Is there a place in the American heart for the white male?
In season 1, episode 4 of HBO’s White Lotus, Nicole Mossbacher (played by Connie Britton) has a conversation with her daughter Olivia and Olivia’s friend, Paula. The conversation is about Quinn, Nicole’s son and Olivia’s brother.
Nicole (Mom): How’s it going? … Hey, can I ask you girls a favor? Can you try to include Quinn a little bit more in your voodoo ceremonies and whatever else you do?
Olivia: Mom, he’s scuba diving in the kiddie pool.
Nicole: No, I know, just in general. You know, I just… I don’t think you appreciate how tough things are for kids like Quinn right now.
Olivia: Why? Because of the Asperger’s?
Nicole: He doesn’t have Asperger’s, Olivia. But he is a straight, white, young man. And nobody has any sympathy for them right now. And I just feel like we should. Yeah, in a way, they’re the underdogs now.
Paula (Olivia’s Friend): Go on.
Nicole: Well, for instance, young guys like Quinn, who are just getting out of college, I don’t care how incredibly impressive they are, it is almost impossible for us to hire them.
Paula: Well, isn’t that because up until now, they’re the only people that you’ve ever hired?
Olivia: Yeah, don’t you have enough of them on staff?
Nicole: Trust me, I get it. I’m just saying, I understand how guys like Quinn can feel a little alienated from the culture right now.
Olivia: Mom, cringe.
Nicole: And I don’t think it’s fair to him.
Olivia: Mom, cringe.
Nicole: (SIGHS) Olivia, he’s my son, okay?
The one-and-a-half-minute dialogue gets at something very real in our culture, is there a place in the American heart for the white male?
While the concerned Nicole looks on and engages, the girls are radioactive with cultural narratives that leave Nicole sighing.
Identity politics plays a critical role in the way the left and the right address social issues, and it has seemed more amplified than usual, even as data is telling us to slow down and take a more in depth look.
Mentioning the challenges of white males in America must make some people cringe until you learn over 305,000 white males committed suicide from 2010 to 2020, more than 190,000 have died from alcohol induced causes unrelated to suicide, another 264,000 have died from accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control’s Wonder Database. And the list goes on.
Although some legislators are sympathetic, most know a narrative that addresses white males as part of a larger discussion on boys and men is unpopular and unlikely to gain traction in the mainstream media, educational institutions, and with policymakers.
White males are only second to Native American/Alaska Native males when it comes to suicide deaths per 100,000. White males and Native American/Alaska Natives are 2.7 to 2.9 times as likely as black males and Hispanic males to commit suicide and nearly 12x to 13x as likely as black females.
There is also the plight of black males, the group most subject to homicide deaths, 40/100,000. (Native American/Alaska Natives are 16/100,000). And the issue is even more complex when the information is looked at regionally or statewide. In Utah, for instance, black male homicide deaths are 14/100,000, but they are 72/100,000 in Washington D.C. and 83/100,000 in Missouri. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are happening within one’s own racial group.
Despite these realities, discussing issues that impact boys and men is difficult enough, and throwing white males into the mix is even more offsetting at a time when identity politics is exclusive more than inclusive and has become obsessed with the word oppression and selective with the direction of compassion.
The challenges of white males are tied-up in a larger culture war that has ignored males in general and slammed the door in their faces, often with a dismissive patriarchal and toxic epithet to follow. There is some sympathy for black and Hispanic males, but that too has been problematic because the causes of their problems touch on issues that are overtly real but politically insensitive. Fatherlessness is an underlying problem in the black community, but fatherlessness in general is problematic across racial lines. (40% of births are to unwed parents nationally. It’s 70% in the black community.)
When the terms patriarchy and toxic masculinity are used, however, the white male is the usual archetypal image of these expressions found in academia, media, private industry, and government.
These contemporary narratives make it difficult to get at the root causes of depression, struggles in education, careers, drug addiction, poverty, and issues that may have more to do with socio-economics, fractured families, and educational outcomes than racial ones.
There is also a narrative that operates with impunity. When Nicole, from White Lotus, says, “it is almost impossible for us to hire [white males],” there is a certain acknowledgement that the cultural politics of the time have targeted white males and Paula and Olivia are the young people taking the cultural bait that males are defective and privileged while failing to realize that they are not over represented among qualified applicants. And, there is a real truth in Nicole’s statement.
In speaking with a few high-level executives, they know there is a margin on hiring white males. (It’s the unspoken practice.) Some are bolder in their action. San Francisco tried to fire John Arntz, the successful Director of San Francisco’s Department of Elections, as part of a diversity move, not because of his performance. In other words, Arntz was identified for firing because of his whiteness and not his performance. This type of action is an example of the permissive cultural structure that allows government to feel empowered enough to even make such a move. It’s the type of move that would have Martin Luther King rolling in his grave.
