Friday, July 13, 2012

Sometimes, I Don't Want to be a White American Man Anymore

It can be exhausting. Trying to decolonize yourself from literally centuries of oppressive thinking and behavior tied to the very body you were born into. This body of mine - white, male, tall enough, thin enough, and attractive enough to fit nearly all the major privilege boxes. Check. Check. Check.

Body as trigger for oppressed groups. Body as receptacle of assumptions, associations, and projections. Body as justification for power and privileges, wanted and unwanted. Body as container of the unripened consequences of my male ancestors' thoughts and deeds.

Sometimes, I don't want any of it. Don't want to think about all the complications that come with dating and relationships because of it. Don't want to consider all the ways in which nearly every aspect of society has upheld my image, and yet twisted its possibilities so thoroughly that everyone, including myself, tends to wonder if we can ever liberate it. In a body like this. Liberate the several hundred year of European colonialism located in, and emanating from, the bodies and minds of generation after generation of white men who spread themselves across the planet, attempting to dominate every last corner of land, culture, religion, government, drop of water. A domination that's still going on, today, in a more expanded form - globalized capitalism - which includes more power players, but is really just another form of the same old thing.

Occasionally, I feel damned. Damned by the hegemonic masculinity that drives the corporations to gobble up resources, imprison or murder those who resist, and destroy the planet in the process. If I get angry or demanding in any way, I fit the image of the male oppressor. If I act kind, caring, non-demanding, respectful of differences, I get slammed by some of my fellow brothers as "weak," "a pussy," in need of "manning up." My sexuality gets questioned. Women who otherwise might be attracted to me disappear, or consider me friend-worthy, but that's it. I know I am not alone in experiencing all of this, but still, so many of those who look like me are lost in the fog of conditioning, all too happy to ignore the various elements of their colonized minds, if they even recognize them as such.

I feel often feel poisoned. Or haunted by some set of demons I can't quite eject. It's not that I don't have any peace and ease in my life. I do. At times. But the legacy of this body doesn't seem to allow for long stretches of peace and ease. This particular body and mind that is, one that often feels like it has one foot in the old world, and a foot in someplace else, new and so much less tarnished by the greed, hatred, and ignorance of my forefathers.

Under the old terms, I'm not supposed to express needs and receive gifts that might help get those needs met. Not supposed to share power, be vulnerable, or remain in the background. I'm supposed to take what I need, take what I want; use people and the planet for whatever purposes I have. In romantic relationships, I'm supposed to lead, bring in the lion's share of resources (money, food, housing, etc.), be catered to, pampered, cared for emotionally because I'm too damned stunted in that area to do much more than holler and grunt and whine occasionally.

The old narrative is fucking exhausting. Obnoxious. Destructive.

Trying to forge a new way of being and living is also fucking exhaustive.

On good days, during good stretches - I am lighter than all this. There's humor and laughter at the myriad of absurdities. There's peace with so much being undefined, in process, not knowing what to do or how to act really.

So, I don't want to sound crazy. Or have this be dismissed as the writing of a guy who needs to lighten up and forget about it. That's not it. Guys need to talk about these things more. Need to lay the fucking bone bare in public and stop pretending like we're calm, cool, and collected all the time. Or that it's just over-thinking or hypersensitivity. I'm tired of being given so much permission by my culture to speak and act in exploitive ways, while at the same time being silenced and shamed for anything that bucks those norms.

There have been some strides in recent decades. Appearances of men's groups. Men practicing communication methods like NVC. Men studying and trying to put into practice feminist thought, and other related philosophies. Men sharing more power in politics, spiritual and religious communities.

But something is still off about a lot of what is happening. I notice more and more women stepping into and fully embodying the power of their birthright. Not the power of oppression, but of liberation.

Whereas with many of the men trying to eject colonization, and step more fully into that same liberatory power, there's something holding us back. Some are giving up half way, embracing some of the positive, while maintaining some of the oppressive ways. They often believe they've done enough. That they are good guys. And that women are others need to cut them some slack. Which is sometimes the truth.

Others are more like me. Trying to learn to be completely ok with ourselves at every moment, and also unwilling to stop half way, claim the "good guy" label, and be done with it.

