Bonnie Greer: March of the Angry White Man
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We need to confront the Angry White Man (AWM) emergency before it is too late, says BONNIE GREER.
The following is one of the variety of reasons that Toby Young used to explain the campaign directed against him over his appointment to a new government quango: 'I'm a middle-aged white male so don't tick any of the standard diversity boxes.'
In Charlottesville, Virginia, young, smartly-dressed men marched through the streets of that venerable university town, the Oxford of America, chanting: 'You will not replace us.' They carried electric torch-like lights through the night streets, recreating an image from the past – but one that occurred sufficiently recently to cause many who are elderly to issue a warning. They have seen this sort of behaviour before: on the streets of Berlin in the early 1930s.
In the audiences of Question Time, on the radio phone-ins, even among the radio presenters themselves, something is starting to break cover and to be accepted: the rage of white men. Because Angry White Men now have a leader: Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
Trump made his political bones on his rage, anger and sheer hatred of Barack Obama. He accused Obama of every malfeasance including the biggest one of all: that he had been born abroad, which would have constitutionally denied him the office of president.
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Never mind that two presidential candidates had been born outside of the continental United States: John McCain in the Panama Canal Zone; and Ted Cruz in Canada. It was Obama who attracted Trump's hatred. And that hatred was a code, a dog whistle to millions of white men that they could now break cover. Show themselves to us without the censor of political correctness. Or even of civility.
Trump's television show, The Apprentice, was created to fit his persona of the man in charge, who yelled 'You're fired!!' He is a member of wrestling's (the WWE's – the showbiz wing of the sport) Hall Of Fame. Now, as president, he takes pictures surrounded by a sea of white men. He knows what this means. And so does everyone else.
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Brexit is driven by Angry White Men: from ancient ideologues domiciled abroad like Nigel Lawson; pantomime-toffs like Jacob Rees-Mogg; and a guy Leslie Phillips would have played for laughs in Ealing comedies back in the 50s: Nigel Farage. In between these extremes are the opportunists like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
I've been thinking about the AWM for a long time because he is now not only ubiquitous, he is fashionable. I meet him every day, almost every hour online, his free-floating rage now given a place to inhabit and to flourish.
I created the hashtag #OrdinaryPeopleRemain to show the AWM who often attack me that many Remainers grew up in council homes and still live in them; that many are over 60 and know what a hard day's work is like; and that many know what being in the EU has done to a Britain once known as the sick man of Europe.
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, for many of them, is not just a vintage sitcom. Being able to work in Germany during the real estate and factory construction boom years of the 1970s was, quite literally, a lifeline.
These things must now be remembered and shared, before a false past takes hold, causing us to look backwards with longing to a phony past.
The AWM has become a symbol of fascination in the American media. He is presented like an exhibit in a zoo: usually in a diner with a cap on his head and shovelling through dozens of plates of various fried foods.
He is interviewed by a bemused coastal someone, from New York City usually. The AWM is part of the infotainment that is becoming the mainstay of our rolling 24-hour, breaking news culture.
This caricature hides a truth that is not being talked about enough: the AWM is dying. And too often by his own hand. This phenomenon is called, in America, White Woe. The US opioid epidemic is largely centred in white communities.
In 2015, two economists – Anne Case and her husband, Angus Deaton, a Nobel laureate – pinpointed what they had begun to see as an alarming trend: white men between the ages of 25 and 64 and without higher education had a higher mortality rate.
Since the early 1970s, the decline and demise of the manufacturing industry, the church, unions and marriage itself have contributed to American 'white woe'. And Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left are seen as the paladins of this demographic. And this demographic provides America's mass shooters. The mass shooter profile is not a man named Mohammed. It's Joe. The guy next door.
In the UK, the gun-rate is virtually non-existent, but the suicide risk among middle-aged white men has risen. They are squeezed in the middle of the generational couch between their fathers – silent, strong men whose own youths were forged in the war and immediate aftermath; who had jobs for life to go to and guaranteed pensions, with funerals paid for and a little left over – and their sons, open and individual.
These middle-aged white men are presented with what is called masculine gold standard. The template creates a toxic masculinity, rapidly being exposed by movements like Me Too and Time's Up. Hillary Clinton's presidential run in 2016 also brought out something horrible in white males across the political spectrum.
Now, thousands of women are signing up to be political candidates in the US equivalent of the local councils to the Senate.
This is unprecedented. As is the creation here in the UK of a government post to combat loneliness. Many of the lonely people pictured in the campaign against loneliness are white men.
Why should someone like me care about the plight of white men when sexism, racism, Islamophobia, ableism, violence against transgender people are among the real terrors of our society, and white men are largely the perpetrators? Why care when a white male will get hired before any other demographic and make more money when he does work? A white man – Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, is the richest individual who has ever lived on this earth. He is still the assumed pronoun for power. And he is, in most cases, a white male. The alt-right was created by, and is being sold to, young white men. For them.
I care because not only are these guys my fellow humans, and many are aimless and just plain dying. But also because they are being radicalised into white male supremacy. This fact should be in the top 10 of the Alarm Bell List. It is not.
Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos, Gamergate – these, and more, are grooming white men, especially young white men, for the white male version of the zombie apocalypse.
Brexit often becomes a flag of convenience for all of this. But because much of the media sees the question of Brexit as settled, very little of its roots are examined. We can't talk about the angst, the anger, the radicalisation of white men that form some of the bedrock of Leave. White male angst and anger helped fuel the assassination of Jo Cox, a sitting Member of Parliament.
It is in all of our interests to name and confront this emergency. Before it is too late.
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