The arguments, formed with a broad brush, are penalizing whiteness, for instance, whether the people are from Beverly Hills, California or the towns across America that are like Beattyville, Kentucky.
These arguments dismiss the more than 6.3 million white males 18 to 64 years of age who live at 100% of poverty. While 14.4% of black males 18 to 64 years-of-age live at 100% of poverty, 8.3% of white males do so as well. Percentages, although important, can lose context. Acknowledging there are 6.3 million white males and 1.8 million black males living at 100% of poverty is equally important. We can hold distinctive thoughts in our heads at the same time. As a percentage, black males are struggling more, yet so are millions of whites males. Poverty is the issue, for instance, and job security is part of the treatment.
In a study of college participation rates, Global Initiative for Boys and Men (through the help of the Pell Institute) learned that white males in lower income quartiles struggle as much as black males, and white males were behind black males in the second lowest income quartile by nearly 5 percent in college participation. In the higher economic quartiles, there was no real statistical difference. The greatest statistical reality is that black, Hispanic, and white males are behind female groups by significant margins.
These types of narratives, however, don’t gain much traction, in great part, because few even know about the data. Instead, many approach the topic with a cold cultural shrug as thousands of homeless and drug-addicted white males are found in landscapes across America.
A recent CNN article, focusing on gun laws, did address gun deaths with graphics that showed the number of white males who used firearms to commit suicide and black males whose homicide deaths were the result of firearms.
Adelyn Allchin, the director of public health research for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, said in a written statement:
“Gun violence has been part of our day-to-day lives for far too long. It is way past time that elected leaders at every level of government work together to make gun violence rare and abnormal.”
Regardless of one’s position on gun rights, these are examples of the types of thoughtful people hoping to help a struggling boy in school, guide a drug addicted teenager to recovery, or feed a homeless person on the street who might turn to crime or self-harm. These helpers are everywhere. They are black, white, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, and both male and female. They’re religious and non-religious.
There are also those actors who are more nefarious. They use movements and favorable narratives to access limited resources at the expense of others or to promote themselves or their agendas while those in need go unattended.
Identity politics continues to play a critical role in the way our policy-makers, educators, and press speak about certain groups, and in doing so, often divide us from the humanity all of us share. Few Americans are paying attention to the numbers. Why would they? The people are relying on sources they believe are doing it for them, which makes government, academia, and media essential in its responsibility to avoid identity politics and address human rights in an inclusive way.
And it’s not just fictional characters like Nicole who are concerned about their sons, identifying the way anti-male sentiment, particularly white, has impressed itself on young people and the culture at large.
We are seeing more moms and dads increasingly concerned about their sons, who deserve more than fair and equal consideration. They deserve fair and equal treatment.
In the words of a friend, the future is everyone. And I would add, even the white guys.
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Paul, thanks for the engaging response. Although I think the moral argument is more implicit than explicit in the piece, you make an excellent point regarding the importance of explicit moral arguments. The statistics are merely presented as a reminder of our moral failings and not that our moral failings are statistics. It's because of the moral failings that we get the statistics. When it comes to these issues, they are not zero-sum games. They are an opportunity to rise to the better angels of our nature and see the moral significance of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Thanks Paul.
This is an excellent essay. Its argument relies on the statistical facts that most people either don't know about because of biased journalism or don't care about because of ideological indoctrination.
But this is not a moral argument, at least not explicitly, and moral arguments are just as necessary and just as effective as statistical ones even in this age of rampant cynicism. I see not one but two specifically moral problems.
First, discrimination against people today for the failings of their ancestors makes no moral sense--not unless we confuse revenge with justice. Judging from what centuries of recorded human experience clearly indicates, there can be no such thing as justice without reconciliation. And revenge leads in precisely the opposite direction. We need desperately to make this clearly now that identity politics (revenge) has become acceptable and even fashionable in the public square.
Moreover, discrimination against against any group of people on biological grounds (race or sex) is not wrong (false) only because of statistics. Rather, it is inherently wrong (morally). That's because it undermines the distinctively human capacity for compassion instead of fostering it.
To put all of this in the proverbial nutshell, consider the "Golden Rule" in either its positive form (Do unto others ... ) or its negative form (Do not do unto others ... ). Even though this precept appears in some religious texts, it's insight is self-evident to secular people no less than to religious ones. If any moral or philosophical insight is universal, both historically and cross-culturally, this is surely it. No society worth living in or sacrificing for could endure otherwise. To argue against it, in fact, would require nothing short of a Nazi argument. Even now, not many people would want to make that one.