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What’s Wrong With Old, White, And Male?

Matt K. Lewis wants to know by what moral calculus is “old white men” is such an epithet in popular culture. Excerpt:

Look, I think we can all agree that it’s wrong to generalize and stereotype people based on race and gender. We can surely also agree that when this has happened throughout America’s history, it’s women and minorities who have born the brunt of the negative consequences. But in America today, it seems that the one group who it’s socially acceptable to stereotype and criticize en masse is white men. Swapping out “white men” in any of the above passages and replacing it with the name of pretty much any minority group would render those passages politically incorrect, at best. But it’s okay to talk about white men this way.

Just think of the way that many young Americans and liberal elites dismiss the GOP as “the party of old, white men” — as if there was something intrinsically wrong or shameful about being an old white man. Millions and millions of Americans are old white men. A lot of old white men have done really great things! Ben Franklin was an old white man. Bill Clinton is an old white man. A lot of my friends are old white men. It is nothing to be ashamed of.

The unspoken reason that it’s acceptable to ding white men as a group, even in polite company, is the sense that white men have had it easy for… well, ever.

Lewis goes on to explain that that’s stereotyping of the sort we wouldn’t accept when it had to do with any other demographic group.

I think nobody should be ashamed of their color, race, or ethnic heritage, but at the same time, it’s not something to be proud of either. You didn’t choose to be born white, black, Hispanic, Lithuanian, Iranian, or whatever. It reflects no moral credit on you, nor moral discredit. It just is. I think the better way to think of these matters is not in terms of pride, but rather dignity. Black pride, or gay pride, or Asian pride, or Catholic pride, or whatever pride, unavoidable legitimizes white pride.

“Pride” is, for me, something to be resisted in every situation, but aside from that, how could it be meaningful for any of us to be proud (as distinct from “not ashamed”) of an attribute that we had no choice in acquiring? Let’s say you descend from a family of great status and accomplishment over the generations. What does that have to do with the man or woman you are? True, as the son or daughter of the XYZ family, you may have a reputation to live up to, you still have to earn the respect of others. Your individual worth, or lack thereof, is all about you, at least it would be in a just society.

It makes no sense for white men to look at the accomplishments of great white men in America’s past and to derive a sense of self-satisfaction from them. Their whiteness and their maleness no doubt opened doors for the exercise of excellence that were closed to others — an injustice that we have made strides toward correcting — but it’s vanity for white men to presume that they have a share in the achievements of accomplished white males, simply because they too are white and male. And it is unjust for people to decide that white males collectively bear the burden of guilt for the crimes and immorality of white male miscreants. Do we blame all black people for the crimes of a few?

This awarding of collective valor and collective dishonor based on demography is something to be avoided. Again, “pride” in one demographic group inevitably calls up “pride” in another. It is all unmerited, and all spiritually and morally dangerous.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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