What, me biased?

I was recently told by a German friend of mine that a good German is one who feels guilty much of the time. I thought that seemed a little extreme but, if I had to choose, certainly preferable to a German who feels no guilt at all. I feel the same way with men – it’s better to take too much responsibility for injustices done by our male forebears than too little or none at all, and infinitely better still to take that blame than to whine about the oppression of white men in contemporary western society.

I recently ran smack into some of this backlash, this reinvigorated sense of male entitlement (or, perhaps, this urge to reclaim power perceived as lost). A man I know was asked, by colleagues in a writing group, to consider that some language and characterization in a piece of his writing might be considered racist by many readers; he responded by taking the comment as illegitimate, an affront rather than as potentially useful, valid feedback. He took the rather Colbert-ian post-racist "I’m colorblind" tack: his words couldn’t be racist because he wasn’t a racist. (I’m pretty sure there’s a fancy term for that kind of reasoning, but I can’t come up with it at the moment.) He seemed to refuse any consideration of the fact that racism, like sexism, is so deeply embedded in the White Western Male (yeah, that’s right, I said it) gaze that we’re all inevitably biased to one degree or another – how could that not express itself in our use of language from time to time?

[It should be noted here that my experience of the group interaction is, of course, subjective. I tend to take suggestions of my own racial/gender insensitivity rather seriously, and had the comments the fellow received been directed at me, my response might have been one of excessively apologetic self-recrimination, which is potentially equal to his response in its uselessness to introspection/revision. Others in the group did feel that the issue broached, while perhaps valid, was presented very inappropriately as personal attack. That I find the writer in question to be a generally upstanding citizen, I must admit, backs that perception up. I just didn’t see it that way at all, and I feel that this is exactly the kind of stuff I want to be addressing here, so I present it with my own heavy biases admittedly, firmly in place. If any of said writing group’s members happen to see this and want to offer a different take, so much the better.]

After the initial interaction, out with only "the guys" of the group for a beer, the writer shrugged the comments off with a, "Yeah, I knew it was coming." Unspoken but easily inferred was that he "knew it was coming" from the lesbian and the gay man with the “ethnic” name and the slightly darker skin in the group who, in fact, made the initial comments. After all, who but the so-called marginalized would accuse him of something so unimaginable as (even unintended) bias?

Trying to stick with my pledge to discuss such matters as they arise, not only in the agora and the academy but also in the locker room and the bar, I couldn’t just high five and raise a pint along with the fellahs to toast our non-racist (and nonsexist) purity and scoff at those freaks who doubt us. But not wanting to marginalize myself in the company of these relatively new acquaintances, (a.k.a. chickening out), I excused myself to powder my nose.

When I returned from the men’s room, though, drippingly ironic jests about what a big racist the text’s author was were still going on, and I realized I had to say something or feel like a hypocrite later. So I asked him if there was any threshold, any percentage of offended readers that would be high enough that he would consider the reading of his text as racist a cue to maybe make a few eentsy-weentsy edits, that maybe he had conveyed something a bit too ambiguously, perhaps. He responded, simply, that no, there was no point at which he would consider making such changes. He wasn’t a racist, it was as simple as that, thus neither was his language or characterization. QED. Everyone who thought otherwise was just a "P.C." fascist.

(Off topic, kinda, but speaking of P.C and its demise, I recently saw a clip of Pat Buchanan interviewing someone about the Foley scandal, asking “Did you know he was this kind of flamer?” after which Buchanan gleefully intoned “flamer” several more times, basking in the warm sunshine of the Fox News version of freedom of speech while handily connecting all “flamers” to pedophilia.)

Such an attitude isn’t the least bit surprising coming from Pat Buchanan, from the kind of person Stephen Colbert brilliantly satirizes – reactionary white men in power. What made it surprising – or perhaps my naivete is the only really surprising thing here – is that the attitudes described are those of a left-leaning, Bush-hating, McSweeney’s loving, experimental writer. Someone like me, in other words, but perhaps not so much like me. I don’t know.

Ever since coming out, as it were, about the existence of this mascublog, I find myself having feelings of imposterdom, fakery, and trespass. I look at our title, and our subject, and I fear that we’re treading, with some entitlement of our own, on Queer/Queer Theory territory. I’ve never of thought myself as Queer (but some of my best friends are!), nor have I read much Queer theory, which makes me feel doubly the fraud.

Then I think that’s just silly (visualize effeminate, dismissive hand gesture). If two men can’t write about being men, about masculinity and gender issues, because they’re “straight,” well ? that just ain’t right.

My colleague’s blindered defensiveness, and the knee-jerk and absolute support from the other white guys outside of the more diverse larger group that initially discussed his text, actually made me feel quite queer indeed, if with a lower-case-to-in-between-sized ‘q’, which in turn makes me feel a little more comfortable with my worries of treading on big-Q Queer turf.

But maybe it’s the blogosphere in general that’s causing my M.A.I.D.-angst. Dan and I are in our early thirties and forties, respectively, both new to this format, and we’re diving in with little more than our desire to start (or join) what we feel is an important conversation. But then I think, heck, (okay, I don’t really think "heck," it’s an affectation – you caught me fudging again) isn’t everyone more or less new to blogging?

Most likely, though, it’s just my general free-floating feeling of unqualifiedness that’s troubling me, and if that’s so, is that feeling a more traditionally male than female one? Of illegitimacy? Of not belonging? I’m not sure.

Norah Vincent, in Self-Made Man, found that yes, it is to some degree a male thing. During her time living among the man beasts, she found that men struggle mightily to fit within a rigid and narrow set of rules for how to define themselves in the world. The basic concept – that masculinity is narrow – is no surprise, of course, but what was shocking was the extremity of her empathy for men’s struggles. I often found myself thinking that she was greatly overreaching in her support of men, that, after all, who are men to complain of our discomfort in society? We wrote the rule book.

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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