It’s Not Always About You, White Dudes (You’re Just Not Used to That)

So last week some friends and I–women I dub my “feminist fight club” as we argue with people on social media for fun–had a convo about one member’s brother. Said brother is conservative and a frequent sparring partner. In a conversation about something regarding the fight against racist and sexist discrimination, he said, “the fact of the matter is that the middle class white men vote in large numbers and would be on your side if only the message was tailored differently.” This week, kittens, we’re going to tear that quote apart. It’s resonant as it reflects an unwillingness on the part of many people to understand our current historical moment.

TL/DR: It’s not about you, assholes, but you need to listen.

The conversation had gone like this: the brother argued that liberal messages were “exclusionary” in nature and thus, by default, made white men reluctant to take part regardless of whether they agreed with the message (say, that people face racial discrimination) or not. He felt liberals (for sport?) “railed against the white man” and ruined their own missions because such white men wouldn’t get on board…because they evidently feel discriminated against.

Implicitly, the brother’s argument is that messages should be tailored to white men, even if they’re not about white men, and that if they aren’t, white men will (deliberately?) resist, even if those messages make sense. So when we talk about racism or sexism, then, we need to make it about white men; or, at the very least, we can’t suggest white men are somehow keeping this racist/sexist system in place.

Essentially, he doesn’t want us to think about how privilege works and that if we do–and if we challenge what privilege does–we have to do so without threatening those in privileged places.

I have a newsflash for him, as my dad would say: insisting or expecting messages about racism and sexism be tailored to what white men want to read and hear is part of the problem. He’s grown up, as we all have here, in a culture where the overwhelming majority of messages are tailored to white men. Conversations that suggest otherwise–see films about women or by women, or about and by African Americans–are nearly always pitched as niche, because conversations about white people and particularly white men dominate.

Perhaps you’ve seen conversations online about the Golden Globes?

In one corner, we have those who are angry and frustrated to see women snubbed for the eight millionth time in the major category of best director. And in the other, we have those (cough, white men, cough) who insist that the selections are about TALENT, duh, and women just haven’t shown enough. They’re also saying that women are only 7% of film directors because of that reason–certainly not because of systemic sexism and an old boys club that limits women’s access to directorships.

Exhibit A.

That unwillingness to grasp the message and to make it about them–here, “white men are the best directors” is implied as normative fact–echoes what the brother above was saying. A corollary is that men’s stories are normative and women’s are “chick flicks” or “chick lit” (books have the same problem as film in terms of perception and coverage, like in the NYT’s book reviews). Another corollary shifts the lens from sex to race and finds the same thing.

And I’m just a voice among many, many people who have made this argument particularly in the last couple of years: we’re asking men like the brother above to listen to our points and our stories, and they then make it about them. We argue it’s always been about them, let’s hear it be about us, and they flap their wings like startled chickens:

“How could such a thing be? We mustn’t tolerate it! How confusing for us!”

And you’ll forgive me for being glib there, but here’s the thing: maybe these messages, white men, aren’t ABOUT you or FOR you, but you need to hear them so that you consider how you operate in the world. We need to work for a world in which white and male are not the default, normative assumption about quality in anything–stories, acting, directing, teaching, leading the nation, you name it. You need to believe us that that world will be better, because white male mediocrity isn’t inherently the best.

And to that end, white dudes STFU about Oprah.
Exhibit B.

Just stop. Her speech wasn’t for you. Whether or not she runs for office is her business at this point, and putting the focus there minimizes the incredible words she spoke at the Golden Globes. It was for women. It was for people of color. White men need to hear it, but they don’t need to offer running fucking commentary. PARTICULARLY, we don’t need the comparisons of what she has that Hillary Clinton didn’t: stop pitting women against each other. If mediocre white men by the hundreds can all be part of leadership and power, then guess what? More than one woman can, too. And those women are two of the best.

{here’s a link to a transcript of Oprah’s speech, which inexplicably has a photo of Meryl Streep at the top and no photo of Oprah…wtf… }


Please follow and like us:

13 thoughts on “It’s Not Always About You, White Dudes (You’re Just Not Used to That)

      1. WAIT I forgot what I was actually going to say because I got too caught up nodding my head in agreement haha. Which is that at some point late in the election cycle in 2016 my white, educated, middle-class brother was talking about the election and legit said he felt “disenfranchised” by the choice of candidates. I probably would’ve punched him in the face if we hadn’t been in the car on the way home from a family vacation.


        1. WHAT. Seriously, that’s not a word to use here, pal. What the hell was his reasoning?

          I think this gets into really interesting questions and perceptions of representation. There’s been a lot of talk about why representation–of women, people of color, nonbinary people, queer folks-is so important in the last year or so. Does a little bit of representation of people who aren’t white, straight men make the white, straight men feel threatened? Like the stat that if a woman talks in a meeting for 1/3 of the time, she’s perceived as having dominated the whole thing? It’s so infuriating (but also a potentially interesting psychological study for someone).

          1. Yeah, he wasn’t going to vote Trump for obvious reasons, but Hillary “hadn’t convinced [him] she’s a real person and not a cold politician without feelings or personality or substance” or some shit like that. (To which I was of course like IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO “SHE’S A WOMAN,” DON’T TRY TO TELL ME OTHERWISE. He, uh, didn’t take that too well and tried to explain it away…)

            AKA he wanted Bernie to win the Dem nomination and was still mad about it *eye roll*

            And yep, maybe anything less than 98%-100% representation of white men in their minds automatically means zero representation ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  1. I noticed that most things coming out of white dudes’ mouths after Oprah’s speech were wrong, and I also especially noticed that not one dude at the Awards peeped a word about sexism and harassment. Hmmmm.

  2. Once more for the people in the back! No seriously: apparently this can’t be said enough, and in enough ways, because there are always dudes who come back at us with “but white privilege isn’t real because what other group can you legally discriminate against?” (actual comment that was left on my blog).

    I am constantly in awe of your eloquence, your passion, and your overall ability to communicate complicated themes like this in a way that is accessible, brief, and compassionate. Please don’t ever stop writing. I might have to do something drastic if you do.

    1. Aw, thanks, Piggy! That’s super kind of you to say. I’m glad it resonated with you, and I appreciate all you do out there in the world as well 🙂

  3. What I’m also noticing is that people feel clunky and awkward even if they’re not threatened by these conversations. I work really hard with my students to have conversations about gender and race and religion, not because I have all the answers, but because I need this generation of humans to grow up and not be unsure of how to even engage in discourse. Thanks for writing, as always!

Leave a Reply