Again: Is It Time to Give More Attention to the Plight of White Men in America?
One of the things I like to use my blog for is to raise questions and tackle issues that many people in my circles (thoughtful, academic, moderately progressive) do not. I “put my ear to the ground,” so to speak and listen for issues that might really be worth attention but that are considered politically incorrect.
Some time ago, during the U.S. presidential election, I asked whether it might be worthwhile to listen to the complaints of American white males who seemed to be supporting Trump in unusual numbers. Many progressives wished simply to dismiss American white males as reactionary whiners, slackers, bigots and fodder for would-be populist tyrants. I questioned that or at least asked whether it can be a good thing for America to ignore the complaints of white men.
For once I can say that I may have been ahead of the trend. (All my life I could not say that very often!) Now no less than The Washington Post is publishing an interview with leading American scholar and researcher Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and author of Happiness for All? Unequal Lives and Hopes in Pursuit of the American Dream (Princeton University Press, 2017). I have not yet read the book, but the interview, conducted by Post reporter Ana Swanson, is revealing. Apparently my question was not entirely “out of left (or right) field.”
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According to research conducted by the Brookings Institution and reported in Happiness for All? people who are used to being oppressed and marginalized tend to be more hopeful for their future and that of their children than people who, generationally and culturally, are used to being well-off but are seeing their prospects dim.
Increasingly in America white men are feeling hopeless, depressed and worthless. A major cause of this is the changing job situation. A white male with a high school education used to be somewhat confident of finding and keeping a relatively well-paying factory or other blue collar job. Those jobs are disappearing in America. The economy has shifted and continues to shift toward a “service economy” that increasingly requires higher education.
The point of the research is primarily psychological. Graham, for example, argues, based on extensive research, that religion and family play a significant role in black and Hispanic hopefulness about the future. Most African-Americans and Hispanic Americans, and most women, believe their children (daughters) will be better off than their parents were. And they have inherited a “coping” mentality that causes them to adjust to economic and social challenges. Also, they tend to see this gradual improvement in standard of living happening—among their progeny.
White males in America have inherited a totally different mentality; coming down to them from their grandparents and great-grandparents is an expectation of having a job with a living wage if they graduate from high school and perhaps get some technical training. They are now seeing that that is no longer a valid expectation but do not have the emotional wherewithal to adjust. Many of them are simply dropping out of traditional American “work ethic” and giving up on the traditional “America dream.” This makes them fodder for would-be populist tyrants which is not good for any of us.
So what’s the solution? Well, of course not to coddle white men with pseudo-benevolent, syrupy sympathy. No one is suggesting that! No, the solution is to see their plight as one in which we are all involved and offer them better opportunities for job training and college education. Right now, and for a very long time, most social emphasis has been focused on helping girls and women succeed. It has been considered reactionary (“backlash”) to say that boys and young men need special attention, too. (I have been saying that for years now and the responses are predictable especially from many feminists: “They just need to ‘man up’!”) Many people seem to think that any attention focused on helping males takes away from females. It doesn’t have to. This is not a zero-sum game as many seem to think.
I think churches, which often tend to have very active women’s ministries and groups (e.g., a special “closet” for women for job interview clothes), could help men, too. Not instead of women but alongside women. It will take a long time to change men’s mindsets (viz., that they don’t need help), but the change can come about with calm persistence. Too often when these outreaches to men don’t meet with mass enthusiasm they are canceled—too soon.
Sociologists report that there is something called “the boy code” that kicks in around middle school age (early adolescence) that forbids boys from showing vulnerability. Schools and churches could do more to help boys and young men face their needs, their vulnerabilities, and help them reach out to ask for and receive help such as job training and enrollment in a community college.
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