Confessions of a White Dude

Today, a hateful post was written about me by someone notorious for mean-spirited personal attacks. It is easy enough to determine what I’m referring to if you’re curious, so I won’t link to the post. Nor do I plan to respond in detail to its claims, because every claim he makes is seemingly booby-trapped to make me look foolish no matter which way I respond.

One claim, however, stood out to me: namely that I only critique White Dudes to exempt myself from the category and assure my own moral righteousness, when in fact I am the most White Dudely White Dude of all. The first half of the claim is categorically false. I critique whiteness and masculinity because they are toxic modes of social formation and reproduction that need to be ended. Demography is not destiny here — I know plenty of white males who do not seem to me to be White Dudes.

On the second claim, however, I have to admit that I have not fully destroyed the White Dude within. A big part of the impetus behind my ongoing critique of White Dudes is simply my delight at how much it angers the White Dudes themselves. I find it profoundly amusing when they reply in their distinctively whiny and aggrieved way. Setting up the critique and watching White Dudes play out their role brings me an abiding joy.

In other words, I am carrying out the signature White Dudely move of being “provocative” for its own sake, of needling people just so that they will respond as I predict and I can be right about them. All breeds of White Dudes do this. Atheists egg on religious people, and lo and behold, the religious people respond just like they predict! Chauvanists egg on feminists, and would you believe it, turns out feminists don’t have a sense of humor! I’ve chosen a particularly “meta” position within the field, as is my wont, but I have not escaped it (nor does this acknowledgment mean that I’ve escaped it, nor does the last one, nor this one, onward to infinite regress).

All of my enjoyment might be excusable if my critiques of White Dudeliness had any positive social function, but it’s not at all clear that bringing out the worst in an already pretty shitty class of person is serving any positive social function. Certainly other demographics don’t need a demonstration that White Dudes are terrible — they know it in their gut, at a very early age. And with the White Dudes themselves, at best it produces a kind of vortex of performative contradiction that renders the White Dudical construct claustrophobic and seemingly inescapable.

The critique serves no function: you must change your life. Through a combination of fortuitous circumstances and half-conscious choices, I did once find myself in a community that durably changed my life. It was a shockingly diverse community compared to what I had known up to that point, and there were many aspects of life in that community that rankled my White Dudely instincts. But over time, I began to learn to swallow my pride, to be accountable to the people around me, and in short, to grow the fuck up.

A left that needs to get past what I learned in that community is a left that no one should want to be a part of.

16 thoughts on “Confessions of a White Dude

  1. The impact of the post in question on me has to do with your formulation here: “at best it produces is a kind of vortex of performative contradiction that renders the White Dudical construct claustrophobic and seemingly inescapable.” I take this to be related to your no-win vortex and the general problem of political paralysis. I think it is a fair point that insofar as White Dude critique produces crippling political paralysis among the only population to both benefit from white dude privilege and feel like something ought to be done about it, we ought to interrogate precisely what we are doing and the mentality we are cultivating. We meaning White Dude critiquers and the White Dudes who read them. For instance, let’s say the stars aligned and you had the chance to ride pure, unadulterated, racist, white-dude privilege to a Senate position, but any other route to political power was foreclosed. Wouldn’t getting in there as a sleeper agent and doing as much as you could once you had a vote be the right move in that context? Surely, it would be a psychologically difficult thing to pull off. Should we be asking the question: how can I weaponize my privilege, rather than how can I abandon it? What sense does it make to empower marginalized communities when we are empowering them to run into a neoliberal buzzsaw? What’s the difference between empowering them and abandoning them by forsaking any ability we have to do anything about the world? Have we developed a pathological avoidance of complicity that has completely foreclosed meaningful participation in advancing political goals we find valuable? These are empirical questions that I don’t have answers to.

  2. This reminds me, among other things, of one of the epigraphs to the chapter, “Secularism,” in Gil Anidjar’s “Semites: Race, Religion, Literature.”:

    “In the chapters that follow, the reader may be certain, however, that as a white man I locate myself–all but a painfully extracted sliver of myself–*within* the process under scrutiny.” – Richard Drinnon, “Facing West”

    The irony of the FDB’s post is, of course, that he’s guilty of the very thing he accuses you of. The difficulty and necessity of the real work of extracting that ‘sliver of oneself’ in order to thereby speak truthfully of oneself, is apparently lost on the guy.

