Don’t Call It A Comeback: The Resurgence of The Straight, White Dude
So many things to write about this week. John Boehner becomes the presumptive next Speaker of the House, Lawrence O’Donnell and Glenn Greenwald feud over the Democrats’ takeaway from Tuesday’s elections, Phil Griffin’s idiotic and wrong-headed firing of Keith Olbermann leads to Chris Hayes’ admirable decision not to fill in as host of Countdown… so much news!
But wait: Boehner, O’Donnell, Greenwald, Griffin, Olbermann, Hayes – there’s a connection here. Each of those names describes a straight, white dude. Just like me.
It should hardly be surprising that the news consuming the blogosphere is all about straight, white dudes. After all, it is generally true that stories about the political and social advances of historically repressed groups and the obstacles impeding them are subordinated beneath the latest exploits of the empowered class. This news cycle only goes to show that the current political moment in America is essentially the traditional one.
Stories about the election of the greatest number of black Republicans to Congress since Reconstruction (two, and they’re both straight dudes) and of the greatest number of successful LGBT candidates in American history were regarded as vaguely heartwarming peripheral stories, as though about Siamese twins or a dog who saved a human’s life. And then there’s the reality that the incoming house committee leadership is all dude and nearly all white (how many are straight remains to be revealed scandalously, but none is open at present), a fact which is routinely omitted from post-election analysis. Even reports that Michelle Bachmann’s bid to occupy a position of leadership in the 112th Congress has engendered hostility from the current straight, white dude GOP heads have been below-the-fold, somewhere in the middle of the section.
This is only remarkable because of the uncharacteristic diversity of the newsworthy personalities in recent years. After a brief period that saw the peak of the political prominence of Barack Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Barney Frank, Elena Kagan, Steven Chu, Eric Shinseki, Eric Holder, Elizabeth Warren and so forth, the country looks ready to return to the situation of its greatest comfort: a bunch of straight, white dudes in charge. The question is whether these just-past years of ethnic and sexual diversity in the national leadership were just a hiccup or whether the just-starting season of ethnic and sexual homogeneity in the national leadership is.
The answer, as always, boils down to: it depends on us. If we decide that this turn of affairs back to the America of yore is permissible, then the power structure will remain unscathed. But if we determine that we fear and hate straight, white dude supremacy as much as the tea partiers fear and hate its undoing, then it falls to us to topple it.
In a macro sense, this will involve tackling the difficult institutional problems that entrench this power structure into American life: prison recidivism, widespread double standards in the criminal court systems, startling inequality in public school adequacy over racial boundaries, basic legal discrimination in the fields — among others — of marriage and military service, pay disparities between the genders and many others whose advocates are more eloquent and insightful than I can hope to be. But in a micro sense, for us straight, white dudes, this requires something else entirely, and not something especially easier.
The role of the straight, white dude is not to prove how un-racist, un-sexist and un-homophobic he is; it’s to figure out the ways in which that isn’t so and to work on them. What assumptions do I make, what suspicions do I harbor, in what ways do I exoticize or generalize gays, women and people of color? More importantly, in what ways do I rest on the privilege, unrequested, which American society heaps upon me — when do I relent in my acknowledgment of that privilege and rest from working to undo it? When do I use that privilege for things other than abolishing the system that bestows that privilege upon me in the first place? These are the proper concerns for the conscientious straight, white dude, and not how many gay friends I have or how much I enjoy jazz or how many women I follow on Twitter.
I issue such call as I may to America: rage against the supremacy of the straight, white dude. Our country is richer for its diversity, and the news stories we cover (and the people who cover them) (and the owners of the outfits upon which those people cover them) must reflect that.
Nothing less than rage will suffice.
UPDATE: By way of errata notifications, I should mention that Glenn Greenwald, mentioned briefly in the first paragraph, is openly gay and has been for many years. This was a gross omission on my part, but its correction does nothing to alter the thesis of the piece. Thanks for pointing it out.