There’s a saying from Confucius: when walking with a sage and a fool, you can learn as much from both. Indeed it’s true, for Donald Trump taught me a few things in this week’s debate. What may surprise you, dear readers, is that he taught me something about myself.
I have always prided myself on being able to think on my feet, to improvise ingeniously, to barter in bullshit. I have passed college classes without doing the work, navigated situations for which I had not prepared via charm and wit. More often than not, the world has responded warmly, affirming my actions. Looking back, in a few instances I really did deserve to fail. The question is: how much of this is a function of being a white male? A whole lot.
The notion was succinctly expressed by a coffee mug I saw recently: “God, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.” Exactly! How many white men behave in ways that would lead others to be called lazy, shallow, or disrespectful; to be suspended, fired, or jailed; to have their negative traits attributed to their race and/or gender? Alas! many a white men are overvalued as they underperform.
That’s the first thing I learned: that it looks really bad when you do not do the work that others (e.g., Hillary Clinton) do. If Ms. Clinton was as ill-prepared as Trump, we might be talking about how maybe women are not ready to be president. Instead, we write it off as Donald’s own foibles.
The second thing I learned was that I need to step back and listen. By some estimates, Donald interrupted Hillary Clinton 40 times to her 1. But this is larger than Donald. As one commentator tweeted, “To the men amazed Clinton hasn’t snapped: Every woman you know has learned to do this. This is our life in society.”
The day after the debate I was in class. A female student was making a point when a male student began talking over her. Everyone started listening to him. We’re so accustomed to men talking over women that it takes a fool like Trump to show us the way. I brought up the presidential debate in class and commented how a “manterruption” was happening in real time. It led to a discussion of how (white) men are socialized to be arrogant and self-promoting, whereas women are expected to play nice.
I promised the class that for the sake of equity I would shut up more often. They said I didn’t have to but appreciated the intent. The fact remains that unless I censor myself, it’s unlikely that anybody will because we’ve all been conditioned to accept and respect white men in a way other identities are not. My goal here isn’t to feel guilty; rather, I plan to use my white male privilege to call myself and other white men out.
By the way, Confucius didn’t recommend voting for the fool.