institution of Facebook’s stature supporting the right of, well, white men in particular (please do take a look at the naked racism of the comments many men felt completely free to send Oluo in the above linked article) to rage against anyone attacking their space (once again, for dudes who claim to hate “safe spaces” that never seems to apply to the spaces they consider their own), no matter how lighthearted said “attack” might be. Faux calls by one man imploring Oluo “not to rob” the Cracker Barrel? Another saying, “Why are you in America?” and urging her to go back to some “third world rat hole” while invoking the “not-racist” MAGA hashtag? It all adds up to something I think is becoming increasingly vivid: white men are avoiding the real issue here. Their problems have nothing to do with the various minority groups / women they project them upon. They’re a convenient outlet for something intrinsically internal.
Allow me to offer another, admittedly anecdotal, example. I had an encounter with a man trolling women online regarding their “inability to have an orgasm,” citing studies that indicate as many as seventy-five percent of women are unable to climax during sex. Through a bit of very ham-handed logic he was able to rationalize this as the problem of all women, more or less demanding they explain themselves. I certainly couldn’t help but question the motivation for said address.
Like, seriously, man, there’s some Freudian-level “doth protest too much” going on here, you see? This sounds like a “you” problem, is what I’m getting at, guy. He tried to get me to agree that this problem regarding women was entirely theirs, too. I wouldn’t take the bait. Instead, I returned to the only experience I can safely speak on, my own. I said of those times I’ve had issues with sexual dysfunction, I was definitely part of the problem. I’m a teacher. What can I say, I like to model good behavior. I’ll never know if that had an effect on this person individually, but I think the point bears repeating: evaluate you, guys. I will always practice what I preach. I work hard to own my mistakes to the fullest extent possible, and I won’t pretend not to have made them. It’s always a bad look.
Heck, even conservative political commentators and vehement “free speech” advocates like Ben Shapiro have voiced cautious support of Twitter banning infamous trolls like Milos Yiannopoulos (although probably not coincidentally, Shapiro was also a victim of Yiannopoulos’ trolling), who is himself a man who seems on the cusp of bubbling over with various forms of serious anger issues despite the weird crypto-political nihilism he traffics in and affects in public. Shapiro said specifically:
Twitter’s a private company, and it can do what it wants, but I don’t like people getting banned on Twitter unless there’s active harassment. I think it’s dangerous territory. But I can say this: When Milo was thrown off of Twitter, 70 percent of the anti-Semitism in my feed disappeared immediately.
So to return to the earlier notion I was inching toward, what white men in particular need to reconcile and still haven’t is a “we” problem, a problem of we the white male population of America, as possessors of power.
We need to wonder why is it so easy to hate on those calling question to established norms? Or attempting to find their own place in the greater cultural conversation? What might we learn about ourselves, if we ask ourselves these sobering questions? I think James Baldwin, whose birthday recently passed and whose wisdom I go to often for clarity, shone a light on this very problem, saying: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” I imagine Baldwin’s right. I will not stop impressing the point: look honestly inward, white men, or forever create external monsters that will cause still greater pain, and never absolution.
Matt Rowan lives in Chicago. He founded and edits Untoward and is managing editor of Another Chicago Magazine. He’s author of the short story collections, Big Venerable (CCLaP, 2015) and Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013)