Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The White Man's (New) Burden

     By now you have probably heard about Anthony Cumia, of “Opie and Anthony” fame. He had a run-in with a woman on the streets of New York that lead to him losing his job on Sirius XM. He states that he was taking pictures of public areas (streets and buildings) and that this woman happened in front of his camera. He says that she attacked him, for no reason of course, and then went on Twitter to call her a “cunt” and a “savage.”

To be sure, supporters of the “Opie and Anthony” show did not use such kind language to describe the woman, who is Black. None of their listeners have in any way expressed sentiments that Cumia did anything inappropriate. This should not be surprising as the show's White, male, 18-34 year old audience has never been known to be sensitive to women or minorities. In this essay I refer to White males as if they are a homogenous entity, but really I think the guys who get it will know who I am speaking of and will recognize whether I am talking about them or not.

Full disclosure; I never liked “Opie and Anthony.” I've never even listened to the show. But I knew the type of people who did listen to the show, and that was all I really needed to know. I have found that you can learn more about a person, group, or institution from the people who support it than from the thing itself. The people who I knew liked that show were overwhelmingly male, White, and sort of, if not outright, racist. Nothing about that demographic made me think “that's a show I need to listen to!”

To be fair, many guests that have been on the show are comedians who I appreciate and am a fan of, most notable Lewis Black, Rich Vos, Patton Oswalt and Patrice O' Neal, the only non-white regular guest the show has ever had. I always thought Jim Norton was a raging racist but, to be honest, it was 90% because of his appearance. He looks like an extra from “American History X.” I watched one of his comedy specials out of curiosity, and much to my surprise I found him to be very funny and not at all racist, at least not in that special. So my method of judging people may not 100% accurate, but most of the time it works. It's anecdotal evidence, not DNA testing. Those of you who know me know that my superpower is Hypocrisy. In my defense the show also has a very good relationship with Donald Trump, who has been vigorously defending Donald Sterling. So, there's that.

The most striking aspect of this event is how victimized Cumia himself feels. Cumia, Trump,  and people like them have felt for many years now, oh let's say since President Obama was elected, that their rights to “Free Speech” have been tread on. They feel that society has become too “sensitive” and “politically correct.” They believe that we as a people have become soft and can't take a joke. White men in positions of power are enraged that they cannot get away with saying whatever they want to say. To those men I say, in the words of John Mayer, welcome to the real world. One thing that straight White males have to understand is you do not get to be the Victim and Privileged. Whether you know (or like) it or not, Western society is set up to benefit the straight White male, and as long as that is true that demographic will never be viewed as a sympathetic victim. Not fair? Probably. But again, welcome to the reality that the rest of us have existed in for centuries.

I'm a Black male. Black men have not been able to just say whatever we have wanted since we  first met Europeans centuries ago. We have never had much of any type of freedom where Europeans and Americans have been concerned. White men have never had to fear any repercussions to what they say in public unless it was against The Church, but that is a story for another day. European and American men have long believed in the “White Man's Burden”, their right and duty to save and educate the savage heathens and Brown peoples of the Earth. It is now 2014 and White men have a new burden, the burden of Responsibility. This is the burden of having to face the people they speak against or insult, the burden of having to Think before they Act, a burden that all the rest of us have had to deal with for centuries. It is a burden that few White men are prepared to shoulder. Many, many men still have not realized that they have been put in this position, and you can tell by the genuine surprise with which White men receive the news that people are angry at what they have said, and that they are being punished for their words.

Where shall we begin... how about Mel Gibson? He's like the Jay-Z of offensive rants. He has gone off against gays and lesbians, women in general, and then his infamous statement about “a pack of n*ggers.” I never knew that the proper term for a group of n*ggers was a pack. I should thank him for the education. Speaking of “the N word”, Michael Richards. Enough said. Remember Don Imus? He had no idea that women would object to being referred to as nappy headed hoes.” Because that's something that the rest of us regularly say to women we don't know. Eminem throws around the word “fag” like he gets paid for it. There's Donald Sterling, who is still honestly confused as to what he has done wrong in his life (let's go with discriminatory housing practices for that one.). And then we come back to Cumia who, according to comedian Penn Jillette should be compared to Martin Luther King Jr for not using his gun on the unarmed woman who attacked him. He basically said on his podcast “Penn's Sunday School” that a White man not shooting an unarmed Black women should have earned Cumia a Nobel Prize. No Penn, there's no award for that. Not only are we supposed to forgive Cumia, we should applaud him for his restraint. Oh. OK.

Penn also said that he's never seen any evidence that Cumia is racist. This line always kills me. I tell everybody I know that Boston is the most racist city in the Northeast, and inevitably a White person will say “Really? I never noticed.” OF COURSE you didn't notice, you're not the one they are racist against! Penn concludes by saying that the “free market” will decide if Cumia's firing was justified or not, and I believe it already has. The market has spoken, which is why he was fired. It makes better business sense to appease the great majority of people who would spend their time influencing advertisers to drop their support of the show than to keep Cumia and the small but vocal audience he brings in.

The problem that most of these men have is their lack of exposure to people different from them. To Cumia, he was attacked for no reason by a women from a culture that, he believes, has a violence problem (all of these views are available in his twitter feed.) It would never occur to him that as a woman she has experienced a lifetime of street harassment and would be justifiably suspicious and angry of a man taking pictures of her on the street. He would never think that it would not occur to a Black woman to call the police on such a man, because what are the chances that NYPD would take her side in a disagreement with a White man? He would never think that after, well, all of American history a Black women would be less than inclined to give a White man the benefit of the doubt.

And that is the main point that White men in this day and age need to understand; you don't get the benefit of the doubt. Like the rest of us, you as a White male are laboring under the sins of your fathers. No matter what it will be assumed that you are racist, misogynist, homophobic, etc. until proven otherwise. It may suck but the White male in this society has the burden (there's that word again) of proof when it comes to not being seen as a dick. It is almost irrelevant what Cumia's intentions were because of the way it looked. The same way Black men would have to be very cognizant of how they approached White women in the streets for fear of lynching, that's how cognizant you have to be about how you come off. You will never face the level of repercussions for your behavior as many other Americans have had to face, but now there are consequences to your actions. A novel concept I know, but one that you will have to deal with.

There are many White men who get this, and know that there is a level of self-restraint that has to be exercised when expressing one's feelings in public. Some of you reading this may be thinking “what's the point of trying to be sensitive to race and gender if everyone is just going to think I'm a jerk anyway?” Some of you still don't get it. Some of you may be angry and upset by what I'm saying, and feel unduly attacked. To those of you who don't get it, I will say this; every time I encounter White people in any setting I am self-conscious about about being the best example of a Black man I can be so that I don't reinforce stereotypes about My gender and My race. That is a burden I did not ask for, it is one I was born into and you know what? It's exhausting. It is exhausting to have to constantly monitor yourself because your appearance and demeanor may get you rejected, fired, or in some cases killed. It is exhausting. Ask any Indian or Arab person what it's like to be assumed to be a terrorist. Ask any woman what it's like to have to make sure that she doesn't do anything to “invite” men to harass or attack her. Ask any Black woman what it's like to have to measure their words so that they are not viewed as being “angry.” I bet each and every one of them will tell you it's god-damned exhausting. That's the burden the rest of us have been carrying since before we can remember. And now, it is yours as well.


MercedesDieselGuy said...

[checks birthdate on driver's license - 35]

Definitely not an Opie and Anthony fan, and I have ID to prove it.

Powerful stuff, John.

Anonymous said...

Nope...still don't give a shit.