America’s risible coup attempt showed us yet again that white men are facing an existential crisis
What’s the trouble with white men? It’s a legitimate question to ask. Last week’s Capitol riot was the latest in a series of events on both sides of the Atlantic that suggest they have lost their sense of place in the world.
For me, one of the most iconic images of 2020 was that of 50-year-old father and grandfather of three Patrick Hutchinson, a black man, who was snapped saving a white ‘protester’ from a beating after a demonstration in London.
Hutchinson and a group of friends were attending a right-wing rally in ‘defence’ of British monuments last summer – not in support of it, but to prevent Black Lives Matter counter-demonstrators from clashing with a mob of overweight, balding, middle-aged ‘patriots’ who had decided to converge on the capital and stand up against BLM, the metropolitan elite, the police and anyone else who stood in their way.
Hutchinson, and many others, both online and on the streets, had counselled both sides against violence. In the event, he wound up saving the bacon of 55-year-old Bryn Male, a retired transport cop and Millwall fan who was set upon by a small faction. During the fracas, Hutchinson was caught on camera shouldering the drooping, pathetic Male in a fireman’s carry through a crowd of BLM supporters and oddly static riot police.
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While many focused on the physically impressive Hutchinson, it’s the limp, crestfallen, defeated Male that really tells the bigger story. And it’s a story that’s being told on both sides of the Atlantic about a much maligned, put upon and undoubtedly confused ethnic group: the average white man.
An American episode of this story unfolded last week as a legion of weekend warriors and make-believe revolutionaries in designer camo, $200 hiking boots and assorted fancy dress performed an ‘attempted coup’ in the US by waltzing into the Capitol in Washington, largely unopposed.
Without denigrating the political, symbolic, and human cost of the tragic events in D.C., one can easily afford the rabble or, as President-elect Joe Biden called them, “insurrectionists and domestic terrorists” a degree of power and influence they simply don’t deserve. Much has been made of the ease with which the mob broke into the Capitol – and how an equivalent BLM or Muslim insurgency would have been instantly napalmed.
Perhaps, when faced with those Trump-inspired protesters dressed as comic book Vikings, Grizzly Adams fanboys and Village People, the neutered security services were overwhelmed by the sheer absurdity of it all – and the white privilege such juvenile behaviour engenders.
Another way of looking at, given the crucial role that old-time religion plays in American public life, is this: has an increasingly infantilised US culture spared the rod and spoiled the child? Or put another way, if white America doesn’t take itself seriously enough to tear gas and shoot other white people when they trample over democracy, aren’t more of these privileged insurrections to be expected, especially if the state continues to sponsor inequality by meting out excessive force to ‘the other’ while letting white miscreants off the hook?
Like Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones, if you asked any one of the rabble last week what they were rebelling against, they would have dribbled, “Whaddaya got?” One “domestic terrorist”, having gained entry to US House of Representatives Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s office, simply sat in her chair and posed for photographs. Another had showed up ready to bring truth to power wearing his work ID. It’s as though they want to get caught. Or more accurately, it’s as though they have no concept of how to avoid capture, let alone mount a revolution. As uprisings went, it was less Arab Spring and more American Pie.
Apart from the commentariat’s view that the rabble had been ‘radicalised’ by Trump, what did they expect to achieve? Another failed legal bid to overturn a legitimate election result? The pack of jokers were the mirror image of the UK ‘Remoaners,’ who, nearly five years after the 2016 European Union referendum, are still in denial about the Brexit result. But there’s the rub: despite being diametrically opposed, politically and ideologically, the MAGA revolutionaries and Remoaners have one thing in common – a cry-baby sense of lost white entitlement.
Faced with the multiple challenges of trade wars, cold wars, hot wars, culture wars, inter-federal and intra-federation crises – with Covid the cherry on top – white male America, like white male Britain, is at an existential fork in the road. Is the enemy within, or with-out? Do they follow BLM’s lead and stand up for themselves; or line up against BLM, Antifa, the Jews, gays, the trans lobby, Muslims, women (at least the ones who answer back) and anyone else who isn’t a straight, white male? Have real and perceived external threats, such as wars on terror, wars on drugs and wars against ideologies, philosophies and ancient cultures overextended the average white male’s reach? Is having to compete on a (not even) level playing field really that hard?
Essentially, what’s the trouble with white men?
This isn’t a facetious question. Some of my best friends are white. In fact, I’ve asked the self-same question, on a more modest scale, of my own brethren.
In 2004, I presented a three-part documentary series for BBC3 called The Trouble With Black Men – an exploration of some of the thornier issues young Afro-Caribbean males faced at the time, significantly around black masculinity and relationships, struggles with the education system and the workplace, and stereotypical associations with crime. The series was undoubtedly ground-breaking.
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But when I later met with the BBC to discuss a follow-up and pitched ‘The Trouble With White Men,’ the idea was dismissed as “obvious” despite evidence to suggest that the average white male was not – and still isn’t – a happy bunny. But then, as much of the British media is populated by white women, maybe there’s an internecine war going on that I haven’t been invited to.
Average white male friends tell me the world is changing and they feel ill-equipped to deal with it; so they escape into football, booze, drugs and porn. And, while ordinarily they have the economic means to juggle these distractions while raising families, holding down jobs, paying off the mortgage and enjoying a couple of weeks a year in the sun, the free rein and lack of competition they once enjoyed is ebbing away. White men, I venture, are having a collective meltdown and the neat political movements that seek to co-opt or disempower them aren’t thinking about their ‘troubles’ but merely exploiting them for their own agenda. The idea that Donald Trump thinks those Capitol clowns are “special” is as much of a joke as liberal opprobrium against them is an underhanded insult to millions of people who maybe look like them, but certainly don’t act like them.
The average white male isn’t railing against BLM, Remoaners, the Democrats, women, the Labour Party and all that jazz – he’s railing against himself. He can be an airline pilot, a Hollywood actor, a tech billionaire… but where are the coal mines left to work in, the car plants to run, the trenches to be dug and the noble wars to be fought? If a robot hasn’t taken his job, some dude 10,000 miles away has. And for all of the black diaspora’s hardships, our arc is ever upward – which makes the average white man look increasingly out of touch.
As Tom Ripley says in The Talented Mr Ripley, “I always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.” And that’s what last week’s ‘revolution’ was: a fake coup staged by a bunch of nobodies – a sentiment that’s being reflected in countless ironic, sarcastic and mocking memes. Amid the tragicomedy, it’s easy to take cheap shots at the ‘enemy.’
Joe Biden wants to embark on the long process of “healing” America. Good luck with that. I just hope he can inspire a nation of Pat Hutchinsons while saving the souls of a few Bryn Males. Now, that would be a real revolution.
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