  3. I enjoyed this. Your final sentence intrigued me tremendously but I confess to lacking the intellect to understand and unpack it. Could you say more about what you mean? (this isn’t a “say more” out of suspicion/critique but literally that I don’t understand but think it sounds cool.)

  4. Basically, the post that occasioned this one claimed that I represent all the worst traits of white male liberals that we need to get past. (You may be particularly interested to learn that I’m iconic of the tendency to be deathly afraid of disagreeing with any woman or minority.)

  5. Resisting abstract pat answers (“both things are bad!”), respecting the fact that what seems to you to be a change of emphasis can appear to be a change of substance to someone with different experience, realizing that you’re hard-wired to constantly try to take over, realizing that white privilege still functions even in settings that are trying really hard to get past that paradigm….

  6. Uh, not sure if you read DeBoer’s blog regularly, but he made this really great point about a week ago vis-a-vis a bigger argument about the tone and register of political arguments online:

    “We’ve also decided that, once you identify yourself as arguing against political misbehavior, there are absolutely no standards on your own behavior. You are allowed to engage in brutal character assassination if you represent yourself as speaking out against racism or sexism or similar. Look at the odd condition of a Twitter storm: offenses that are often subtle or unintentional are treated as indicative of existential immorality, but the direct, utterly cruel overreactions against these offenses are treated as righteous political acts. Microaggressions breed macro-aggressive responses that are seemingly exempt from standards of fair behavior.”

    Weird, huh? I actually think he had a lot of great points that personally called me to account as an Educated White Man, but his whole critique could just as easily have been applied to himself or anyone. He could have elaborated some rhetorical category or generalized about a certain kind of behavior, but he just piled it all on you. Did you sleep with this guy’s girlfriend years ago or something?

  7. Is this what Mao meant by “self-criticism?” In any case, this is getting very close to a Theory of White Dudes, which I expect will help do something about White Dudeism.

  8. Is the terminology of the “White Dude” really helpful? As a white dude in the formal sense of those words yourself, aren’t you just feeding a way of speaking that will inevitably come back and bite you, when you (inevitably) get called out for being a “White Dude” in the political sense. Proponents of the term will insist it relates to ideologies, not physical identity, but the term itself insists otherwise, and so any physically white dude who uses it is digging his own grave and will never “destroy the White Dude within”, because he can’t destroy the external signs of being a white dude. Of course, by making this point I may be seen to be betraying my own “White Dudeness”, but it’s worth a shot.

  9. I often like FdB’s writing a lot, but he seems to suffer from the misapprehension that anyone who talks to their friends online in a kind of in-jokey way is part of a powerful cabal that congratulates itself at the expense of social justice. Even when there’s an element of truth to this — say with the original class of bloggers who rose to some media prominence — it never feels at all proportionate to their actual import. There’s a strong moral element to his writing but it seems too often to sound like it’s too drenched in its own sense of personal exclusion to quite hit its target. Sorry you got some on you.

  10. The post attacking Adam reminded me of the situation on the British radical left. We have seen a succession of crises here because of leftist groups tolerating or actively colluding in the trivialisation of rape, domestic abuse and transphobia. When this is called out, a major part of the response is that such issues should not be used to divide the left, that we should work together despite our disagreements, etc. And those doing the calling out are accused of being in the thrall of an intersectional approach to oppression which paralyses political action in a sectarian and moralistic way. That reaction, with its potent mix of pragmatism and high-mindedness, only continues the sad and shameful history of instrumentalising the oppression of women and trans folk in the interests of the great Telos of the Left. Sure, self-serving moralism is a constant danger for the White Left Dude, and is a symptom of a structural problem. However, to use that as a reason to say ‘hey, we’ve been talking privilege and intersectionality for years and the world still sucks – let’s stop talking about it!’ is a symptom of the fact that so much of the left still hasn’t got a fucking clue.

  11. If we were to remove all references to you from the post, I’d say he makes some great points.

    Stephen: I do not read his post as saying that we should squelch all disagreement for the sake of presenting a united front, in fact the post seems to make the opposite point.

  12. Josh, It definitely felt as though he was hallucinating some level of influence or success that I don’t actually enjoy, then deeply resenting me for it. (I’m not opposed to resenting successful people, of course.)

  13. I found the anti-Kotsko post (since there is no link) by googling “Adam Kotsko white dude” – top post in google results was the post in question. Go ahead, try it yourself. That must mean something…

  14. Shit, and he’s on the first page of results for just my name. Obviously this is humiliating for one of the annointed few of the liberal media elite, to be defined by a mere peon like him.

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