The Real White Man’s Burden

It’s unfortunate that in the 21st century we are still subjected to the kind of propaganda that, positions white people and men in particular, as the chosen ones of history and, indeed, the future.

It’s no secret that white nationalism is resurgent under Trump, who recently identified himself as a “nationalist” as opposed to someone who cares about all the world’s citizens.

It is far from a stretch to assume that this was a signal to his base and that the only reason he left out the word “white” is because even he is not prepared to go that far— at least not yet.

His far-right supporters likely got the message, and some don’t even bother with coded language— e.g. the Rise Above Movement or the Proud Boy — while others hide behind a pseudo-intellectual veneer. Racist views have become so mainstream that even a black teenager shamelessly disparaged her own race on a recent episode of Dr. Phil.

I recently came across a disturbing yet significant example of white nationalist ideology and was shocked to recognize its author from an old social circle. (I omit his name because my goal is not to single out an individual but an ideology). His “White Man’s Burden” is not an example of a lonely, voice shouting through the wilderness or I would not bother to comment.

As a white man, I fear that his is a view shared by many white men— and the women who rely on them— from all social strata. The Trump administration and its supporters would doubtless approve.

The so-called ‘white man’s burden’ is a dark remnant from a past that lurks at the highest levels of government in the United States and currently threatens much of the world.

Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro, advised by ex-Trump handler Steve Bannon, is the latest political triumph of white nationalism. This is an ideology that promotes imperialism as a Social Darwinian imperative and confuses civilization with barbarism: its proponents fail to see that it is an indictment on a race if that race succeeds by riding the backs of others — not a source of pride.

I propose another burden that is far more, noble: the burden of justice. White men and women have an opportunity to (finally) break their own chains of oppressor status in an increasingly interdependent world. They have access to information that can lift them out of ignorance and toward a new enlightenment that goes beyond reformation within Western societies and emphasizes how the privileged center can relate more peacefully and justly to those on the margins. Moreover, in the information age the very concept of whiteness (or race, for that matter) is evolving into one that is far more dependent on ideology or self-identification than physical appearance or genetics. This is a positive development in the sense that many people— myself included— no longer feel the need to identify with an exclusive club based on pseudo-science and primitive tribalism. Given the complexity of genes that make up an individual, it would make just as much sense for a white man to identity with Genghis Kahn, Cleopatra or some primordial super-ape as it would be to identity with Julius Caesar.

Human accomplishments and failures belong to humanity because nothing happens in perfect genetic isolation. (Don’t take my word for it; read the acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.) However, this is not to say that all cultures or peoples are identical— it’s the concept of interdependence that white nationalists fail to grasp.

Unlike the extremes on both sides of the spectrum, I am not one who believes that any skin color represents good or evil— or that the answer to history’s

inequities and inequalities is to condemn the ancestors of those who came out on top. There is more rage than logic behind these views. However, justice must be done for the benefit of humanity: white, black, brown, red and yellow. It is the lack of justice that not only stokes the rage at the bottom, but also buttresses the fear at the top. The rise of Trump was predicated on this fear. But rage alone will not defeat him.

True justice will not only usher in a new world community that includes everyone while respecting differences— but will also ensure that burdensome white men will never again have to justify their privilege.

Matt Johnson, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is co-author of Trumpism.

Truth And Reconciliation For Gender-Based Offenses

I was very inspired by the bold New York Times piece “Eight Stories of Men’s Regret,” published in response to the polarized debate over now-Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Not only is it brave to confess one’s past transgressions but it’s also necessary for accountability, which is the missing link of #MeToo.

Perhaps most importantly, these actions will inspire others to do likewise. #MeToo should get much of the credit: Its hashtag inspired other, albeit less catchy, offshoots (#HimThough and #IDidThat) that focused on male accountability. This was the necessary counterpart to the outpouring of sexual assault survivor solidarity in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein exposé.

It is likely that these offshoots lacked the staying power of #MeToo primarily due to the reluctance of men to participate. Nonetheless, there is a tendency within #MeToo and beyond it to chastise men for speaking up in areas deemed sensitive to women— arguing that men need to listen rather than speak, defend, mansplain, etc.— but the question remains: What does male accountability look like? It certainly cannot be reduced to passive listening. This is how you would scold a child with some poor parenting. In the case of an adult, passive listening can only be the beginning of accountability.

This effort by men to publicly confess in a thoughtful, self-reflective manner is a major step forward in the fight for accountability. I can recall that one of the most powerful and inspiring moments from my years of anti-war activism (which led me to anti-violence and women’s rights activism) was watching the teary-eyed testimony of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans confess during the Winter Soldier testimonies the crimes they committed against civilians. I can also recall, on video, the steely-eyed white South African police officers recounting how they tortured and murdered black freedom fighters during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

While the latter example was far less inspirational, truth is critical to any resolution of conflict or reparation of harm. It is the fulcrum of the lever of accountability— and of justice by extension.

It must be noted for the sake of fairness that accountability cannot be limited to one gender, and we cannot assume that men only harm women or that men are the only ones who cause harm. A major flaw of truth and reconciliation processes has been selective justice— that they have only scratched the surface in most cases. If these eight regretful men had gone deeper into their pasts, the reader may have learned where their lack of respect for boundaries originated. While they were all influenced by rape culture and violent socialization to some extent— just by being American men in their particular cases— no boy or man is immune from direct victimization. A victimized man is often a dangerous man due to the hyper-masculine need to disguise weakness or compensate for it in (often) violent ways.

While mainstream society has come a long way in recent months in propping up survivors and calling out perpetrators for violent and sexist behavior, it is time that we hear more from those perpetrators in the context of truth and reconciliation.

Matt Johnson, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is co-author of Trumpism.