Mediocrity as Violence: A Response to “In Defense of the White Male”
This op-ed is trash heaped upon a dumpster fire sparked by the normalization of alt right white supremacy and misogyny.
By Samantha Isabel Wright Calero
“In Defense of the White Male” by Roland Merullo belies the catastrophic and banal legacy of white men in marginalized people’s lives. It seems it would take a white male to fundamentally misunderstand this reality and then publicly write about it. This op-ed is internalized supremacy masquerading as victimization. The irony is that the author is completely unable to see himself in this ugly self-portrait he has created. The imbedded hypocrisy of his frustrated exhortations of #notallmen and #alllivesmatter are not exceptional, but reflective of problematic white maleness.
This appeal is privilege manifest; to be so clueless of the devastating impact that this worldview, and the systems and institutions that support it are lethal to others. This piece minimizes the myriad ways oppression does harm, and erases its consequences. The casual arrogance with which he peddles his would-be exceptionalism betrays a fundamental dissonance that is classic whitepeopling-cum-mansplaining. People in positions of relative power; those with privileged identities engage in grotesque acrobatics to realign information about the world with their worldview. In the United States, this most often manifests in three tropes: blaming oppressed people for the violence they experience; competing in the oppression/ trauma Olympics; and projecting self-victimization to reinforce dominance and deflect critique.
Merullo manages to accomplish all three in under 1000 words. He reflects on one instance of speaking with a former student about women’s rights and abuse. The gendered teacher- student power dynamic compounded with the student clearly not feeling heard was palpable in his retelling. What reads as her boundary-setting statement he reduces to ‘Revenge’. It is as cliched as it is damaging. His fragile need to take up space and be validated as a faux ally is transparent. It is lazily disingenuous to frame the pain of experiencing gender-based violence and systematic political exclusion within a “Seesaw of oppression and fury”. The only result is laying plain that this man has little experience in these matters.
Across the spectrum of violence, women of color and especially trans women and femmes of color are at highly increased risk of homicide and traumatic violent injury. They are also the most excluded from policy planning, institutional leadership and media coverage of all groups. The fall-out from surviving is only deepened by the institutions and systems that often revictimize and retraumatize these folks: healthcare, the criminal legal system, government safety nets, housing; education; the list goes on.
These are all systems built and led by white males that white males like Merullo benefit from, and rarely experience as oppositional. The consequences of these intersections are devastating to individuals, families and entire communities. We cannot divorce a conversation about white male supremacy and feigned victimization with the real marginalization of millions of Americans and others around the globe.
Doubling down on complaining about imaginary reverse racism and misandry, Merullo draws a false parallel of the oppression white men face to, “Making general disparaging statements about any other group: women, blacks, Muslims, homosexuals…” ‘White male’ indeed can be a pejorative term. But it’s thoroughly obvious that he doesn’t understand or care to know its context. His attempted juxtaposition of Hitler, Trump and other “certain unmentionables in present-day D.C.” is presumably against everyday white men like him. The writer fails to locate himself in relation to coercive power: the cultural and political violence that is experienced by so many who don’t share his privilege.
This is exactly how mediocrity can become so violent. The groups he mentions for comparison experience bigotry on top of economic disenfranchisement, mass criminalization, police brutality, and racialized and gendered terrorism. Here Merullo ignores all the ways that, in the United States white males actively and passively perpetuate rape culture; fascist culture; homophobic culture; and religious fundamentalist culture.
These mores are legislated, institutionalized and normed. People are dying, and white people, particularly men, do not get a cookie for engaging in performative allyship. By positioning himself as a victim of labels, he erases the real, material, lethal oppression of fellow human beings he purports to care about.
This op-ed is trash heaped upon a dumpster fire sparked by the normalization of alt right white supremacy and misogyny. That this poorly written, unresearched piece is coming from a well-regarded paper in a liberal- identified city is a plain warning about how insidious and pervasive this rhetoric is. Fuck outta here with that garbage. Lives depend on it. #blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #sayhername
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