Why am I writing so much about white males? Partly because I am one but live in a society that denigrates and silences the group. When I read about people in other groups exploring their accidents of birth—their skin color, sex, sexual preference, geographic origin—society seems to celebrate them.
My city hosts parades for many groups. Does anyone wonder how much it would accept a white male parade? I expect the media field day would destroy the careers of anyone seriously proposing it. Would you take it seriously? Would you expect it to fill with white supremacists and neo-Nazis?
Would you say white men are already celebrated and don’t need a parade?
Anyway, my introspection and exploration is secondary. As much as I refuse to address my not being a white supremacist or neo-Nazi since only someone judging me for my skin color or sex could think I was, there are white nationalists and neo-Nazis in this country and many others, they hurt people, a lot of them are white men, and they recruit other white men, so my experience might give insight into what appeals to their potential recruits.
Sadly, I see the loudest voices in our society doing the opposite of what I think would decrease white nationalists’ appeal. All the more reason for me to write, despite the social risk I sense in being a white man talking about the white male experience.
The media covers this area. Here are a couple relevant articles:
- ‘Do you have white teenage sons? Listen up.’ How white supremacists are recruiting boys online.
- What Happened After My 13-Year-Old Son Joined the Alt-Right
- The results of searching on “neonazi recruit young men”
They mostly cover young men around half my age or younger, but some things resonate.
Quoting the first article:
“The politics, the ideology, wasn’t attractive to me at all,” Picciolini says. “I didn’t even understand it, at 14 years old. But what was attractive was the sense of the identity, community and purpose that the movement provided.”
[. . .]
“In this stage, the issue is not so much ‘Who am I?’ but rather, ‘Where do I belong?’ ” he says. “ ‘Who includes me?’ Who treats me well?’ ”
Compare someone treating him well with what I wrote in my last two posts:
Imagine if your entire life, every time you said you suffered, people said, “actually that’s an example of you causing others to suffer.”
Imagine every time you said you worked hard at something, people said, “actually that’s an example of how easy your life is.”
Or in the second article, about a thirteen-year-old boy falsely accused of sexually harassing someone and railroaded into punishment in kangaroo court-style injustice, leading a community that celebrates other identities to chastise him.
The article mostly focuses on what happened that the writer, the boy’s mother, saw. It barely touches on what he felt. She describes “the period Sam fell under its spell,” but there was no magic and he was as human as anyone.
Toward the end, he explains the appeal, which tells me how to treat white men so the following doesn’t appeal:
“I liked them because they were adults and they thought I was an adult. I was one of them,” he said. “I was participating in a conversation. They took me seriously. No one ever took me seriously—not you, not my teachers, no one. If I expressed an opinion, you thought I was just a dumbass kid trying to find my voice. I already had my voice.”
I had no idea he’d felt that way. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“All I wanted was for people to take me seriously,” he repeated matter-of-factly. “They treated me like a rational human being, and they never laughed at me. I saw the way you and Dad looked at each other and tried not to smile when I said something. I could hear you both in your room at night, laughing at me.”
What sounds more appealing?
Given the choice between people who disrespect you, laugh at you, deny you justice, and punish you harshly despite your innocence and people who listen to you and support you, wouldn’t you choose to spend some time with the latter?
As a teenager, he had yet to learn more about their ideologies, which increased their appeal, but he also has only experienced a few years of the lack of empathy, assumption of privilege, condescension, and so on that would drive him away from the mainstream too.
What to do
I don’t claim a strategy that will work with everyone, nor that it’s the best strategy, but I can tell you from my experience that feeling understood motivates more strongly than nearly any other emotion. So does feeling misunderstood, which I suspect many white males feel all the time. Others do too, but that doesn’t change white males’ experiences.
If you want to increase the appeal to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, I can think of fewer effective ways than treating an innocent boy as a criminal and presuming to know him better than he knows himself, not empathizing, and the other things in the last two paragraphs—what I experience—while holding parades for everyone else.
If you want to decrease the appeal, I propose practicing the exercise I assigned myself in yesterday’s post, The project I assigned myself following up my posts on white men. I’ll repeat it here. With a white man,
describe your understanding and ask the other person if you got it. Most likely they’ll say you didn’t. Ask them to clarify, restate your new understanding, and repeat the cycle—what I call the Confirmation/Clarification Cycle—until they say, “Yes, that’s it. You understand.”
I teach this exercise in my courses, seminars, and workshops. It leads students and clients to tell me it brings tears of gratitude from the people they did it with. This results happens consistently (I recommend my book!)
Read my book Leadership Step by Step for more details, but those two paragraphs should be enough to start you. Be prepared to learn things about his experience that you didn’t expect. You may find it hard to listen without talking over and only to ask clarifying questions, not to argue or even ask questions that reveal your preconceptions.
Note also this exercise is designed to make them feel understood, which is different than you understanding them. They are motivated by their feelings, not yours. So no problem with you understanding them, but you will only get result when you get to them saying, “Yes, that’s it. You understand.”
Good luck. I’d love to hear your results and questions.
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