Both groups actually are kind of weak. But not in the way those living and loving the oppressive mindset are calling us out for.

Nearly all of us struggle with identity. We claim labels like feminist, and then experience backlash from both some of the very women we're trying ally with, and the majority of men society says we are supposed to naturally ally with.

Do you understand the exhaustion I sometimes feel yet?

Because some of us have leadership qualities, we are elevated as such, and then get hammered for either being "too soft" or for acting in ways that fit the patriarchal paradigm.

We make mistakes like anyone else. Some of those mistakes are too easily excused by our society. Others are used against us by members of oppressed groups and oppressor groups in different manners. I have experienced the same display of anger on my part being condemned as sexist by a woman, and then used as a sign that I'm sensitive and possibly gay by a man. It's all rather insane. And humorous, if you can take a step outside of it.

Why I sometimes don't want to be a white American man is that this mind of mine - not separate from the body - more and more doesn't fit this body as it has been historically framed and socially constructed. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance. Who am I anyway? A kind of unanswerable question that still begs for answers.

Most people don't like unanswerable questions. Shifting identities. Shifting relationships. They want something solid, reliable, easy to understand. Which is one of the reasons why so many of us fight like hell to maintain certain definitions of gender, and gender roles - even when those definitions and roles neither serve us, nor suit us.

Your thoughts?


  1. "Body as trigger for oppressed groups. Body as receptacle of assumptions, associations, and projections. Body as justification for power and privileges, wanted and unwanted. Body as container of the unripened consequences of my male ancestors' thoughts and deeds."...

    The body we are given in this life can be experienced as a cage, but it is also the key. Movement of the body, free and unrestrained, is an important way all of us can move the trauma of the experience of being human (along with all the historical traumas of our ancestors) through us, and find release through self-expression. In my training as a Movement Therapist through Global SomaticsTM, I witnessed tremendous transformations as people danced, cried, fought, and laughed their way back to a connection with their bodies. And the work of clearing trauma we are able to do, helps us all. I know that I am now able to rise up more confidently and compassionately in my roles and responsibilities because of the work I have done in this field of embodiment. And I have heard from many women how my rising up to claim my power inspires them to do the same. Can a man who is comfortable in his body inspire other men to explore knowing themselves in this way? However, in all the dance classes I've taken, the demographic is overwhelmingly female. Where are the guys? How can we clear more permission for the men and boys of the world to dance?

  2. When dismantling a system of oppression in which white men oppressed everyone else in order to maintain power, it must be odd to be a white man. As a woman of little means I can think about ways that my class and gender result in my oppression. In my mixed race family we can talk about the ways in which some of us are racially oppressed. I also know many wealthy white men who aren't even oppressed by poverty and they are all convinced that they earned everything they have. They are totally unaware that society was set up so that they, specifically, could pile up as much money as possible. Standing on the shoulders of bad people that did bad things is uncomfortable.

    What can one do? Our ancestors stole, raped, murdered, committed genocide, discriminated and oppressed. I think just recognizing that fact alone is a big deal. Part of white privilege means that white people think they're just better than everyone else and that's why we have so much. I think its important to acknowledge that we are privileged.

    The gender side of the question is totally novel to me. It never occurred to me that men could be oppressed by the same system that enriches (some of) them. I wonder why the same system that white men built to enrich themselves also limits their humanity to such an extent? Does one need to be less human to exploit others?

  3. Thank you for the comment Malia. As you know, I have done a lot of body work. Which is why I can write and focus on it. I know I need to keep going, letting loose, liberating. I know so many more men need to just take some of the steps I and some others have. Its funny because sometimes I feel more at home in this body than ever before. And other times, it's so alien. Like I am traveling between someplace more awake, and somewhere totally caged.

    Anonymous, I see those unaware white men all the time. Am acutely aware of them, and how their actions impact the rest of us. How I am one of them and not. It is an odd place.
    In order to oppress, I believe you have to turn away from your intimate connection to everyone else. We are all brothers and sisters. And so, to keep others down for your benefit ultimate leads to loosing part of yourself. And I think white men, and men in general have lost part of ourselves we need to find again.