White. Male. 27 years-old. 6’3″, 205.3 pounds. Lawyer. Liberal. Racist. Wild Card. Conformist. High-achiever. Pothead. Socially awkward. Arrogant.
All of these labels have been applied to me at some point in my life, either by myself or by others. It is in our nature as human beings, and particularly as Americans, to apply labels to everything we encounter. And yet, how much do these neat categories fail to capture? When does data ignore reality? And why does it matter?
According to Psychology Today, our personal identities are formed in three steps: discovering our potential, choosing a purpose, and finding opportunities to exercise that potential and purpose. However, many of us have identifies that have nothing to do with either our purpose or potential.
As a white male in 21st century, and particularly as a member of the professional sphere, I am frequently reminded that I am in fact the worst. Apparently, there is a surplus of my kind, and the world would really be better off without us. According to Samantha Bee, we have ruined America. And apparently, we’re angry at the world for yanking away our privilege.
And yet, despite my identity as a “white male,” neither my race nor my sex have anything to do with my inner potential or my purpose on this planet. In fact, most of what makes me who I am cannot be captured in a data point, or ten, or even a thousand.
My potential doesn’t come from the melanin (or lack thereof) in my epidermis, but from the collective moments of learning, growth and exploration that have shaped my perspective. Similarly, my purpose on this earth has little to do with my . . . Italian sausage.
Then why do so many of today’s liberals (including our professors, reporters, and activists) insist on laying so much blame at the feet of a faceless horde of white males?
Part of it is the simplicity. Narratives, particularly those designed for mass consumption, often forgo nuance and complexity for the sake of clicks. This has never been more true than in the social media when earnest communication has been sacrificed in favor of the convenience and accessibility of #trendyhashtags. Thus, it is easier for a journalist to follow the trend of white male bashing than it is to delve into the many sociological ills facing our nation.
Another aspect is familiarity. At the highest levels of society, most white men do tend to have an abundance of privilege. However, the vast majority of their privilege comes from growing up in stable and economically prosperous households. Of course, these metrics are inextricably linked to race. But it is the economic indicators that I believe truly matter. I for one would rather be born the daughter of an African-American CEO than the son of a white meth-addict, and I believe that most Americans would reach the same conclusion. By using white male privilege as a shorthand for economic and societal privilege, we fail to recognize the true issues causing the disparities we see today.
More cynically, 21st century yuppies use white-privilege as a boogeyman to justify their participation in, and propagation of, an economic system that degrades and commodifies the American populace.
While I was a law student at Columbia, a near totality of the student population held political views accurately described as far-left. Yet I can count on one hand the number of classmates I know who went on to pursue careers in the public sphere. The vast majority of my classmates ended up at one law firm or another, making well upwards of $100k/year to sell their talents to the highest corporate bidder.
At the end of the day, it’s far easier to share another NYT opinion article about how angry white men and Herr Trump are ruining America than it is to forgo a comfortable salary and all of the Instagram-worthy moments it can finance. Meanwhile, corporate big-wigs continue to exploit the American workforce. American city-dwellers, and particularly liberal, urban professionals, are complicit in this exploitation. And though they loudly proclaim their support for social justice causes, they don’t think twice about trading their soul for that sweet corporate cash.
What, then, is the takeaway from all of this? First, I believe that the division and identify politics plaguing society have exposed a great need for independent reporting and media. Similarly, the two-party system serves only to distract the masses from the corruption and dysfunction plaguing our governmental institutions.
It’s time for Americans to retake control of the nation. Instead of getting engulfed in tribal warfare, we need to recognize all that we have in common. Black, brown, white, or green, unless you are a member of the corporate elite the simple truth is that the government is not working in your favor. Our society needs to change at a fundamental level, and it won’t be accomplished by throwing around liberal buzzwords (sorry for mansplaining).
How then do we solve this problem? To me, the answer is simple. We need to start caring. Decades of bickering, hostility, and ineptitude have conditioned us into a state of acquiescence. Career politicians run our cities, states, and the nation at large because few have the passion or audacity to rock the boat. It’s time to break convention. It’s time for ordinary members of society to run for political office and to have their voices heard. It’s time to stop allowing society to label, sort, and deploy us like pawns on a chessboard. It’s time to rock the boat.