My (white male) Outrage at white men’s Rage
Jan 15, 2021
Rus Ervin Funk
As I write this, we are a week past the “insurrection” of white (mostly male) supremacists who charged and broke into the US Congress. I was up most of the night fully feeling (and reeling) from a wide array and turbulent ocean of emotions. I am angry, frightened, anxious, profoundly sad, frustrated… and a whole lot more than I am able, at the moment to even name. It also does not escape me that I am publishing this on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
As I witnessed the images of whitemen (the images I saw were all white men), instigated and led by another whiteman, violently attack the Congress of the United States and lay seize to that space, I felt revulsion, disbelief (but then again, I fully believed it), outrage, fear (for the congresspeople, staff, workers, visitors, capital police who were caught in this melee. As more of the story has become clear, I find my revulsion, rage and sadness multiplying. Alongside, this, I have to admit, is some degree of embarrassment and shame that these whitemen are acting and speaking in my name. Whiteman to whiteman.
A part of what is emerging as we uncover more of what happened is just how deeply misogynistic this white supremacist insurrection was (see for example, “Misogyny in the Capitol” by Mona Lena Krook). The leadership of this insurrection were whitemale, the group was overwhelmingly white and male, they were led by a white male president who is openly and unapologetically misogynists (and who’s misogyny is a major theme in his claims of victimhood) and included an onslaught of anti-woman chants and rhetoric. It is telling that Nancy Pelosi’s office was a major target of their actions and focus of their anger.
Whitemen have a different license and permission to express our rage than do black or brown folx, or women. This was evident in preparation and response of the policy and national guard on Jan 6, vs the Black Lives Matter protests of earlier this summer and the women-led marches and rallies. It’s clear that the perceived threat of black and brown folx rage was enough to trigger a very evident militarized presence that was put in place this summer. Even though the black live matter protests were organized and advertised as PEACEFUL protests. The presumption that a congregation of angry black and brown folx (and the white folx who were allying with them) was necessarily a threat warranted a highly militarized counter-presence.
Let’s also recall the violence and militarized response that women have faced when they have organized and marched on Washington. In particular (and admittedly, this is dated), when women marched on Washington for the right to vote. They were meant with a similar overwhelming militarized presence and men’s violence to what was clearly meant to be a peaceful expression of their anger and rage. Again, merely the thought of women massed to express their anger was enough to put the Capital on high, militarized defense.
But fast forward to Jan. 2021, and a massing of white men, who were openly calling for the possibility and threat of violence, was meant with what can best be described as an anemic level of not-preparedness. White men’s anger – even with the overt threat to violence, is not experienced (by other white men and by white supremacist patriarchy) as warranting any degree of real preparedness. Only “shock”, outrage and confusion.
I am aware of the ways that gender (and race) intersect and impact with both what I am feeling, how I experience what I’m feeling, and how I express my feelings. I am ashamed of us, as whitemen, for this violent orgy of privilege and entitlement. My anger, grief, and fear is experienced as a whiteman, and the best ways I know to express my anger, grief and fear is based on how I’ve been trained to express these emotions as a whiteman. Where I am in my experience and expression of my current mix of feelings is to awfulize, judge, and shame “those” white men. Note my words here. Note how I am, in this moment, working hard to “other” those men – them man who instigated this action, the men who lead the charge to and into Congress, the men who participated. I am outraged and disgusted by what they did, and, in this moment, am outraged and disgusted by them.
Something that we as whitemen are very good at – how often do other well-meaning whitemen spend as much attention and energy as I am right now on how “different” and superior I am than “those” whitemen?
Even as I know and believe better. There is not “they” here. The only benefit to my pretending that there is some deep and inherent difference between me and “them” is that I get to maintain and reinforce a false illusion of my own superiority. But see, my sense of Self superiority, as a whiteman, is also based on white supremacist patriarchy…just like theirs’ is. And If I am doing the very same thing they’re doing, how different are we really?
Ultimately, when I devolve into this kind of Self-righteous “othering” of “those” white men, white supremacy wins; patriarchy gets stronger.
I also hear and feel mySelf celebrating the arrests that are happening and the plans I hear for more and more and more arrests; and note the almost drooling glee I feel at the prospects of at least some of them receiving serious jail time. This as someone who is a self-proclaimed prison abolitionist. How did I become the person that out of one side of my mouth argue at the inherent injustice of our current criminal legal system, while at the same time be the person who is celebrating these folx getting arrested and charged and locked into this same criminal legal system?!?
I am, in this moment, a walking talking white male contradiction – and am being this contradiction in front of my white male child.
A part of my fear is as the father of a white male child (who is currently 11). I’m not shielding him from what’s happening. He needs and deserves to know what’s going on in his world (not all of the details, mind you). I am deeply troubled by the imagery of whitemanhood that he’s seeing represented. One the one hand, this orgasm of white supremacist masculinity in their rage as white male entitlement was being threatened, and on the other hand, a righteous and judgmental white supremacist masculinity standing up to the “other” white supremacist masculinists.
My white male son is watching.
He’s watching what’s going on, of course, but more importantly, he’s watching me. I provide him with clear clues about what this all means, how to make meaning out of this, and how to respond.
I remind mySelf in the midst of my being this ball of paradoxes and irreconcilable contradictions that in this moment, its okay to not be okay. Who I am in this moment is not who I am (and yet it is). I am a work in progress and for today, its okay for me to be more of a work, than progressing. As a friend of mine says to her kids when their feelings are confusing and/or when their feelings are in conflict with who they know themselves to be — “feel what you’re feeling but act from your values”.
It’s okay, in this moment, for me to just breathe…
Breathe, said the wind
How can I breathe at a time like this,
when the air is full of the smoke
of burning tires, burning lives?
Just breathe, the wind insisted.
Easy for you to say, if the weight of
injustice is not wrapped around your throat,
cutting off all air.
I need you to breathe.
I need you to breathe.
Don’t tell me to be calm
when there are so many reasons
to be angry, so much cause for despair!
I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind,
I said to breathe.
We’re going to need a lot of air
to make this hurricane together.
– Lynn Ungar
But I have, of course, to do more than breathe. I have to act! I have to act in solidarity with black and brown folx, with women and with blackwomen and brownwomen. But doing so in a way that doesn’t isolate “them.” Because if “they” are isolated, black and brown folx, and women, and blackwomen and brownwomen will face the brunt of their anger and fear. A part of my job, in solidarity, is to stand closer to “those” whitemen in order to interrupt and (ideally) diffuse. I can’t do that when I am distant and superior. As much as I want to hate them for what they perpetrated on Jan 6, and for the way that the perpetrated this mob violence, I can’t afford to do that. More importantly, gender and racial justice can’t afford for me to do that.
© 2021 by Rus Ervin Funk, All Rights Reserved
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Rus Ervin Funk is an activist and consultant based in Louisville, KY. You can learn more about my work at http://rusfunk.me/.