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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

White Americans and Meanness



Census charts show us that it won't be long until non-white people are the majority of the U.S. population. Personally, I can't wait. I just hope that when it happens the non-white populations do not take on the characteristics of white folks.

I've been all around the world and know people from all races and walks of life, and there is a meanness among American white folks that you just don't find anywhere else. I've never seen a group of people who had so much power and privilege and were just so cold, hard-hearted and nasty for no reason. Even when they are nice, there is a coldness that you just don't find anywhere else.

I know I'm considered white and most of the people I know are white and there are some fantastic, great people among us. But as a whole, we are a pretty miserable bunch of people, always walking around like someone ate our cheerios. Especially white men. My gosh! Mean-spirited, insecure, walking around with a constant chip on their shoulder... they don't even feel whole unless they are packing a firearm. What a way to live! I'm not blaming them as individuals, just saying the mix of culture and history has not produced a very good result.

A perfect example is all the Nazis trying to take over our country right now. What an unbelievably miserable bunch of people! I can't for the life of me see what is attractive about it, other than maybe "misery loves company"? Have you tried the smile test? You can't support most of Trump's policies with a smile on your face. if you can't, that says something, doncha think?

The ironic thing is that so many white folks (especially men) think that it's all the other races, ethnicities and genders who are "always complaining" but they can't see the obvious truth about themselves.

So for all the people out there who want to share in our power and privilege... are you sure? Maybe it's a privileged thing to even ask that question, but let me tell you it may not be as green on this side of the fence as it seems.

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NOTE:  I originally ended this post with the line that went something like: "White Americans suck." It's not normally my style to think or write this way, but this post was written quickly and I decided to leave it in just to keep the original freshness of the piece. Besides, as a white American male, I feel a certain license to speak freely about my own group in a way that might be less welcome if I were to direct that kind language to a group that I was not a member of. Let's face it, our track record is pretty bad:  Colonization, ethnic cleaning of native people, slavery, continual beat down of immigrants and non-white racdes, rampant domestic terrorism of all types, and just a general chip on our shoulder which makes little sense in light of the well-documented privileges we have.  It's not far off to say, "look guys, looking at our history overall, as a collective group, we basically suck." It's a reality check that we need.

However, I read some feminist pieces that contain lines like "men suck" and I rarely find that helpful. There is real pain behind those words but my assessment is that it is not being directed in the most helpful or accurate way. The pain has become generalized to be directed to the whole population. Some get defensive, others can 't believe how anyone could be defensive in light of the real issues they want to address, and the conversation becomes all about the line "men suck" and the predictable responses. It might be more accurate to direct attention to male privilege, for example, and the fact that this privilege can manifest in all sorts of ways (in men and women), in ways that we know and in other ways that we don't know. 

Case in point: I discovered that the line "white Americans suck" became controversial with some folks. It was the defining line. Someone was trying to explain to me, and they said, "you know, the blog post that says 'white Americans suck.'" Instead of looking at the overall message of this piece that as a whole, our white American culture can stand to do some serious self-analysis to find out what is up our collective butts, people instead point to this line to distract from the real discussion that needs to happen. The message is hard to hear, so they want to control it somehow--get the author to stop, reign in the language and find some way to avoid the real topic. By using that kind of language, I play into their hands. So whether the line is meaningful or justified, the point is that it is rarely helpful.  Case in point:  I'm writing far more about the lie "white Americans suck" (which no longer even appears in the piece above) than the actually piece above.

But is there something about white American culture that we can say? Of course. If we couldn't define characteristics of a group of people, then the entire discipline of sociology would be defunct. We can and we have to talk about how we function as a group and overall features of how we function.

That being said, I'm often skeptical how much we can do to encourage people to talk about something that they simply don't want to talk about. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, as the saying goes. some want to believe in the shadows on the wall and won't submit to a simple head turn to get another perspective. Plato's frustration over this can still be felt 2,400 years later, so it's not exactly a new problem in the human condition.  Still, I tend to believe that are better ways to bridge those divides than others, or else I wouldn't be doing the work I'm doing. 

We need to look no farther than Donald Trump to see the problems that occur when we break down our collective commitment to civility in discourse--and then call anyone a "snowflake" who dislikes it. In my own Lake County in Ohio, one of the County Commissioners--a devout Trump supporter, I believe--was complaining because he was called names at a public meeting and that his fellow Commissioners did not step up to defend him and throw out the offending party. The cognitive dissonance is astounding here, given the unbelievable, almost daily, profoundly juvenile insults coming with the Office of the President--but maybe Trump supporters need to play this out to see why it is a problem. Maybe it seems okay to sit among friends and complain about this group or that group (we all do that to some degree), but when this goes from private conversations to public, and when it is directed back at you, and when public discourse goes down the proverbial toilet, and when civility in the face of differences of opinions is gone, then we have a breakdown in how our society functions in a way that few people really want. But sometimes you have to play that out to remind ourselves why civility is important.

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