If you are American and White and Male you have inherited a universal ego expectation. If you did not receive it at home, it was implanted in school. If you didn’t receive it in school it was implanted in the workplace. It was subtle, universal, and inescapable.
And it was this:
So long as you conformed to the accepted standard of masculinity. So long as you were able-bodied and lusted after women, so long as you were strong and stoic and apologized to no one, so long as you were Christian or at least not some other, non-Christ-based religion, you could be sure that the only persons who could ever possibly be superior to you were other American White Males who were also following the code.
You might be inferior to an American White Male who was better looking, higher earning, or more athletic. You might be inferior to an American White Male who was born into wealth or who holds a higher degree from a more distinguished institution, or who walks with a more beautiful woman on his arm.
But you were promised this:
You would never be inferior to a woman, or a person of color, or a gay man, or a transman, or a man with disabilities, or a man who prayed to Allah, or practiced Buddhism, or even attended Temple. You could never be inferior even to a White Christian, Able-Bodied, Straight, Man if that man was not American. Because … America is Number One and you’re a traitor if you don’t believe it.
Oh you may have been given other messages as well. Messages that said that the American White Male is actually the cause of many of the world’s evils. Or that he has a responsibility that accompanies his privilege. Or that with this power, as with many male-dominated power structures, comes a disposability of the “younger sons and princes.” Or even that this privilege could and should be used to further the greater good of all mankind.
But whatever other messages you received, they were largely based on this one—that the American White Male is born with greater inherent worth than a large portion of the world’s human population.
So if you are an American White Male, and willing to live by that code of what makes a real man, that is the ego expectation you were given. That you would be the preferred choice of employers, sexual partners, lenders, and five-star restaurant maître d’s. And that treating persons who were not American White Males adhering to the code as inferior, as without agency, as without worth, would be accepted, even expected.
Those other messages were predicated on this—that as an American White Male you were born into power.
And this is the question facing the American White Male today.
Will you demand the privilege you have been promised? Will you justify your expectations as being your right because society has said it is right, even though inherent inequality is always wrong? Will you defend the status quo?
Or will you stand to say that this not right, in fact it is at the core of much of what is wrong in America and that striving for equality is what has made America great and the defense of oppression and discrimination is only holding us back? Will you stand to say that all persons – regardless of gender, color, religion, ableness, orientation, or in fact ANY personal characteristic – are inherently equal and deserving of agency and worth?
All American White Males were given this ego expectation. Many have chosen to reject it, even fight against it. But many are fighting to preserve it, to excuse it, to validate it, even to make it the law of the land.
What about you?
This election year brought that question into sharp relief. Because we could not ask for a more ideal poster child for this ego expectation than Donald Trump. Everything he says and does illustrates that in his worldview he has every right to expect these… well, for him and many like him these are rights, not privileges. Of course he can denigrate people who come from other countries, who practice different religions, whose skin is not white. Of course he can mock a man whose hands don’t move in the way yours or mine would move but whose mind was sharp enough to challenge the Donald in a way that did not conform to his ego expectations. Of course he can demean women for their features and their bodies. Of course he sees no harm in grabbing a woman and kissing her without consent, or even grabbing her in a more sensitive and sexual area.
Of course he thinks he’s within his rights. We, as a society, have told him and men like him, that they have the right. And there is no incentive for him, or men like him, to give that up. It’s easy to see why they are defending his right to behave this way—because if he loses his right to the expectations of his ego what hope is there for them to defend their right to do the same?
And what about those who are not American White Males, why would they defend this indefensible status quo? Perhaps because it is the status quo. There is a lot to be said for staying in the comfortable rut until you realize it has become a grave. Perhaps because they believe he will usher in change in government even as he entrenches us in the myth of American White Male superiority in our social system. There’s something attractive about a guy who says he’s going to take on the world to make America great again even though the closest thing has presented to a plan calls for doing despicable things to other people—so long as those other people are not White Americans. Perhaps they only care about one issue—and they think that they and the Donald are on the same side of that one issue so they will vote that one issue even though the real issue that faces all of us as humans is fair and equitable rights of well … humans. Perhaps because they fear a woman as Commander in Chief almost as much, or even more, than they feared an American (yes, even the Donald has admitted he’s an American) Black Man as Commander in Chief. I don’t pretend to know the hearts and minds of the people voting for him, I only know this—they are voting to maintain, even strengthen, this expectation that we are ALL given:
That so long as you are an American White Male, so long as you conform to the accepted standard of masculinity. So long as you are able-bodied and lust after women, so long as you are strong and stoic and apologize to no one, so long as you are Christian or at least not some other, non-Christ-based religion, you will know that the only persons who can possibly be superior to you are other American White Males who are also following the code.
You might be inferior to an American White Male who is better looking, higher earning, or more athletic. You might be inferior to an American White Male who was born into wealth or has a higher degree from a more distinguished institution or who walks with a more beautiful woman on his arm.
But you will never be inferior to a woman, or a person of color, or a gay man, or a trans man, or a man with disabilities, or a man who prays to Allah, or practices Buddhism, or even attends Temple. You can never be inferior even to a White, Christian, Able-Bodied, Straight, Man if that man is not American.
This. This is the one promise of Donald Trump that I believe. That as a woman who has lived with no expectation of agency, control over my physical space or body, or equality in the workplace or the public forum unless I was willing to fight for that agency, that control, and that equality, I am promised that I will have to continue fighting, continue living in fear, continue doing my personal work just to believe that I have worth in the world.
And this. That my friends and neighbors who are not white, not Christian, not able-bodied, not cis-gendered, straight, and male, will continue to live with no expectation of acceptance, let alone equality, in a world that gives those rights first and only to people who are not like them. That disrespect, violation of personhood, and hatred will be the legacy of the country I love, whose mountains, rivers, oceans, and most of all flat wind-blown prairies I have witnessed and taken into my heart. Whose cities and gravel roads I have traveled with equal awe and joy. Whose history is both terrifying in its injustices and inspiring in its brave rallying cry for rebels and visionaries. Whose life blood has infected and uplifted every corner of the globe.
Whatever ethnic stamp runs through my veins, whatever my experience of divinity, whatever gender I see when I look in the mirror and whatever gender I feel when I move through the world—for better or for worse, I am human. A human born in America with a connection and an obligation to what America means to me. And what it has meant to me—in spite of our history and because of our progress, is the promise of equality.
So for all of you who are white, and male, and human, and born in America—I want to know. What does that mean. To you?